The Market

What 8 first-time buyers wish they had known

By Mayra David  | July 22, 2013 - 10:28AM

It's hard to live in New York City and not have some sort of real estate regret.  But you don't have to live them to learn from them.  Here's what 8 first time buyers told BrickUnderground they'd do differently next time:

1. I wouldn't hire a friend to be my broker--and I wouldn't believe everything the seller's broker says.

As a native New Yorker, I thought I was thoroughly street savvy and knew how to manage the whole process....Well, mistake number one was asking my friend who is a broker to represent me and my interests. It's not that he's a bad guy, but I ended up flagging apartments of interest to me rather than him bringing them to my attention and then I began doubting him during the negotiation process.
Second was trusting the seller's broker when I asked specific questions about the unit before putting in an offer. I should have known how to pick out that the heat was electric not steam (big monthly expense!!). I should have been able to see that the "built-in" dining room table was thoroughly removable, despite the fact the the seller broker told me it was permanent.
But I think more than anything, I would have handled negotiations myself rather than rely on my broker's advice to increase my bid. I discovered after my purchase that the "other bid" (made by neighbors in the building), which the seller's broker used to get me to bid higher, was significantly lower than my initial offer, let alone my final one! After I moved in, I learned from my new neighbors that the owners would have accepted my original offer because they were desperate to sell and knew they were asking too much. -- Holly, Upper West Side
2. I would think twice about buying into a sponsor-controlled building
I bought in a co-op building when it was still controlled by the sponsor. I didn't fully appreciate what that meant--that there would be a powerless board where the residents were constantly overruled on the issues that mattered to them--like putting in a roofdeck and a remote doorman system.
Until enough sponsor units sold and the residents controlled the board, we also had to deal with a managing agent hired by the sponsor who actually turned out to be stealing from our building.  And we discovered that many capital improvements had been put off or mishandled, which cost us more money.
I would also pay more attention to the condition of the big-ticket items that might need to get replaced (boiler, elevator) because they wound up costing around $10,000 in assessments the first few years. And I would have bought into a building that allowed dogs--I didn't count on changing my mind about wanting one. -Carolyn, Kips Bay
3. Next time, I'll shop around for a better broker
We were very inexperienced, and when we met with a broker at an open house and he told us he'd show us more listings, we went along right away. We signed that disclosure form and then felt we should keep working with this one person. While he showed us good properties, they were nothing we couldn't have found ourselves. In fact, some we had already seen. And everything he showed us was always north of what we were willing to pay.
We were finding properties on our own that he should have obviously shown us, but when we asked him about it, he was very negative about them. We wasted a lot of time, but finally we realized we didn't like having him around us, so we severed connections. -Julian, Fort Greene
4. I'd learn NYC nuances better
I would have educated myself more about the process of buying in New York City. My parents helped me buy, but they live in California, and the process of how they bought their house, and my brother's house in the suburbs, was totally different. My parents were adamant against co-ops because in California there is no such thing. So we restricted ourselves to condos.
During the search, I got into a bidding war. My parents couldn't help me through it... they had given me "earnest money" to use in case I saw an apartment I really wanted and was afraid would go quickly.  But earnest money isn't really used in NYC. -Arlyn, Brooklyn
5. I'll look for a condo next
I bought without really knowing what I was buying. I bought a co-op in Queens because the price per square foot was great back in the early 2000s. But I hate dealing with the ins and outs of being a shareholder in a co-op. I've rented out my place and had to jump through their unreasonable hoops to get my tenant approved. It's very political. Next time, I will only consider condos. -Vlad, Queens
6. I wouldn't use a broker and I wouldn't rely on a broker's recommendation for a lawyer
I think our biggest mistake was using a broker to buy (selling is a different story). I think buyers have enough knowledge and power to negotiate for themselves without using someone who takes a cut of the selling price and just wants to get a deal done.  
Our next biggest mistake was using the real estate lawyer the broker recommended. The real estate lawyer just wanted to push the sale through for his friend.  Our first attempted buy was a very shady co-op conversion that fell through.  A decent lawyer wouldn't have let us put down a deposit. It all worked out in the end, but we were once innocent, naive, and stupid and believed that these people were acting in our best interests. -Alana, Upper East Side
7. I'll use a boutique bank for my mortgage next time
I went with a big bank and they turned out to be awful to work with. They'll do anything to reel you in, promise smooth sailing all the way. Then, during underwriting, they turn out to be robots just going through the motions with no expertise, timing, common sense or common courtesy. I can't wait to re-finance. -Cinthia, Harlem
8. For my next purchase, I'll get a set price from the lawyer in advance
Our lawyer had told us that he'd charge us somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000 for his services, depending on the complexity of the transaction. Then, at the closing -- when we had a million other things to do and were totally overwhelmed -- he told us the price was going to be on the higher end without explaining why and despite the fact that it was a pretty standard purchase and he was pretty unresponsive and unhelpful whenever we had called him before.
-Rebecca, Upper East Side

Related posts:

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What I learned from 150 apartments before I finally bought one

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A single guy reveals why he took the co-op plunge -- and how he basically lives for free

Unraveling NY real estate spin--one white lie at a time

Everything you ever wanted to know about sponsor apartments but were afraid to ask

Diary of a First-Time Buyer

16 things I wish I knew before buying this place

A NYC real estate lawyer reveals the 14 biggest surprises for first-time buyers (sponsored)

Confessions of a preconstruction buyer

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