The Search

10 of the biggest New York real estate myths—debunked

By Virginia K. Smith  | December 30, 2015 - 10:44AM

Your first foray into the New York real estate market can, to put it mildly, be something of a rude awakening. "I tell people it's like the grief process," says broker Gus Waite, managing director of Daniel Baum & Co's Manhattan office. "First, denial—no one can believe the sizes and prices. Then come anger and depression, followed by bargaining, and eventually, acceptance."

And while getting taken by surprise in this market is all but inevitable, you can at least enter it armed and aware about some of the more common misconceptions out there. Below, 10 of the biggest myths in New York real estate—and the accompanying reality check:

1. If you're renting, you'll definitely get your security deposit back—and right when you move out. 

While standard rental contracts allow for "normal wear and tear"—for example, nails in the walls, light scratching on the floors, etc.—depending on your landlord, you could find yourself haggling over damages after the fact. To prevent this, take pictures of the apartment when you first move in to document its condition, and ask to be present at the final walk-through before you move out to discuss any damage charges.

Even if that's all worked out, however, you may have to wait a while for your deposit. Landlords are required to return your deposit within a "reasonable" period (usually defined as between 30 and 45 days), but in practice, it can often take longer. "If they're renting directly from an owner [rather than a management company], the timeline isn't as clear," says Citi Habitats agent Ravi Manglani. "I mentally prepare people for it taking up to three months to get it back." If the process is dragging, you can get your broker involved to contact the landlord, or as we've advised previously, send a certified letter demanding it back.

2. The deal's done once you sign a sales contract. 

A lot of things can happen in between the time you go into contract and when you're finally moved in, surrounded by moving boxes.  "When it comes to buying, people's timing is often very ambitious," says Waite, who notes that the search itself tends to take a few months, and after that, you can often expect closing to take an additional three to four months. (And keep in mind that closing can be fraught with unexpected hang-ups.)

Also important to note: the closing date on your contract isn't set in stone. (There's a reason the phrase is "on or about date.") "Closing dates can be pushed up to 30 days past the contract date for any reason by either side without penalty," says Compass agent Jesse Shafer. "So be prepared to put all your stuff in storage and couch surf at your Aunt Mildred's place if you don't plan on a little flexibility on your closing date."

3. Other than tipping season, there's no need to concern yourself with the super.

First of all, let's get one thing straight: Holiday tipping? It's not optional, and not just for building staff who go above and beyond. (We've got a guide on tipping season here.) And while you don't want your super to assume you're going to grease their palms every time they lift a finger, it doesn't hurt to slip them a little cash if they do a particularly big job for you.

Also, it can be a big mistake if you don't check out the super first before moving in. "You have to go with your gut on this," says Waite. "It's also not a bad idea to meet the super before you put in your application," he adds. "It doesn't have to be a big deal, just say 'Hey, is the super around? I'd like to ask a few questions.'" (This approach recently helped a female client steer clear of a building that had a nosy, creepy, possibly even intoxicated super on-site, says Waite.)

And you may want to research the management company that runs the building (rather than the address itself, as buildings have a way of changing hands). If they've got repeated complaints across multiple buildings for poor super performance, it's likely they're not paying them well or hiring good staff, which will translate into problems for you down the road.

4. Co-op boards shred applications after reading them—and immediately forget all the financial information they just learned about you.  

If you're concerned about where your personal documents will end up at the end of a deal, it's worth asking about the individual building's privacy policies ahead of time. "I have not seen a standard procedure in place," says Manglani, when asked what the managing agent will ultimately do with your paperwork. However, he says the copies that are circulated to board members "are usually pretty quickly destroyed or removed from the property." he adds. But you'll still have to live with the knowledge that your board member neighbors know more than even your closest friends do about the state of your finances.

5. Brownstones are as quiet as they are charming.

 While you won't have to deal with the same noise factors as a busy apartment building, brownstones (and old houses in general) come with plenty of sonic quirks of their own. If it's a rental, the landlord is more likely to enforce the "80 percent" rule requiring carpets to cover those creaky old hardwood floors, and if it's you who owns the place, you may find that soundproofing is worth the extra expense and hassle.

6. Pet-friendly means pet-friendly, period.

This is another one where the policy varies from building to building, but if you're apartment-hunting with a St. Bernard the size of a small horse, brace yourself for the fact that even places advertised as "pet-friendly" often have restrictions on size, weight, and breed. (That, or "pet" really just means "cat.") Ironically, Manglani notes that buildings that allow "approved pets only" or on a "case by case basis" actually tend to be a little more lenient, since they allow the opportunity for a pet to be interviewed and individually approved if, say, it's a touch oversized but has impeccable house manners.  

7. New construction means move-in ready.

Buying an apartment that's brand spanking new holds a lot of appeal for some buyers, but don't forget that you can't have "new construction" without "construction," and as a rule, you can't have construction without a certain amount of delays. "Timelines are very fluid, and projects do get held up," says Manglani. Additionally, new construction doesn't necessarily mean problem-free. "Old buildings have their issues, but new buildings do, too," says Waite. "A lot of times you don't discover them for a couple of years, and then, who's responsible?" If you've got your heart set on a still-in-progress building, look at the developer's track record carefully, and come to the table armed with detail oriented questions. 

8. You're free to do what you want with your own apartment.

Renters should be used to the fact that fact that renovations might mean sacrificing part of the security deposit, but even if you own your own place, you don't have carte blanche to live out your wildest DIY-channel-inspired dreams. "Many buyers assume that as long as the work doesn't affect anything load-bearing, they can do whatever they want within the apartment they own," says Compass agent Parul Brahmbhatt. 

Not so: Co-op boards may well turn down your proposal based simply on the length of the project (and the hassle it will create in the rest of the building), and even condo boards (which are generally more lenient) will want to approve potential changes, and reserve the right to turn them down. (Many won't love extensive do-it-yourself projects, either.) If you're buying with an eye to renovating, says Brahmbhatt, have your broker and attorney check the building's policies before you buy.  

9. There are fewer airborne pests on higher floors.

While it's true that living on a higher floor reduces your risk of rodent issues, insects don't generally discriminate. You'll still need to brush up on your pest-prevention tactics, and research your building's history of complaints to see if they've got chronic problems. 

10. Moving to a good school zone means your kid is guaranteed a spot. 

Naturally, our citywide overcrowding issues extend to the Lunchables demographic, as well. Popular elementary schools in packed areas have been known to have waitlists, and not everyone always ends up with a spot. (On the bright side: there are now more alternative options than ever, so you're not too likely to end up home schooling out of your studio apartment.)


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