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Buying an apartment in NYC can be so complex an endeavor that until you do it yourself, it's hard to even imagine all the little blips that can come up. Yesterday, we launched a new column, Rookie Buyer, featuring our former Rental Rookie writer who's now on the hunt for an apartment to buy.
While we await how her hunt plays out, let's revisit the adventures of another buyer who chronicled her process for us years ago in our Diary of a First-Time Buyer column. Elle Bee (not her real name) spent two years of on-and-off again looking at 60-plus apartments, in two boroughs (Brooklyn and Manhattan), with two attorneys, and three brokers, and recorded it all for us.
Elle ended up—spoiler alert!—buying a one-bedroom in a prewar co-op in Washington Heights. We caught up with her this week, nearly four years after her purchase. She has since gut-renovated the kitchen, bathroom, added built-in bookshelves ,and renovated a closet. She still wants to strip down the woodwork, but plans to do that herself without a contractor.
"I made the right decision buying an apartment," she says now. "I'm not sure I made the right decision with this apartment or this neighborhood."
As for the apartment, "it doesn't get as much light as I thought it would. The layout is such that it's not as adaptable as I thought it was. When it's empty, you think everything wlll be able to fit, but the combination of archways and doors turned out to be a lot more limiting than I thought."
In terms of the neighborhood, Elle says she probably wouldn't choose to live there again, though its affordability was the biggest draw for her. "It's isolated and the services aren't great. It's a grocery desert."
But it's not all negative. "The value of my place has gone up. I bought low, and got a great interest rate. I was prudent about renovation, too. I'll get back all my investment, but where do I buy? Prices elsewhere in the city have risen, too."
Just last year, though, she saw a good sign. "The apartment directly above me sold for $85,000 more than what I paid for mine, and it was not renovated. ... I'm not gonna make a killing, but I should make some profit," she says.
Below are seven of the most important things Elle learned on her journey to homeownership (for more, read her full diary here).
- Do not let brokers bully you into making an offer you're not comfortable making.
- Make sure you have all your board papers in order. Here's a rundown of most of them.
- Often, you'll need a loan specialist for your mortgage (especially if you're self-employed), and they can be the difference between approval and rejection.
- You have to be flexible on neighborhoods if you want to get a deal.
- Without a title, you're not going to get anywhere near buying an apartment.
- Narrow down your top three priorities (Elle's were light, space and neigborhood), and if you're on a budget, be prepared to get two out of three. Don't settle for less.
- Sometimes you need to put your board package together in a matter of days. And here are some tips on how NOT to do it (for example, don't use cheap folders or rely on a copy center).