First-Time Buyers Week

Real-life buyers on the mistakes they made and what they learned from buying in NYC for the first time

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | April 6, 2017 - 8:59AM 

As the adage goes: Live and learn. But in New York City, you could easily tweak it to "buy and learn." Purchasing property here is an expensive and challenging proposition, and the only people who can give true, concrete advice are those who've gone through it.

Below, first-time NYC buyers share their real estate wisdom—mistakes and all:

The devil is in the apartment details

"Test for drafts around windows with a lighter. Also, I wish we'd done more research on the superintendent." —Jessica, Upper East Side

"I would ask the prior owner for records of renovations. We have been the victim of a lot of do-it-yourself home improvements from non-experts [and] we have spent the last year fixing their mistakes—a lot of expenses we didn't expect. We were new to the process and needed to move out of our rental, but next time I'm going to spend a lot of timing looking at the little things." —Colleen, Upper East Side

"Visit the apartment in the day time and night time. There is an incredibly bright building across the street and we had no clue until our first night there." —Jenn, Flatiron

"Next time, I'd ask for a detailed account of previous leaks and really check out the windows. I overlooked those until I moved in. The windows in my apartment were decent but once I moved in, I noticed that the ones that were tucked in hadn't been replaced. They didn't all open and close properly. Noise and insulation were a problem. —Manuela, Carnegie Hill

"Having a balcony in the city is not ideal. First, the floor above your balcony overshadows yours and prevents light from getting in (we have a concrete one); and second, you hardly use it without having to flush it clean of the city pollution. And you're paying extra tax and maintenance for it. —Kathy, Upper East Side

Be renovation-ready

"Find out the rules and restrictions and process for renovation approvals ahead of time." —Emily, Upper East Side

"Our architect is really 'gold plated'—amazing in terms of service and knowledge, but also means all of his referrals/recommendations are gold-plated. I'm not sure we needed to buy the level of custom we did. Second, realize there is a very, very wide spectrum for everything in terms of price/quality: fabric, tile, appliances, level of detail in millwork, etc. Third, realize that costs are related; for example on millwork: You pay the architect to design; you pay a ton for labor; you pay architect to review shop drawings; and the millwork takes time (which equals cost in terms of project completion). Fourth, if a renovation is involved, get an objective estimate of cost compared to comps. Our broker told us we could do a gut-reno for $400,000 and the end result would be in line with current market, but she was way off on renovation cost and we likely spent more than the market can support." —Elizabeth, Upper West Side

"I regret not refinishing the floors. ... We should have made sure to have the time to do something we really could never do once we moved in." —Leslie, Yorkville

Be neighborly (and use other building residents as resources)

"Find out about upstairs and downstairs neighbors in terms of noise and prior noise complaints." —Liza, Kew Gardens, Queens

"Ask other residents what they like and dislike about the building. Now, when we go look at other apartments, we always ask people questions in the elevator." —Amanda, Upper East Side

"Check board minutes for any complaints regarding cigarette smoke coming from neighboring apartments. Try to ask the doorman about this as well." —Bethany, Upper East Side

"Ask someone in the building if the super is helpful, because when you meet him I'm sure he'll seem amazing." —Andie, Yorkville

Building matters (and, by the way, minutes matter)

"I'd look at the building finances. Our building has very bad finances so any work has to be paid now." —Manuela, Carnegie Hill

"Higher maintenance than normal can be due to lawsuits. Buyers beware!" —Kathy, Upper East Side

"Read the board meeting records. Find out when everything has been replaced. Find out how old the boilers are. I've had such a disaster with my current apartment [and] the neighbors (crazy woman next door, little old lady from hell in charge of the board) that the next time around I literally will hire a detective to poke around this stuff." —Alisa, Park Slope

"I wish we had known that no maintenance fees on the house didn't mean there would be no maintenance fees. When we did the math, we figured we saved money because we wouldn't have to pay those fees on our brownstone. But then there's always something and I feel like we end up paying the equivalent of what we'd pay in a co-op or condo for the random stuff we have to do (like fix our electrical system, fix non-functioning radiators etc...). I wish I'd known there will inevitably be a steady flow of things that have to be fixed."  —Abby, Bedford-Stuyvesant

"Actually read the board minutes. I love our building, but there is a lot of unnecessary drama among our board and co-op relating to the building having lots of young families and retired owners on fixed incomes. It's made moving projects forward a pain." —Colleen, Upper East Side

"Ask to see the utilities bill for a full year from the previous owner. This way, you have an idea of costs involved. Our building's heat runs on electric and not gas. We had no idea how costly it was to heat our apartment in the winter." —Cori, Cliffside Park, New Jersey

"Ask to physically see a maintenance bill for two to three consecutive months. There are so many miscellaneous charges on mine that fluctuate and I've been there five years and still don't understand." —Andie, Upper East Side

"Check financials very carefully. Do not rely on any lawyer and seek a real estate lawyer. Oh, and find out the last three banks to provide financing to people in building...and make sure they are true...our closing got canceled the day of because of our bank." —Sharon,Yorkville

Location, location, location

"I'd prefer we were much closer to a park. We're currently about four avenues away from Central Park and the same from Carl Schurz and it isn't ideal." —Faiza, Upper East Side

"I probably should have spent a few nights living above a bar before committing (honestly, I probably would've bought it anyway)." —Karen, Union Square

"We were so desperate to move out of our rental that we didn't realize our new co-op apartment is across the street from the fire station." —Shara, Bronx

"Instead of buying a two-bedroom apartment is Prospect Heights, we should have bought a townhouse in Crown Heights or Clinton Hill for the same money. Now the same townhouse is out of reach." —Gary, Prospect Heights

Give it time (and don't let anyone pressure you to hurry up)

"You have to look at loads and loads of places to understand what you get for the money. Get an agent who is going to be patient and show you as much as you want to see to get a comfort level...You should understand within the boundaries you set what a reasonable price-per-square-foot goes for, and be prepared to see some dreadful places. Also, be prepared to meet some very disingenous sell-side agents. Our buyer-side agent was okay with us seeing things on our own, which resulted in more than one agent trying to cut him out. Oh, and one agent asked how long we were looking and we said 'about a month' and the agent said, "What is taking you so long?"  Well, guess what? You are the buyer—take as long as you need ... you are in this for the long haul." —Joe, Upper West Side

Make sure you're not leaving any money on the table

"During our first purchase of new construction, we learned to always ask to have transfer and mansion taxes paid for by the developer. The first and second time they picked up 100 percent—our most recent purchase they picked up half. Worth asking!" —Melissa, Gramercy


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