Coronavirus

How to buy a NYC apartment during coronavirus: The new normal

Buyers will be expected to have seen the photos, viewed a virtual tour, and show financial qualifications before physically setting foot in an apartment.

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There’s an old adage that life doesn’t stop for a crisis, and that especially rings true today. 

While New York City real estate has had to abruptly react to the new normal of social distancing, virtual tours, and special Covid-19 contract clauses, there are still plenty of well-qualified New Yorkers who have saved up and are eager to buy their piece of this great city, despite the crisis. 

In order to navigate the current environment, we’ve outlined below the necessary tips on how to buy a NYC apartment during Covid-19.

Narrow down your search thoroughly

In the initial re-opening of New York City, buyer-attended open houses will remain far less common and sellers will be reluctant to allow buyers to visit their places unless they have demonstrated they are extremely serious. 

That means buyers will have seen the photos, organized a virtual showing or viewed a virtual tour, and displayed financial qualifications before physically setting foot in an apartment.

“At least for now, in-person showings will no longer be the first step in property discovery for NYC buyers for a while—they will be the last hurdle,” says Rich Gibbons, director of real estate services for Prevu, a New York City real estate brokerage that gives a substantial rebate to buyers and sellers. “In the past, buyers would begin their search by touring eight to 10 apartments. Now, in the world of social distancing, it is more realistic for buyers to gather as much information as possible about properties to refine their ideal list to two or three apartments.”

As a result, the best advice for NYC buyers is to thoroughly look online, request and view as many virtual tours as possible via your buyer’s agent, and narrow down the list of NYC apartments you are interested in before taking it to the next level—an in-person showing.

Prepare for tighter lending standards in NYC

Mortgage rates may be low, but given the increased uncertainty around NYC real estate prices and employment conditions, it may be more difficult to get a mortgage initially post Covid-19. 

Banks are being extra diligent in their underwriting standards and are making fewer, if any, exceptions. In response to this, qualified buyers who were pre-qualified earlier in 2020 should check in with their mortgage representative to ensure they still qualify under the tighter lending standards. Several lenders, including large banks like JPMorgan Chase, have stated that they are seeking larger down payments from mortgage borrowers and higher minimum credit scores.

If necessary, get an updated pre-approval letter from your bank to show sellers you are ready to go even in the current climate.

Expect greater scrutiny from NYC sellers

In addition to an updated mortgage pre-approval, buyers should be actively updating their REBNY financial statement to accurately reflect their financial situation. 

“With volatility in the stock market, sellers are likely to ask buyers more questions about their brokerage balances and financial preparedness,” Gibbons says. This is especially true for buyers of co-ops who typically rely on liquid securities to demonstrate their financial reserves (more on that later).

If you are fortunate enough to be an all-cash buyer, you should have bank or brokerage statements easily accessible to show proof of funds. Ordinarily, this would only be a question during the offer process, but with increased vetting of buyers prior to in-person visits, sellers may ask for documentation prior to confirming such a visit. 

“An additional consideration for all-cash buyers is the potential of getting a larger discount to listing price on their purchase during a crisis,” Gibbons says. “Even in a normal environment, sellers will sometimes accept a slightly lower offer from an all-cash buyer due to greater certainty the deal will go through. In a crisis period where there is more uncertainty, sellers may be even more willing to accept a large discount.”

Find ways to save money on your purchase 

Every dollar counts when buying an apartment in NYC. This is even truer today for New Yorkers who may have dipped into their rainy day funds a bit to help weather the Covid-19 crisis. 

In addition to negotiating the best purchase price possible, there are other ways to save on your purchase like selecting a broker that offers buyer commission rebates. Prevu—a tech-enabled real estate brokerage in NYC—gives buyers up to 2 percent of their purchase price via the firm’s Smart Buyer Rebate Program

For example, if you buy a NYC apartment for $1,500,000 with Prevu, you could receive up to $30,000 cash back. That’s more than enough to help replenish your savings or offset your NYC mansion tax and other closing costs.

Get ready for NYC co-op boards to be extra picky

New Yorkers who have purchased co-op apartments in the past will tell you war stories of the hoops they jumped through in proving their worthiness for their purchase to be approved by the co-op board.

“Sadly, those were probably the good old days,” notes Blair Sheehan, a licensed associate broker at Prevu. “Co-op boards are going to be even more stringent in their review of applications in the aftermath of Covid-19.” That includes a deeper dive into your assets that will represent your post-closing liquidity (i.e. is your brokerage account balance from the recent lows or recent highs in the stock market?), a more detailed breakdown of salaries vs. bonuses, and more questions about your work history and job security.

To navigate the more rigorous board application process when buying a co-op in NYC, be extra diligent about providing the most up-to-date financial information, highlight long tenures and stability in your employment history, and don’t be offended by all of the invasive questions.

Allow additional time for due diligence by your NYC real estate attorney

Thorough legal due diligence performed by your attorney is important to protect you in any real estate transaction. With the rise of the coronavirus situation this year, there are now additional contract items to negotiate and layers of building due diligence to be aware of.

First, many real estate attorneys are including additional language in purchase contracts called “Covid clauses” or “coronavirus clauses” to protect buyers and sellers from the related uncertainty of the current crisis. 

While these force majeure clauses have become ubiquitous and may vary from contract to contract, they generally allow a contract to be extended for a defined period of time due to unforeseen circumstances--for example, if the sellers are not allowed to move out of their building, preventing them from providing the apartment vacant at time of closing.

Second, the disruption of business activity has caused many retail locations and restaurants to temporarily (and in some cases permanently) shut their doors. If you are buying in a co-op or condop building that derives income from retail, restaurant, or other commercial tenant leases, that could impact you financially in the form of increased maintenance payments in the coming months or years if those tenants fail to pay.

Real estate attorneys are doing an even deeper dive on building financials to help buyers assess building reserve funds and potential assessments that buildings may need to impose if their commercial tenants stop paying their rent. While the maintenance on a co-op apartment might seem attractive today, you don’t want to be surprised later due to economic impacts from coronavirus.

Be ahead of the curve as the coronavirus curve flattens

With low mortgage rates, a reduced inventory of new listings, and pent-up demand among buyers who have been on lockdown at home, you can likely expect strong competition for apartments when NYC re-opens.

As such, if you are prepared for the new normal with the topics discussed above, you are sure to be ahead of the curve!


Prevu provides all the expert advice of a traditional real estate brokerage without the high fees. Click here to learn more about the Smart Buyer Rebate, and here to learn about Prevu's Smart Seller Program.