5 major challenges would-be NYC apartment sellers face, and how to deal with them

Mimi headsht
By Mimi OConnor  |
December 14, 2017 - 12:00PM

The bright side: it's not forever.

Peter Burka/Flickr

In an ideal world, when you go to sell your apartment, there's nothing wrong with it, everyone who sees it loves it, and you walk away with a big check following a bidding war. In the more common scenario, your place has a few easily handled issues that won't deter buyers. And sometimes an apartment or house comes loaded with a problem that makes selling it a particularly formidable task. We talked to New York City brokers to find out what issues present the biggest challenges, and how you can address them.

1. Construction 

Whether it's happening in your building, on the exterior of your building, or in the immediate vicinity, construction can make your offering less appealing. With construction, comes noise, an issue Blair Sheehan of Prevu (a Brick sponsor, FYI) says can be addressed by installing soundproof windows. 

But windows don't mitigate the disruption, congestion, and dust that also often accompany construction. Sheehan, who sold an apartment next to the 72nd Street stop of the then-under-construction Second Avenue subway stop, recommends finding out as much information as possible regarding a timeline for the work.

"If you have information up front, people can go in with their eyes wide open," she says, adding that the good thing about construction is that it ends.

Nathaniel Faust of Citi Habitats agrees, saying that construction is often a good thing that improves the building or the view from an apartment in the long term. That said, if the ongoing work is especially disruptive, you may want to adjust your timing.

"If you have the luxury to hold on to the property, consider delaying until the construction is complete," he says, adding, "If a neighbor is renovating, it might be a good idea to wait until the renovations are close to being complete. Then you can let people know it won't be forever." 

2. Lot-line windows 

Another challenging situation Faust has encountered is selling an apartment with lot-line windows, meaning that if a developer chose to build to the edge of the adjacent lot, the windows on that side of your building could be covered up.

"It's challenging because of the uncertainty," he says.

Pro Tip:

To find out what actual buyers are willing to pay for your co-op, condo or brownstone, consider discreetly "pre-marketing" it.  New York City real estate brokerage Triplemint has an entire data-driven pre-marketing platform that provides a way to quietly test your asking price and your marketing strategy  among real-life qualified buyers before publicly listing your home. There's no charge to participate and no obligation to enter a traditional listing agreement at the end of the pre-marketing period if your place hasn't sold. Click here for more information.

If you do know a building is going up, you can check if the plan for it is filed. In Faust's scenario, it wasn't, so buyers had no guarantee of the outcome. The solution: "We priced it as if the windows didn't exist," he says. It was a happy ending for the buyer, who got a deal—construction is underway and the windows are safe.

3. Someone else is selling an apartment in the same line

Someone in the building with an apartment just like yours (same layout, different floor) is also selling their place. First, check out what they've got. 

"I certainly would want to go into the competing apartment and have an intelligent pricing strategy to be competitive with them," says Paul Zweben at Douglas Elliman, who once sold a sixth-floor apartment in the same line as one on the fourth floor. "The one on the fourth floor was in a little bit better shape, but we had better light and that was our selling point." 

For Faust, the solution was small-scale renovation. He represented a condo in 2007 that was beginning to show some wear and tear, and offers were coming in below the asking price. He suggested taking the apartment off the market and doing minor renovations: sand and stain the floors, put in new counters, a new vanity, and paint, which totaled about $45,000. The apartment was re-listed and sold for $90,000 more than the original asking price.

No cash for even relatively small fixes? Faust suggests staging as a less expensive alternative.

4. Bedbugs

Obviously, if you have had bedbugs in your apartment, make sure it's now pest-free. If bedbugs have been an issue in your building, that should be reflected in the board minutes, which prospective buyers will read during due diligence.

"Find out from your board or managing agent the last time the building was fumigated and see if they need to do it again," Sheehan says. 

Zweben experienced an 11-hour threat to a sale when it came out that the apartment in question had seen some bedbugs.

"It was Friday at 4 p.m. and the buyer said, 'I'm not signing until there's proof there's no more activity,'" he says. He and the client ordered up a bedbug-sniffing dog to inspect the apartment, and the sale went through. 

5. The price isn't right

No matter what is keeping buyers away, one thing will always help drive interest: the right price. 

"You have to put [the apartment] on the market and price it appropriately," Faust says. "People respond to price."

Setting a price can be an emotionally-charged task for a seller; enlist the expertise and knowledge of your broker to help you arrive at a competitive and realistic price. (Pricing an apartment too high can backfire, as the residence may languish on the market and give the impression of undesirability. Similarly, if you are then forced to reduce the price, buyers may also infer there's something wrong with your offering.) While looking at the asking prices of similar apartments may be tempting, it's the prices of places in contract that give a more accurate picture of what the market will bear. 

But setting a desirable price (and one that will help your target buyer find you) is not strictly a data-driven decision. Consider the psychological factors involved, which can include everything from the price brackets buyers search online, to slightly undercutting the market or employing more attainable-seeming numbers such as $990,000 versus 999,000 


Mimi headsht

Mimi OConnor

Contributing Writer

Mimi O’Connor has written about New York City real estate for publications that include Brick Underground, Refinery29, and Thrillist. She is the recipient of two awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors for interior design and service journalism. Her writing on New York City, parenting, events, and culture has also appeared in Parents, Red Tricycle, BizBash, and Time Out New York.

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