New York City’s buildings are as diverse as their residents, so finding the right one for you will mean asking dozens of questions before committing to a new purchase or signing a lease on a rental.
If you’re buying, you’ll likely have lots of questions about how the process works, the difference between co-ops and condos, and what your closing costs will be. If you’re renting, you’ll want answers on topics like fees and access to amenities. In both cases, your broker can help you, and if you’re buying, your attorney will do the required due diligence on an apartment.
But some questions will be specific to your lifestyle. You’ll want to know how the building operates, whether the location will work for you, and what rules might affect you personally before you commit to the apartment.
Here are the questions you should ask before you sign on the dotted line.
What is the building’s sublet policy?
If you're planning to sublet your apartment at some point in the future, you should be aware that co-ops generally have strict rules on this. Co-op owners are usually only allowed to sublet their apartment for one to two years in any five-to-seven-year period. Find out if there are any fees associated with subletting and what percent of apartments are currently being rented out.
Condo sublet policies are usually more flexible but may have rules against short-term sublets of less than six months.
What's the source of heat and air conditioning?
If you prefer radiators to forced hot air systems, make sure you ask about how the apartment is heated. Landlords are required by NYC law to provide heat and hot water, but the person responsible for paying for it can vary from building to building.
You’ll also want to find out what kind of air conditioning system operates in the building. Some in-wall systems are attractive and efficient, others are noisy and might affect where you put your furniture.
What are the food delivery rules?
If you rely on takeout, find out ahead of time whether meals can be delivered to your door or if you have to go down to the lobby to get them. You might also want to find out whether there are enough restaurants that deliver to the building.
Are all of the amenities included, or are there some pay-to-play options?
Many new developments boast a range of amenities from roof decks, to climbing walls, and kids’ playrooms. If a gym is on your list of must-haves, ask questions about how busy it will be at the times you intend to use it. If the building has both condos and rentals, find out whether tenants are able to use the facilities and if there are additional charges.
What is the personality of the board?
Is the co-op or condo board liberal or conservative? You can ask to see a copy of the house rules to get a sense of where a board might stand on certain issues. It’s helpful to know if the board welcomes newcomers or prefers to have the same people running things.
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Has the building ever had a bed bug problem?
There are laws to protect renters and buyers from some of the fallout of bedbug infestations and these laws require disclosures. If there’s been a recent problem, ask how it was handled, whether the proper preparations were made for the extermination, and what the current status is.
Even if you don’t want one now, does the building allow pets?
Some buildings are pet-friendly, others are not. If you don’t want to see dogs in the lobby, make sure you pick the right building for you. If you are considering getting a dog, it’ll be important to know if there are there any restrictions on number, breed or size.
If you have a dog as an emotional support or service animal, a board will need to accommodate you, but you may still want to find out about the building’s broader pet policy.
If your apartment doesn’t already have one, are you allowed to install a washer/dryer?
Some buildings have restrictions on whether washer/dryers can be installed. This often comes down to the building's plumbing. Find out ahead of time whether you’d be able to add this type of appliance. You’ll want to know the board’s policy on this and beware of any answers to your renovation questions that include the words “the board approves this on a case-by-case basis.”
Are there any nuisances on the block, like a nightclub?
You can’t pick your neighbors but you can check out your neighborhood for loud bars and nightclubs that empty patrons onto the street in the early hours. If getting a good night’s sleep is a priority, you might want to steer clear of an apartment next to a firehouse or noisy restaurant that expels cooking smells into your apartment. Try and check out the apartment at the appropriate time of day to see if the location will work for you.
What is your neighborhood’s public elementary school?
Even if you don’t have kids, your next buyer might, so it’s worth asking about the local school. Fair Housing Laws mean your agent won’t be able to discuss nearby schools, but you can investigate on websites like InsideSchools and GreatSchools or stop by the local playground to ask a few parents. Brick Underground’s guides to the best neighborhoods for families in Manhattan and Brooklyn have lots of information about in-demand schools.
What kind of people live in the building?
Fair Housing Laws also prevent your agent from talking about the presence of families, retirees, or young party animals in your building—so if this important to you, ask the doorman or sit outside for a while to watch who comes and goes.
What is the package delivery policy?
The demands of sorting and storing packages are an increasing problem for many New York City buildings, even those with doormen. If you regularly receive deliveries, find out where they will be stored and how secure the room is. Find out whether the building uses any smart tech to manage and monitor packages.
Where is the apartment located within the building?
Try to determine whether the apartment you’re interested in is located in a less-than-ideal spot in the building. Ask questions about where the elevator or compactor shafts are so you can avoid vibrations. If you’re looking at a unit down the hall from the community room or playroom, find out what the hours of operation are and be prepared for foot traffic and noise. Consider the pros and cons of a ground-floor apartment.
Are there any offensive odors, like cigarette or pot smoke, cat pee, or strong cooking smells?
If the windows are wide open when you view the apartment, think about why. Visit the unit a few times. Find out if the building is smoke-free or what might happen if you find a neighbor’s smoking or cooking habits are affecting you. Remember, everything smells stronger in the summer.
How is garbage disposed of?
Are there rules on stroller use or storage that might affect you?
Are strollers allowed in the elevator or relegated to the service elevator? Find out where you are allowed to store a stroller and if you need to fold it up when it's not in use.
Is construction planned nearby?
No-one wants to wake up to jackhammers on a Saturday morning—ask whether windows are sound-proofed and walk around the neighborhood to identify whether there might be building work planned on the block. There are lots of online tools to track building projects around the city.
If the apartment comes with a tax break, when does it expire?
Some new condo buildings benefit from a 421-a tax abatement, which lowers your monthly bills for a limited time. It’s not easy to establish what you’ll be paying when the perk runs out and that could affect the resale value of the unit.
Are there enough elevators to accommodate all residents?
In a tall building, you’ll want to know if all the elevators are “local” or whether there’s an express option to speed things up. If you plan to renovate, you’ll want to know if there’s a service elevator that might make your project run more smoothly.
You might also want to find out if there are any service issues with the elevators and whether one or more might need replacing or if a shutdown is planned.
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