When you’re on the hunt to buy a new New York City apartment, the process can be all consuming. There’s figuring out what you want, figuring out what you can afford, the online search, interviewing brokers, attending open houses, scrambling for the down payment, worrying if you’ll get approved for a mortgage, getting in a bidding war, possibly losing your “dream” apartment, and starting all over again. Stress is a given.
The good news is that there’s been a loosening up of the market, in terms of prices—especially for those searching for two-bedroom, two-bath condos in the $2-$2.5 million market.
“There’s a lot of choice for that segment,” says Tiga McLoyd, an agent with Citi Habitats.
The bad news is that inventory is still pretty tight, especially if you’re looking for a co-op—which most buyers are, because they’re more prevalent and tend to be more affordable than condos—across all price points, he says.
So what can you do to make the process as painless as possible? Brick Underground spoke to brokers to get their tips on how to deal with the stress of the apartment hunt. Read on for what they recommend.
1. Make a list of what is most important
“No one home will ever hit every check mark on your list, but going into a new home with the right perspective can make all the difference,” says Ari Susswein, an agent with Douglas Elliman.
Prioritize what’s a must, a want, and a wish. How important is location? Is location better than view? Is size more important than the level of style? How much renovation work are you willing to do?
“These may be simple questions, but when put together, they can help lead you to the right place,” he says.
2. Know what to expect
“Handling stress when buying a new home involves managing expectations,” says Bevan Versfeld an agent with DJK Residential. “To make the buying process as smooth as possible, know how many apartments you want to see, how long the process will take, and if there might be any speed bumps along the way.”
Once you decide on an apartment, the transaction typically takes 90 days if you're using financing and going through a co-op board, and 60 days if buying a condo or using cash, he adds. (For more details, read our guide on what to expect on closing day.)
3. Think about the future
Sometimes you start out thinking you want one kind of home, then as the search progresses, you realize you have different needs—like when a buyer becomes pregnant in the middle of her search, which happened to two of Susswein’s clients.
He suggests asking the following questions: Why are you buying something right now? Is this the right move? How long will you want to be here? Is this for an investment or for a home?
“Make sure your intentions for buying a home are real and will stay real over the next few years,” he says.
4. Do your research before seeing apartments
It’s a given that buyers will start their search online using the many property listing websites now available. But you can become overwhelmed with choices pretty quickly.
If you follow step one above, that will help narrow your search parameters and limit the number of results. It will also keep you from falling down the rabbit hole of looking at fantasy apartments.
The purpose of searching online is not only to see what your options are, but also to prepare yourself for what those options may be.
“Look at up to 10 apartments in your price range so you won’t have any negative surprises when you get out there,” Citi Habitats’ McLoyd says.
5. Organize your email alerts
Once you start the hunt, you’ll likely sign up for email alerts for new listings so you can see properties as they hit the market. Have all the property-related messages land in one folder. “Then make a rule for yourself: Check that folder once or twice a day, max,” says Carson Alexander, a salesperson for Keller Williams NYC.
6. Make sure you’re prequalified for a mortgage
“If you’re not a cash buyer (and most people aren’t), you should have already spoken to a mortgage broker and have a preapproval letter before you look at an apartment,” McLoyd urges. “If you don’t have it, you can’t really make a qualified offer, and you’ll always be up against people who are more prepared.”
Even if you’re a cash buyer, you should have paperwork on you that proves you have the liquidity to buy the apartment when you make your offer.
7. Attend open houses—but set some rules
Once you start to visit apartments, either through open houses or via appointments with brokers, the process can start to feel overwhelming again. The brokers we asked said to limit the number of apartments to see in one day to five.
“After that, they start to blur together,” McLoyd says.
To avoid that blurring effect, “take notes as soon as possible after viewing a property, while the visual is fresh in your mind,” says Mary-Jean Gianquinto, an agent with Halstead, who also suggests keeping a running pros and cons list, because what initially appealed to you can evolve over time.
If note taking is not your thing, then “take pictures on your phone, because even if you think you will remember something, you won’t,” Susswein says.
Also, don’t spend time at a place you don’t like. “You usually know within the first 10 seconds if you’re interested or not, so if not, don’t waste more time there unless you’re looking to pick up design or decorating ideas,” McLoyd says.
Bonus tip: Try to visit the property toward the end of an open house. “If the agents are having buyers sign in on paper, you can sneak a peak at how many visitors have come before you,” Keller Williams’ Alexander says. “More sign ins equal more interest.”
8. Focus on one neighborhood at a time
Start with apartments only in your desired neighborhood. If none work out, then expand to other areas, Susswein says.
Trying to cram in properties from different neighborhoods into one tour is exhausting and rarely gets you to each appointment on time, adds Cameron Stewart, an agent with Halstead. “Spreading oneself too thin always results in an overwhelming amount of stress,” he says. “If you can’t make a weekend open house, try to make an appointment during the week, but give a few days notice.”
9. Be careful with your bidding and don’t play games with the offering price
This is key for buyers with financing, McLoyd says, who gave the following example: Let’s say an apartment is on the market for $1 million, and a bidding war heats it up to $1.1 million. You won the bid, but if the bank doesn’t appraise the property for that amount, than you’re going to have a problem.
“Just because you’re willing to pay more than it’s worth doesn’t mean the bank is willing to lend you more than it’s worth,” he says.
Also, if the apartment is good and what you want, it might not be a good idea to try to bargain down on the price, especially in a tight market. That’s how people lose out on a property, especially if not paying in all cash, McLoyd says. “Be prepared to make a strong full-price offer; that will give you an edge.”
10. See if the other side will accept offers with an escalation clause
An escalation clause is when a buyer agrees to pay a certain dollar amount above the highest offer received by the seller, up to a certain point. This will allow you to set a maximum on your offer and implies that you will beat any other offer under it (provided the seller gives you written proof of the next best offer when yours is accepted), Alexander says.
11. Estimate your closing costs ahead of time
Alexander also suggests downloading the “NYC Closing Cost Estimator” app. “Closing costs are not only a mystery to buyers, but they’re typically a significant cost you don’t want to be surprised by at the last minute,” he says, adding that he uses it himself and advises all his clients to as well.
12. Develop a team and get to know them
Buying real estate is a time-sensitive transaction. Having an experienced agent, attorney, and mortgage representative will keep a buyer on the right track to close in a timely fashion with the least amount of stress, uncertainty, and cost to the buyer, says Halstead’s Stewart. “They prepare the necessary steps ahead of time, when you have time, not after the fact,” he says.
13. Be resilient
Falling in love with a property is never great. You might find your dream home but lose out on it because someone outbid you or was paying in all cash, which is still preferred to financing, McLoyd says. This is especially true with an inventory shortage and when the numbers are not in your favor.
Rather than becoming discouraged by the process, “it’s much more productive to embrace each event as a learning experience,” Gianquinto says.
“You have to be prepared for it not to work out and get up and do it again without being deflated,” McLoyd adds.
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