Buying a Co-op in NYC: Expert Guide

The PropertyClub Team
Sep 17th 2020
Buying a co-op in NYC is different from purchasing other types of real estate. Here’s what you need to know about how to purchase in a cooperative building.

Approximately 75% of apartments available for sale in New York City are in cooperative buildings. So what exactly is a co-op, and how is it different from a condo? And what do you need to know before buying a co-op in NYC? Read on to find out.

What is a Co-op?

Co-ops are different from condominiums (“Condos”) and single-family homes. When you buy a co-op apartment, you are not buying real property. Instead, you are buying shares of the corporation, and upon purchasing them, you become a shareholder. In return, the corporation gives you what is called a proprietary lease, and you essentially become a tenant in the co-op building. The bigger the apartment, the more shares you will own in the cooperative. 

Co-ops Are Typically More Affordable Than Condos

As a general rule, buying a co-op is cheaper than buying a condo. This affordability is the primary perk of purchasing a NYC co-op. You’ll also enjoy lower closing costs if you buy a co-op as you won’t have to worry about title insurance or the mortgage recording tax.  

The Process For Buying a Co-op in NYC Can Be Grueling 

Buying a NYC co-op can be a bit of a headache due to the challenges involved. Co-op buildings and their boards have a significantly more intensive approval process compared to condo buildings. You’ll need to submit a lot more paperwork than if you were buying a condo, with a longer board package as well as forms like the REBNY Financial Statement and an Aztech Recognition Agreement

Many co-ops also limit the amount of financing a purchaser can receive, so you should be prepared to make a down payment of 20-25% of the purchase price. If you’re lucky, that may be lower, or you may be able to buy a sponsor unit. Buying a sponsor unit also comes with the added benefit that you can skip the dreaded board approval process. Depending on the individual sponsor, the financial requirements are usually very lenient compared with that of a non-sponsor apartment.

How Long Does it Take to Buy a Co-op in NYC?

It varies depending on the building and location, but it generally takes around two to three months to buy a NYC co-op apartment. Co-ops in Manhattan are usually stricter when it comes to their requirements while buying a co-op in another borough will likely mean a shorter time-frame.  

Co-op Maintenance Fees Can Be High

One of the drawbacks of owning a co-op is the monthly maintenance fees, which shareholders pay monthly. The maintenance fee paid to the cooperative covers building expenses such as the heat, hot water, building insurance, salaries, real estate taxes and the mortgage for the building. Pursuant to the building’s bylaws, special assessments (‘temporary fees”) can also be implemented and incurred for each shareholder, which covers the cost of building repairs and renovations. Typically, special assessment fees range from $50 to as high as $800 per month, depending on the size of the building and the cost of the repairs/renovations that are needed.

Buying a Co-op Pros and Cons

One of the primary perks of purchasing a co-op will be the pricing. In NYC, co-ops are cheaper than condos. But this comes at the cost of convenience. The process of buying a co-op in NYC can be a headache.  

Buying a Co-op Pros Buying a Co-op Cons
Cheaper than condos

Strict financing & board requirements

Stricter screening can be beneficial. More financially stable, longterm owners Potential restrictions on subletting/renting out
Co-ops have low closing costs

Higher maintenance fees

10 Steps to Buying a Co-op in NYC 

  1. Gather your team of professionals. You should already have a broker, lawyer, and mortgage broker or banker that you intend to work with to purchase your apartment. The New York City, real estate market, moves fast, so when you find a suitable apartment, you need to be able to move quickly. 
  2. Obtain a pre-approval. A preapproval letter is a document that details how much financing you have been approved for; that is assuming you are not purchasing the co-op with all cash. The letter typically includes the loan program, the loan amount, the purchase price, and the interest rate that you qualify for. This powerful piece of paper is significant because it shows Brokers and Sellers alike, that you are serious about purchasing a property. Realistically, you will not be taken seriously without a pre-approval letter.
  3. Go Shopping. You can either start by searching for NYC co-ops for sale or finding an experienced broker who is familiar with the NYC co-op market. A good broker can save you a lot of time by showing you properties that meet your criteria.
  4. Confirm that you qualify. Co-op down payment requirements can range from 10% to all cash. However, the typical co-op down payment in NYC is usually somewhere between 20-30%. Co-op boards also want to see that you have some cash in reserve (e.g., a year of maintenance payments in the bank). Lastly, you should familiarize yourself with rules in the building. Many co-op boards prohibit subletting, and/or parents buying a coop for their children. The dreaded co-op board sets their own, subjective standards in terms of the approval process as well as how the building is managed. Co-op boards also require an interview (sometimes multiple interviews) to meet you and ask any questions regarding the application, your life, and/or your financial history. Because a co-op is technically a corporation, it can approve or deny any applicant for any reason as it chooses, pursuant to the Business Judgement Rule, as long as the co-op board is acting in good faith.
  5. Submit your offer. Submit your offer ASAP! If your offer is accepted, you should start preparing your financial documents and referral letters that will be needed for your board package. Your broker and/or lawyer should be able to streamline this process. 
  6. Sign the Contract. Along with signing the contract, buyers typically submit a 10% deposit to the seller’s attorney to put into escrow until closing. Typically, co-op contracts contain contingency clauses regarding board approval, in the event that the Board rejects your application, you will get your deposit back.
  7. Begin the mortgage application process. This is the point where the mortgage company will decide if they will fund your loan. You will have to provide tons of financial information to your chosen lender (i.e., pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, etc.). The bottom line is that the lender wants to ensure that you have the ability to repay your loan. A word of caution, make sure that you are dealing with a mortgage broker or lender that is familiar with New York City co-ops.
  8. Prepare and submit your board package & wait for the Board Interview. This is the point where you’re trying to convince the managing shareholders in the building that they should allow you to live in their community. You will need financial documents similar to the documents that you provided to your mortgage lender, as well as personal letters of recommendation. Essentially, you need to ensure that your board package is “airtight” to avoid rejection. At the interview, be honest, be yourself, but also conduct yourself as if you’re on a job interview.
  9. Conduct a final walk-through of the apartment. This final walkthrough confirms the condition of the apartment. And, if your contract required certain repairs, this is the time to ensure that the conditions of the apartment are satisfactory according to the contract terms. 
  10. Close on the apartment. A “Closing” is a transaction where the title of a property is transferred from a seller to a buyer. This transaction typically takes about three hours to complete. The seller, buyer, attorneys for all the parties, the managing agent for the coop, the mortgage lender and the real estate agents are all typically present at the closing. 

Is Buying A Co-op a Good Idea?

It really depends on your goals, but if you’re looking for a home that you plan on living in for the long-term, you should definitely consider a co-op. 

We spoke with Sydney Blumstein, a top broker at Corcoran with over $200 million in sales, about her thoughts on buying a NYC co-op. “Co-ops are designed for a specific type of buyer. They are owner-occupied, participatory properties, so they’re best for buyers who are interested in planting roots. Renovations are usually for improvements for the homeowner rather than designed to accommodate fix and flip. Flip taxes are often imposed to ensure that owners hold these homes for longer. They are less expensive to get into than condominiums, particularly on closing costs.” explains Blumstein. Buying in a co-op building can also be a tricky proposition as the financial requirements are stricter, and more financial disclosure is required. “You need to be financially sound with a debt to income ratio below 28% and able to carry the home for two years (mortgage and maintenance payments) without earning another dollar from the day you purchase. Co-ops are protective, and they want to ensure you can afford to buy and carry what you are purchasing,” continues Blumstein. Her biggest tip to prospective co-op buyers is, “Don’t expect to be able to purchase and close quickly. Cooperatives are a practice in patience. And remember, without a carefully prepared board package fully explaining your financial picture, the board can turn you down without any justification. As a former co-op owner, though, for a special property, it’s usually worth the wait.”