Buying a Home in New York: Where do I start?

Buying a Home in New York | The Amateur Everything

There are a lot of things J and I discussed before we launched into the house search, mostly the scary what-if scenarios as well as unpacking my fears of “settling down” and what kind of lifestyles we want. But beyond those items, we also had to dive into finances. Everything had to be on the table — IRAs, various stocks and investments, how much we’re holding in savings, checkings, what post-tax income looks like, and how much we were willing to part with. It’s a level of financial intimacy that we hadn’t fully broached before.

Additionally, we needed to be somewhat on the same page in terms of what we were looking for. How many bedrooms did we want? What’s the difference between a condo and coop?

Living together in a studio apartment with different sleep schedules, I knew I definitely wanted a dedicated bedroom where I could catch up on sleep without feeling the glow of the computer screen emanating from the corner. Speaking of computer screens, an office would be great to have. With grad school on the horizon, plus all of my other endeavors, my dream would be to also have a space for getting. shit. done.

Because we love to host board game nights, we also needed to make sure J’s massive dining table could fit easily without crowding the living room space. Based off of this thorough analysis, we ideally were looking for a two bedroom with a dining room.

After some more research, we realized we needed to find out more information about the difference between condominiums and cooperatives (a.k.a. condos and coops). Most of the information out there is geared towards buying a house (because, hello, most of America buys homes), but that isn’t the most realistic choice in New York if you’re just starting out. In New York, houses are often much more expensive (in Queens especially you’ll find multi-family homes) and are generally further from public transportation. They’re great if you have a big family and a car, but for a subway-reliant young couple-without-dependents in their mid-twenties, it just didn’t make sense. Since coops seem to be a completely New York City phenomenon, information in terms of the condos vs. coops debate was severely limited. Most of the advice we found was like, “It’s up to you! What do YOU want??” which is like, thanks, soOoOo helpful.

Condo vs. Coop

All things being equal (rooms, size, location, amenities), we found that condos had a higher price point than coops, but the monthly maintenance or HOA (home owners association) fee is lower than a coop. This is all predicated on the idea of legal property ownership. If you buy a condo, you own the title and deed to that apartment. The base price is more expensive because you are paying for your independence as a homeowner. Technically, when you buy a coop apartment, you don’t actually own it. You are buying shares or stocks into the cooperative… it just happens to be that those shares translate to that apartment in real life. So you don’t actually get the deed to the property because it’s technically not legally yours (it belongs to the cooperative). Additionally, your monthly maintenance will generally be higher because property taxes are factored into it. When you pay your maintenance fee, you are paying property taxes directly to the coop (which pays it to the government) as well as all costs associated with coop maintenance (electricity for shared spaces, coop employees like the super, etc.). As a condo owner, you will pay your maintenance fee (to the condo) and your property taxes (to the government) separately.

What else does it mean to have more independence as a condo owner? It means that you basically have free reign to do whatever you want as long as you are inside of your apartment.  You can get an exotic pet! You can sublet the shit out of it! You can knock out all of the walls and you don’t have to tell anyone (okay, I’m not 100% sure about this)! In a coop, you might be able to do all of those things but first you must run it past the coop board. For example, if J and I decided to get a dog, we would have to fill out a form and have it approved by the board. Similarly, for any renovations we would be required to submit an extensive application detailing all work that will be performed and our contractor must also be approved (and have all of the required licenses, etc.). In part this is useful because ideally you’d want your contractor to be properly licensed, but if you wanted to do a full-on DIY renovation, that’s likely not gonna fly unless it’s very minor. Also, if you wanted to sell your coop, the buyers must pass a board interview (on the flipside, if you had a condo you can just sell it to whomever you want). In general, as a coop owner you are more regulated.

It’s hard to say many other blanket statements about the condo vs. coop argument because I think coop boards can vary widely in what they will or won’t allow you to do and in how relaxed or strict they are. Also, I’ve never lived in a condo so I can’t really speak to that.

In the end, J and I were pretty sure we’d end up in a coop. While a condo would be nice, they were all significantly more expensive (with fewer options on the market, mostly some serious fixer-uppers). For what we were looking for, and the money we could fork up, a coop seemed like the practical choice. Additionally, we figured it wouldn’t be a huge leap from our experience renting. It’s nice to know that there’s a management company and superintendent who will help you with the common/shared items like windows, exteriors, and plumbing. Because we were buying in to the cooperative, there were things that would be handled for us, and if our neighbors were too raucous (like the neighbor upstairs in our current rented studio who puts on elephant legs whenever he gets home), we actually have some ground to stand on in approaching them. Having to get a pet, construction, or subletter (if allowed) approved didn’t seem like too heavy of a burden for us.


This is the first post in a series (mostly anecdotal) about purchasing a coop in Queens. All posts in this series can be found here.

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