I had a sudden panic attack after J and I made our first offer on an apartment. We had been looking for few weeks and saw an apartment that hit all of our main criteria — two bedrooms, spacious, decent kitchen, amenities (elevator building with laundry), manageable distance from public transportation, and it was in our price range. It even had a friendly doorman and a gym! We went back again during the next week’s open house to check it out and speak some more with the realtor, who was warm, helpful, and made us feel incredibly comfortable. J and I decided to go in without negotiating and offer the asking price. An hour later our offer was accepted and that’s when I panicked.
(Keep reading if you want more of my personal drama, otherwise scroll down the page for my breakdown on making an offer).
One thing I cannot stress enough is to trust your instinct. This is probably good advice for life in general but let’s try to stay focused. While that apartment hit all of the quantifiable items on our checklist, there were a lot of things about it that I felt weren’t actually what I was looking for. The master bedroom was ginormous in a kind of awkward and impractical way. The bathroom had yellow tile with grey tiled border and a matching grey bathtub that I felt compelled to replace almost immediately. The kitchen could use some updating, even though it was “fine”. The floors were all parquet and were in great shape, but I really preferred standard wood floorboards.
The place also had an uncanny similarity to our rented studio apartment in its layout and style, although bigger in a sudden-puberty-growth-spurt kind of way. Like if our studio apartment was a Pokémon, it would be a machop and this new one was a machoke. You could argue it was a natural progression from renting to buying, but I was discomforted by it. Maybe it was my own vanity, but if I was going to drop a bunch of cash on something, I want it to be special and different from what I already have (no offense, Machoke).
I was realizing that we would actually have to do a lot of work from the get-go. There’s nothing wrong with a fixer-upper, but the way we went into the offer was not the way you go for a fixer-upper (without negotiating). Also, considering I was going to start graduate school in the Fall, I knew I didn’t actually have time to spend all the love and care necessary for something that needed a bathroom and kitchen renovation, on top of the general things you want to do as you move into a new place. I sensed that we would have to do a lot of work in order to make it into a home we loved.
Of course, I didn’t quite know all of these things during my panic attack. This is where having your own realtor would probably have been helpful — first with asking the right questions to get to the heart of what you want, and second with negotiating an offer.
It took hours of talking with J to piece my thoughts together. We realized that just because our offer was accepted, it didn’t mean that we were in a binding contract. That only happens when you sign the actual binding contract with your attorney. Until that point, you could pull out for any number of reasons. Additionally, if this is not what your gut is telling you to do, don’t do it. J reassured me that if we weren’t both in this together, he didn’t want to be in it either.
Our solution was to pump the breaks and slow down this process while also putting an offer down on another place we had recently seen. This other place felt good once you walked in. I loved the floors and the space and the multiple window exposures. It had a lot of natural beauty and character that felt in tune with us and I thought that with a little elbow grease we could really make the place shine. We also attempted negotiating, since the asking price was a bit more than the first place and we were trying to be more realistic about the work that might need to go into it post-sale.
In the meantime, we kept the first realtor in the loop. We told him we had made another offer as well and were waiting to hear back. We wanted to be honest on all fronts, since things were moving quickly and we didn’t want to burn any bridges with local agents.
After some negotiation on the second place, our offer was accepted. We went forward with it but kept asking each other each other how we felt each step of the way. At this point, honesty is the best policy because you are in it for the long slog. If you are not confident about your decision, the next 4-6 months are going to be a miserable exercise in self-punishment.
But let’s rewind a bit and talk about the process of making an offer.
First, get the contact information of the realtor and ask them for their offer form (referred to as a “binder”). Each one will have his or her own but it usually asks you the same basic financial questions and you might have to sign something that confirms you understand their role as the seller’s agent. Some also ask for a credit report, which you can get for free. At this point you will want to notify your attorney that you are moving forward with making an offer.
Regarding negotiations, it is really market-dependent. Where we were looking was not nearly as cut-throat as other parts of New York. Still, there is more demand than supply so negotiating was a bit of a fraught procedure. I have heard stories of people putting all-cash offers on an apartment in Brooklyn that went to someone who offered all cash above asking price. How are you supposed to compete with that?! Well, I suppose we didn’t even compete by not picking a new luxury condo in Downtown Brooklyn. Still, the panic is real and it does mean you need to move quickly. What is available one weekend might be in contract the next. This is a part where, like I said before, your realtor could really come in handy. They should know better than anyone what the best course of action is. But at the same time, if you’ve done your homework then you should be in a good place to make decisions about what you can afford and what you think a place is worth.
Before submitting the official offer paperwork, feel free to iron out any questions you may have. J and I contacted the realtors to get specifics about things that we noticed from the open houses and let them know that we were very interested in the property. We asked about getting specific dimensions to figure out square footage, if they had information on bike storage, and other odds and ends. This buys you a bit of time to mentally process and make a decision, as well as to get your offer in if you don’t have a scanner immediately available.
When you initiate the offer, be personable but concise. Say some nice things about the place and maybe reference a conversation point you had with the realtor previously. If I were a realtor getting a number of potential offers, I would want to be able to quickly identify who is committed, sincere, and also efficient. Also, if you are offering below asking price you will want to demonstrate that you understand the value of the property (this is someone’s home you’re talking about), so don’t dive into numbers without first appealing to everyone’s humanity.
Like job offers, it’s nice to have a few options to choose from, but not necessary. The most important aspects are to double check your numbers and triple-check your gut feelings.
This is part VI of a series (mostly anecdotal) about purchasing a coop in Queens. For the rest of the series, click here.