A Guide to Buying Your First Home in NYC

A Guide to Buying Your First Home in NYC

  • Brian Worthman
  • 09/26/23


The New York City real estate market is in a league of its own. With sky-high prices, intense competition, and unparalleled complexity, it poses unique challenges for potential buyers. In the current landscape of higher-than-usual mortgage rates and housing inventory shortages, the process of buying a home in NYC has become even more intricate. For first-time homebuyers, this journey can appear overwhelming. In this comprehensive guide, we will demystify the steps to buying a home in NYC.

Rent vs. Buy: Making the Right Choice

The decision to buy a home is a monumental undertaking. Renowned for its steep prices, NYC often presents a higher cost of living compared to other parts of the country, even during market downturns. It's no surprise that many New Yorkers opt to rent rather than buy. But how do you determine whether renting vs buying in NYC is the right choice for you, especially if you're a first-time homebuyer?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Long-Term Plans: Do you plan to stay in NYC for an extended period? If not, renting may provide greater flexibility. Life-changing events like job relocations or family changes become more manageable when you're not tied to a property.
  2. Financial Considerations: Renting offers financial fluidity, as there's no hefty down payment or closing costs. Additionally, most maintenance responsibilities, such as plumbing and electricity repairs, fall on the landlord rather than the tenant.
  3. Customization: Homeownership allows you to customize your space to your heart's content. In contrast, renting entails more limited changes, which may not align with your preferences.
  4. Building Wealth: Buying a home in NYC is an investment that builds equity and offers tax and mortgage deductions. If you plan to hold the property for a few years, whether for personal use or as a rental, it's often a financially advantageous choice. Moreover, owning a home provides the benefit of locking in a monthly payment, shielded from rent hikes that are typical in NYC. Homeowners often end up with a lower monthly payment in the future after refinancing while the average rent in NYC and Brooklyn is up nearly 10% so far in 2023.

How Much Does an NYC Apartment Truly Cost?

The cost of an NYC apartment varies depending on the borough and the state of the local housing market. Currently, the median asking prices for homes in each borough are as follows:

  • Manhattan: $1,600,000
  • Brooklyn: $979,000
  • Queens: $649,999
  • Bronx: $369,000
  • Staten Island: $695,000

Beyond the monthly mortgage payment, you'll encounter additional charges such as taxes, utilities, maintenance fees. Condos typically come with a higher price tag than co-ops, but they offer more modern amenities. Despite their expense, many buyers find condos preferable due to the smoother approval process and greater flexibility especially in their financial requirements.

Co-op vs. Condo: Deciphering the NYC Distinction

In the New York City real estate market, you must decide between purchasing a co-op or a condo, a distinction unique to this region. There are also "condop" buildings, which are co-ops with rules resembling condos. Additionally, you can explore townhouses that share a wall with another residence or traditional standalone single-family homes in select boroughs.

  • Co-op: In a co-op, buyers acquire shares of a corporation that owns the building. The size of your unit corresponds to the number of co-op shares you own. Prospective buyers undergo a rigorous approval process by the co-op board, which typically includes interviews, references, and strict financial requirements. Maintenance fees in co-ops encompass the building’s taxes and operating costs. This is why you will not see property taxes listed on co-op listings.
  • Condo: Condo ownership entails owning the unit itself, along with a joint ownership stake in the common areas shared with other residents. Condos are often newer developments with enhanced amenities but come with higher closing costs. The board approval process for condos is notably less stringent than that of co-ops, providing greater flexibility for subletting and pied-à-terres. If you’re looking for an investment property, you should aim for a condo or townhouse rather than a co-op.

Closing Costs, Taxes, and Fees in NYC Real Estate Transactions

In addition to the property's list price, buyers must consider closing costs, which are fees paid at the conclusion of the real estate deal. These fees typically amount to 3-6% of the home's purchase price, with condos generally incurring higher costs compared to co-ops.

Common closing costs may include expenses for a real estate attorney, application fees, credit checks, bank attorneys, mortgage origination fees, appraisals, tax escrows, mortgage recording taxes, recording fees, and title insurance. Some co-ops impose a flip tax, while certain new development condos carry extra closing costs, like a transfer tax. For properties valued at $1 million or more, a mansion tax ranging from 1-4% applies. Renovation costs should also factor into your budget.

A skilled buyer’s agent will inquire about any potential hidden fees upfront and can sometimes negotiate these costs on your behalf. An NYC buyer’s agent will know where to push back on pricing to save you the most money.

Timing Your Home Purchase in NYC

Timing the real estate market can be challenging, but some general guidelines can aid buyers in their decision-making process. Consider the following factors:

  • Market Uncertainty: Periods of market uncertainty, such as rising mortgage rates, poor economic forecasts or election years often lead to reduced demand and lower prices due to less buyer activity. If you can weather the storm you’re likely to come out on top. There is opportunity for buyer’s willing to wade through uncertainty, it is a simple case of risk/reward economics.
  • Stale Listings: Properties that have lingered on the market for an extended period may present excellent opportunities. Buyers often avoid such properties assuming underlying issues. A skilled buyer’s agent can help you understand the costs of needed repairs and help you negotiate on the purchase price.

Understanding Down Payments in NYC

In NYC, the standard down payment aligns with the national average: 20% of the property's purchase price, leaving the remaining 80% to be financed. However, some co-ops impose stricter requirements, allowing only 75% financing, necessitating a larger down payment.

For condos or townhouses, lenders typically permit up to 90% financing, making homeownership more accessible for first-time buyers. When a buyer puts down less than the standard 20%, they may be required to pay mortgage insurance, which can be waived once the property accumulates 20% equity.

Getting Preapproved for a Mortgage

Whether you're a first-time homebuyer or an experienced one, obtaining preapproval for a mortgage before embarking on your property search is crucial. Preapproval is a formal process in which a lender assesses your eligibility for a specific mortgage amount. Sellers will rarely consider an offer that does not have a preapproval letter attached. Distinct from prequalification, preapproval carries more weight and credibility.

Delaying the preapproval process until you find a property can be a costly mistake. By then, another buyer may secure the property you desire. Also, you might discover that you qualify for a lower loan amount than expected and all of your time spent searching will have been wasted as you have to begin again with a lower budget. Initiating the preapproval process early allows you to plan for potential credit score improvements, debt reduction, or gift assistance to qualify for a higher loan amount.

The Value of a Buyer's Agent in NYC

Navigating the intricacies of buying a home in NYC can be a daunting task. Aside from browsing listings online and viewing in person, there are many steps to the NYC homebuyer’s journey. Engaging a buyer's agent can significantly reduce stress and streamline the process. In almost every transaction there is both a seller’s agent and a buyer’s agent in Brooklyn and NYC. Here's why:

  • Expertise and Assistance: A buyer's agent in NYC handles the details, keeping you informed about any concerns or pitfalls. This allows you to focus on viewing and connecting with a property.
  • Local Market Knowledge: Buyer’s agents possess insider knowledge of the local real estate market. They can help you craft competitive offers, negotiate effectively, recommend lenders, and inspectors and suggest real estate attorneys.
  • Risk Free: Unlike with rentals, the buyer does not directly compensate the buyer’s agent. The seller has a contract with their seller’s agent outlining out how commissions will be paid, and those commissions are paid by the seller.

Crafting a Winning Offer in NYC

Creating a winning offer extends beyond the purchase price—it involves presenting a comprehensive package. Collaborate with your agent to assemble a packet that includes essential financial, employment, and tax documentation. Highlight your real estate team, including your broker, attorney, and mortgage lender.

You've Won the Bid! What's Next?

Securing an accepted offer is an exciting milestone, but there's more work ahead. The next step is signing the contract. Once both parties approve the final contract draft, the buyer signs it and submits a contract deposit, usually amounting to 10% of the sale price. This deposit serves as a "good faith deposit" applied toward the property's purchase price. After the contract is signed, and the deposit paid, you’re protected from another buyer coming in with an offer.

For co-ops and some condos, you'll need to submit a purchase package to the board. Simultaneously, the bank responsible for your mortgage will process the necessary paperwork. Typically, the period between offer and closing spans 60 days, with the potential to extend to over 90 days, especially for co-op purchases.

Between Contract Signing and Closing

The duration between signing the contract and closing primarily involves waiting for the bank and the co-op or condo board to complete their respective evaluations and processes. This waiting period encompasses board evaluations, inspections, appraisals, and walk-throughs. The timeline may extend to several months and hinges on factors such as property type, financing methods, and other variables.

During this period, it's essential to refrain from making significant purchases or incurring new debts. Keep all financial accounts in good standing and avoid opening new credit card accounts or store credit lines.

What to Expect at Closing

Closing on an NYC property entails a substantial amount of paperwork and financial exchanges. Attorneys representing both the buyer and seller work to ensure a smooth process. While it may be a lengthy step, it signifies the culmination of your journey to homeownership.

Congratulations on your successful purchase of a home in NYC! You now have a place to live and an excellent investment in your future.

Work With Mark

Having lived and worked in New York City for more than 30 years, I offer experience of the all-important, yet often imperceptible, nuances of each neighborhood. Finding the city's hidden gems is one of my greatest passions, and am driven by creating real value on behalf of my grateful and loyal clientele.

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