Open Houses: What to Do, What to See, What to Ask

Look, old time New Yorkers waiting to go to an open house at a brownstone...Oh, they're waiting for word about the Titanic. Never mind.

Look, old time New Yorkers waiting to go to an open house at a lovely brownstone…Oh, they’re waiting for word about the Titanic. Never mind that.

The weekend is here! I bet you’re planning on spending part of yours indulging in New York’s second favorite Sunday activity: going to open houses. (Brunch is the first favorite Sunday activity. I know I didn’t even need to tell you that.) If you are, here are some tips for getting the most out of your tours of apartments.

Take your own photos Sure, the broker is going to give you a lovely show sheet with professional photos showing the apartment at its best. Take your own photos to show what it looks like today. You may also want to take pictures of things that the broker didn’t think were important…or didn’t want to show.

Check out the floors and ceilings I know, I said the same thing about looking at rentals, but floors and ceilings really are good places to look for signs of trouble. Of course if you are buying an apartment, you may be willing to put in money to fix up the floors of a place that has enough other charms (though I would want to know why the floors were in trouble–is it the apartment or the building? This would be a “bring a contractor” to take a look question). Water stains on the ceiling are even more troubling. I would want a good explanation about what went on above the apartment and how it’s been fixed. Potential problems like these are also good things to photograph.

Pay attention to the apartment’s location in the building I mean things like how close the apartment is to the elevator or garbage chute or laundry (if it’s a “laundry on every floor!”) building. Some may appreciate this kind of proximity (“…and the laundry is just across the hall! It’s so convenient”); some may not (“I hear people talking as they get in and out of the elevator ALL.THE. TIME.). If it’s a ground floor apartment, how close is it to the lobby? If it’s a top floor apartment, will you be able to hear a party on the roof deck? Just some things to think about.

Is the apartment right next to the car elevator?

Is the apartment right next to the car elevator?

(And speaking of sounds, would I put my ear to the wall at an open house to see if I could hear the neighbors? Yes, I would. Who knows, I might hear something interesting.)

Pay attention to the outdoor surroundings Those are nice, over-sized windows, but they’re not worth much if the apartment is on the second floor and the building next door is twenty-five stories. Oh, and those are lovely views, but hey, is that a construction project down there? What are they building and how big is it going to be? Or maybe the apartment faces a courtyard or alley on one side–if so, I would want to think hard about the potential noise level, like if the building management uses those areas to do work. (Then again, I may just be particularly sensitive to this because the building next door to me is using the alley for a sawmill and brick grinding operation.)

Recent renovations Ask the broker what kind of work has been done in the apartment, just so you can get an idea of what is and isn’t up to date.

Building sublet policy Ask for details about the sublet policy. You may not be planning to sublet, but plans change. Also, a very strict sublet policy may affect your ability to sell the apartment in the future. Sure, you can find some who don’t care or buyers who will appreciate knowing that their building isn’t going to turn into a hotel, but I’ve had an awful lot of people pass on perfect-in-every-other-way apartments because they wanted to have subletting flexibility.

Assessments Find out if there are any assessments on the building, what they’re for, and how long they will last. In addition to knowing how much you really need to budget for your monthly payments, this can also tell you something about the building’s condition (“Oh, we’re paying off a new roof now? That’s great, won’t have to worry about that for a while!” “The assessment is to shore up the building’s reserve funds…?”).

Why are they selling? This is one of my favorite questions to ask a seller’s broker, because it helps you think about how you would approach an offer on the apartment. Now the broker is never going to say, “They are selling because they need cash fast” or “They know the building is in trouble,” but you can still read between the lines in their explanation.

The most common answers are usually something like “They have another baby on the way and they need more space” or “The owner got a new job and had to move out of the city.” In that case, what I really like to know is whether the sellers have a new place yet. If they don’t, they may be a little desperate because they might need to make a deal contingent on selling their current apartment. If they do have a new apartment, I would consider the monthly charges of this one. If they’re relatively low or average, the sellers can decide to play hardball and hold on until they get their price. If the monthlies are on the high side, you may have the upper hand as the sellers will want to stop paying those as soon as possible.


And finally…give the apartment a memorable name This is a fantastic tip from my fabulously knowledgeable cohort at Century 21 Metropolitan, Claudine O’Rourke. If you’re seeing a lot of apartments, they can all start to run together after a while, so she suggests giving the apartment a crazy name in your notes (you are taking notes, right?) that will help you remember it. Like “the too much pink bathroom apartment” or “scary doll collection apartment” or “the Emmy awards apartment” (I did walk into an apartment once and find a shelf full of Emmy awards; the owner was a sports news producer). Then later that night when you’re thinking about the day, you’ll be able to say, “Which was the one we liked, the second one? Or was it the fourth one? Oh yeah, it was Too Many Naked Family Photos Apartment!”

(You’re welcome for that last image. Enjoy your open house visits.)

Hey, remember Terrifying Doll Head Apartment?

Hey, remember Terrifying Doll Head Apartment?







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