Why Doesn’t Anyone Want Prepaid Rent?

giant check

In the last few months, I’ve had several people searching for a rental ask me if they could prepay a year’s rent. So what happened?

First, let’s talk about why they wanted to do that, and the answer is simple–they didn’t meet the landlord’s requirements for renting. As we all know, renting in New York City is hard. One of the toughest requirements for many people to meet is the 40x one month income bar. That means that if the rent is $2000/month, you must earn $80,000.  Now if you a) have been working for a few years in finance b) are a first year law associate at a large firm c) are a professional athlete, you can just shrug your shoulders at that minimum (and by the way, if you are any of those, you probably are not looking at $2000/per month apartments). If, however, you just graduated from college and have a non-paying internship, you’re a full-time student, you’re self-employed with variable income, you work for a start up and have more shares than weekly dollars, you have a working class job, or hey, you are an heir/heiress and you have plenty of savings, but no verifiable emplooymnt or income, well, then it’s a real problem.

Most people deal with this in two ways–they find a roommate (or roommates) whose combined income gets them all over the 40 times income bar, or they get a guarantor (guarantors are usually required to earn 80 times the one months rent). Those options weren’t available to the people I met, so they thought that they could get around the requirements by offering to prepay a year’s rent. And you know what? Most landlords didn’t go for it.

That seems crazy, right? I mean, why wouldn’t a landlord be thrilled to have the one lump sum payment? Wouldn’t it be nice to know they have at least one tenant taken care of, with no late payments, no missed payments, nothing to worry about. Done and done and done. But no deal–almost all of them said they preferred a guarantor, and one said that they would take a prepayment, but the tenant would still have to fill out the application and show some kind of reasonable income. Maybe a small landlord who is renting out shares of their two or three family house would have been willing to do it, or maybe a co-op or condo owner who is subletting might go for it (though the co-op board usually has to review rental applications and they might be as tough as a landlord). But your average building management company? No.

The renters (who both came from out of state and were not used to the obstacle course that is renting in NYC) were completely puzzled by this. One pair eventually scaled down their max rent until it met the requirements, ending up with a much smaller apartment and different neighborhood than they wanted. The other got a guarantor.

But it did make me think a lot about why landlords are so resistant to the prepayment offer. I did a little research, but didn’t find many answers. So here are the best guesses I came up with:

  • The landlord worries that for some reason the tenant will have to break the lease and the landlord will then have to pay back the tenant for the months not used. Landlords do NOT like writing checks to tenants.
  • Management offices just aren’t equipped to handle a tenant whose account is different than everyone else’s. I swear I’ve walked into some management offices that looked like they were straight out of 1994, with ancient computers and overstuffed filing cabinets and the occasional typewriter. I really feel for the poor administrativve staff working in these kind of places. So these places just aren’t cut out for things like “These numbered apartments get a bill every month, and these don’t, and was their lease renewed and they now DO need bills?” It’s not hard to imagine some kind of error happening where the billing department loses track of the fact that the renter has prepaid and starts sending out late notices and late charges to the tenant, creating a mess for both parties. I honestly think that’s the reason why landlords are reluctant to accept prepayment–just to avoid confusion.

    The moral of this story, then, is that if you were hoping to get around a landlord’s income requirements by prepaying, bury those hopes. A guarantor or roommates are still your best bet. And if you have enough cash lying around to prepay a year’s rent on a typically high-priced NYC rental, well, maybe you should see how far you are from a downpayment to buy an apartment…

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What Is A Land-Lease Building…?

You see a listing at a price that seems too good to be true. A 2 bedroom? In Manhattan prime for $450,000? That must be a typo, right? Hmm, no, it looks legit. Well, it must need a gut renovation. Let me read that again…no, it actually HAS been renovated. Seriously, what’s the catch? Okay, that maintenance is high, but still…What’s this now? A note on the listing saying this is in a land-lease building? What’s a land-lease building?

Land...

Land…

...Lease

…Lease

A land-lease building is actually one of those things that is wonderfully what it sounds like. The owners of the building own the building, but not the land it is built on. Instead, they lease the land. This is typically found in co-op buildings (I doubt it would occur with a condo, but in New York real estate, never say never), which means the co-oop’s shareholders are responsible for paying the lease on the land. That’s why the maintenance charges for land lease apartments are so high–in addition to the the usual common charges, RE taxes, and any mortgage payments included in the monthly maintenance, there also is a charge to help pay the monthly land lease. And as you may guess, the lease rate on New York land is not exactly cheap. Plus the owner of the land has the co-op owners over the proverbial barrel during lease negotiations: “You don’t like these terms? Fine, I’ll sell the land. Hope your new landlord doesn’t want to tear you down.”

And that right there is why the prices are low. There is a feeling of instability that comes with a land-lease building, that when the lease is up, the land owner could say, “Hey, I don’t care what you’re willing to pay, I’m getting 80 kabillion dollars from Big Condo Developer to sell this land, and oh yeah, they’re going to raze the building.” The co-op doesn’t have 100% control over the property they own, which is why many people shy away from buying in a land-lease building.

So should YOU stay away from that incredible apartment with its high monthly charges? Here’s who I think should actually consider it: if you’re an all cash buyer, this might be a great deal for you. In most buildings, your amount of cash might get you just little one bedroom, but in a land-lease buiding you’ll get that spacious two bedroom you thought was out of your reach. Since you wouldn’t have a mortgage, you’d just have to deal with the monthly maintenance. And you think the monthly maintenance is high? You’ve seen rent in Manhattan, right? Chances are good that even though the maintenance charges are high for a co-op, they’re less than you’d be paying to rent a similar apartment in the same neighborhood.

Okay, so if you think you fit that picture, there are two very important questions you should ask:

  • How much is left on the current lease? If the lease runs until 2050 (and yes, I’ve seen some of these deals in place), then you’re probably safe, unless the building owner has some kind of out that can break the lease (put that under questions to ask the co-op). If the lease only has ten more years on it, I’d hesitate, no matter how much the co-op assures you that they have a good relationship with their land owner and plan to renew it easily as usual. I’d rather not be a shareholder in that building to find out that this time is going to be different.
  • I would also ask about the sublet policy. If they allow subletting with relatively few restrictions, then you can make some money off the apartment if you decide you’re not comfortable with the situation. Even with the high maintenance, you’ll still turn a profit because as I said, rent in Manhattan is just crazy.

So land-lease building, yea or nay? Don’t dismiss it immediately, find out the facts, think about your finances and your tolerance for some instability in exchange for a good deal, and of course, discuss it all with your broker ( who may have some dirt on the building that the seller isn’t anxious to share).

Getting Started: How Much Cash Do I Need To Buy in New York City?

Piggy Bank

Oh no. There it is again. Your landlord is raising your rent to some ungodly number just so you can have the privilege of living in a top floor walk up in a building where the amenities consist of a door. Is it time to buy?

It certainly is! Of course I always think it’s time to buy, mostly because a) New York real estate is always a good investment and b) it sucks being a tenant. So the real question now is CAN you buy? How much money do you exactly need?

Let’s imagine that you found a $500,000 apartment with $1,000 a month maintenance charges (numbers chosen for easy math, like the kind I can do without a calculator). You know you’ve got the paycheck to cover your monthly mortgage payments and maintenance charges, but that’s all in the future. How much cash do you need to have on hand now just to get approved by a co-op board and close on your $500K apartment?

Down Payment Most co-op and condo buildings in New York City require a down payment of 20% of the purchase price. There are some that require more, like 25% or even 35% (these buildings tend to be found on the Upper East Side). Occasionally you may find a condo that only requires 10% down or even an FHA approved building that only calls for 6%, but I wouldn’t plan my sales search with those numbers in mind.Let’s go with the 20%:

20% of $500,000 = $100,000

Closing Costs A lot of things are covered in the big category called closing costs: attorney fees, title fees, court recording fees, any move in fees the building may require, etc. The amounts for each of these things can vary widely, so it’s pretty much impossible to give anyone a definitive number before the closing; as you get closer to the date your attorney may be able to give you a clearer estimate, but I would feel safe if I set aside $10,000 to cover everything. That may be way too much–it could be as little as $5,000–but I’d rather overestimate than underestimate. And if you end up with extras, you can go buy some candy (or a drink, because nothing says, “I need a drink” like a few hours of handing over large checks to attorneys).  So let’s say you need another $10,000

$100,000+$10,000

Savings to Impress the Co-op Board You’ve probably heard stories about co-op boards analyzing your reference letters for signs of character flaws, or asking difficult personal questions at interviews to find out if you will be the right kind of neighbor, but you know what they’re really interested in? How much money you have. You could have the best personality in the world and the heart of a saint, but if they don’t see that you a serious amount of liquid assets, that won’t matter one bit. Co-op boards want to be sure that if you lose your job, you’ll be able to cover your monthly maintenance fees for a year or two; The amount of years will vary from building to building. The seller’s broker should be able to give you some idea of how much the board would like to see. If it looks like you don’t have enough, someone will let you know; no one wants a buyer to go through the process of filling out a board package and waiting weeks for word on that if there’s little chance the buyer will pass financially. That would be a waste of time for both the buyer and seller. Let’s go with the two year number for our sample case:

$100,000+$10,000+$24,000

…and Something Extra The co-op board won’t be that impressed if you only have $24,000 saved because they won’t believe that you may not do something like, oh, I don’t know, buy some furniture for that new apartment. Let’s throw in another $10,000 (and that’s probably skimping on things) just to show that you’re not going be pushed down to nothing if you have to tap into those savings.

$100,000+$10,000+$24,000+$10,000

Okay! Time to add it up:

$100,000 + $10,000 + $24,000 + $10,000 = $144,000

So yeah, to buy that $500,000 apartment, you probably should have about $144,000 easily accessible to you. Does that sound doable? Of course it does (provided you don’t work in the arts–but you knew that already). Now get ready to say goodbye to your landlord!

Stacks of Cash

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.

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Eleven Reasons Why You Should Consider a Walk Up

Stairs_downward

Are you New York enough for a walk up? Yeah, I mean you. Are you ready to take the plunge and deal with ascending a few flights of steps every day in exchange for an apartment that’s a lot better than what you’d pay for in an elevator building?

New York is an old city. Not old like Rome kind of old, but old for the United States old. So that means the buildings are old, and we like that–the way cobblestone, twisty streets downtown mix in with shining towers of steel and glass is part of what makes New York the way it is, different kinds of places mixed together, different kinds of people.

You're almost home!

You’re almost home!

But many people move here with only a passing familiarity with stairs, like that one flight of twelve, thirteen steps in the house where you grew up. You know, the one that you ran up as soon as you got home from school so you could get to your bedroom and slam the door shut and cry or crank up your music really loud or play video games instead of do your homework. And those twelve or thirteen steps were fine. But four flights of that? Most people find the thought–well, they don’t find it because it’s completely unimaginable.

It's not like you can avoid stairs in New York anyway.

It’s not like you can avoid stairs in New York anyway.

However, what would you think of those three or four flights if you knew it could save you several hundred dollars a month? Or thousands of dollars off your purchase price? Suddenly it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Of course there are perfectly good reasons why someone might not even consider a walk-up. If your best friend or favorite relative can’t walk up stairs, don’t move into a walk-up and exclude that person from your life. If you own a large dog, don’t move into a walk-up unless you’re a large, strong person because otherwise you’ll be in trouble if your favorite pup grows into a senior citizen with arthritis. If you own a grand piano, don’t do it or you’ll have the worst move in ever.

But for everyone else, here are Eleven Reasons Why You Should Consider a Walk-Up!

1) Okay, I said it already–walk-ups are cheaper. With a walk-up, you can live in that neighborhood you thought was out of reach, or get more square footage for your money. Walk-ups are bargains. For example, I just did  a search for Upper East Side one bedrooms from $2000-$3000. There are plenty of walk ups in the $2000 range (and they’re not all on the top floor), but the first elevator building listing doesn’t hit until $2200. So you’re paying an extra $2400 for that elevator…

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Ghostbusters in New York

Ghostbusters_logo

This Sunday, June 8th, marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the comedy classic “Ghostbusters.” I admit that I haven’t rewatched “Ghostbusters” in years, maybe since I was young enough to think, “He slimed me” was the funniest line in movie history (it’s not, but it’s up there), yet I feel confident in saying that it holds up as well now as it ever did. If you have kids, watch it with them and you’ll see what I mean, And they’ll be impressed that an incredibly old, clueless person like you  actually knows about something good.

Hello, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Hello, Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

The reason I’m talking about “Ghostbusters,” though is because it features so many great New York locations. As noted in this Vanity Fair article about the making of the movie , New York in the early ’80s wasn’t the most desirable place to be. The entertainment industry had pretty much fled the crime-ridden, decaying streets, with the notable exception of “Saturday Night Live,” which is why SNL alum Dan Aykroyd and “Ghostbusters” star/creator wasn’t afraid to film here when the idea came up. You know how today people in New York tend to be annoyed at seeing a film crew on the street? The extras and passersby in “Ghostbusters” were probably genuinely excited to see things like Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson walking down the street in their Ghostbuster gear (though not as excited as the plainly gawking crowds hanging over the railing at Rockefeller Center, watching Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin filming the climactic moment of “New York New York” in “On the Town.” I love old movies.).

#Paranormalproblems

#Paranormalproblems

There are three locations in “Ghostbusters” that stand out for me.

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Q&A: What’s a Co-op? What’s a Condo?

nyc view from empire state bldgSome of these buildings are co-ops. Some are condos? What’s the diff?

Hello everyone! It’s great to see you here. And now, how about some questions from our audience. Anyone? Anyone? No? Okay, that’s understandable. You did just get here after all. So let me start?

Q: I want to buy an apartment in New York City, but I keep seeing things listed as co-ops. What’s a co-op? How is it different than a condo?

This is easily one of the most common questions that come up when people first begin their New York apartment search. So let’s get to it.

Co-ops: Co-op is short for co-operative, which, in most parts of the country, is a word you’re more likely to see on a kindergarten report card than in the real estate listings. However, in New York City it refers to a co-operative building, or a building that is owned by all the residents (see? people cooperating. It all makes sense now). When you buy a co-op apartment, you do not get a title to real property, as you would if you buy a house or a condo; instead, you buy shares in the corporation that owns the building. As a shareholder, you pay a monthly maintenance fee which contributes towards paying off the building’s mortgage, (if it still has one), the real estate taxes, and the upkeep of the building.

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