Trials and Tribulations of Buying and Selling in NYC

The maintenance was too high. I didn’t like being on the 19th floor. The neighborhood was boring. There were too many doormen. I felt like I was living in a hotel. These were just some of the many reasons I decided to put my New York City apartment on the market a few years ago.

But after three failed attempts to sell it — by three different agents (one of whom let me know that she had taken it off the market by simply leaving my key with the doorman — rude!), I was hesitant to give the listing to yet another broker and try again.

Besides, I was concerned that finding a new place that fell within my price range and met my three “musts” — a livelier neighborhood, a younger building and lower maintenance costs — would be nothing short of challenging. “No problem,” the broker assured me, “we’ll get you something.” And in a weak moment, I acquiesced and gave him the listing. This was back in May or June.

Slim selection

Fast forward to now. The broker did indeed sell my apartment, and he sold it relatively quickly. I think it had only been on the market four, maybe six weeks. In that range. We got close to asking price, although I am still peeved that I have to pay a portion of the flip tax (This is a tax, paid by either the buyer or the seller, that creates an ongoing cash flow for the co-op/boosts its financial reserves. While it can be calculated any number of ways, in my case it is 3 percent of the sale price — no small chunk of change!). Nevertheless, it looks like the deal will go through and that we will close in late September or early October.

This leads me to new challenges — as a BUYER.

For starters, there is nothing to buy in New York City! In fact, I have seen 20-30 apartments, and they’re either in need of major renovation (not my thing), are back apartments (I need a view — of something), or have some type of inadequacy that I just can’t live with (like no kitchen, as was the case with one of the apartments I looked at). What can I say? Like most buyers, I’m picky!

Multiple offers

Granted, I did fall in love with one apartment — in a townhouse that had been converted into multiple units. It was beautiful (straight out of House Beautiful!) and in excellent condition, but it was also tens of thousands above my price range.

Regardless, love makes you do crazy things so yes, I made an offer. Not an insultingly low offer, but several thousand below asking price. I figured I’d get a counter, but no: the seller threw it out, and I was told that there were two more competitive offers on the table. Did I want to go higher?? Oy.

Same situation a few weeks later. I made an offer. This time, a slightly more reasonable offer on an apartment I wasn’t even in love with (!), but it was in move-in condition, the location was good and I was starting to worry that I’d soon be homeless.

Again — rejected.

My broker called me and asked that we “rescind” the offer. Why? I wondered. An offer is an offer is an offer. And in a market that’s as lousy as this one, isn’t any offer — particularly one that is within striking distance — considered a good thing? Guess not.

Cash not king?

A third hurdle: my financials. You know that one-page sheet that brokers make you fill out, showing them what you’ve got and where those assets are? I guess my estimates were too conservative and that makes getting board approval nothing short of impossible.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I have excellent credit, that I have always paid my bills in full and on time or that I am looking to do an all-cash deal (P.S.: I doubt I’d be able to get a mortgage at a decent rate, as my freelance/contract employment history, which is becoming the norm nationwide, looks too spotty on paper).

So … I’m back to Square One. Only now I’m thinking I’ll stop wasting my time looking for a new apartment to purchase (although I will still continue to receive instant on-screen notifications on my Zillow iPhone App as they pertain to new listings, price changes, open houses and more), and put my energy toward finding some sort of short-term “deal” (A friend of a friend, perhaps? Back home to my parents’ home in Massachusetts for a while?) as my other option — renting — has become prohibitively expensive.

And the clock keeps ticking …

Related:

Vera Gibbons is a financial journalist based in New York City and is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Connect with her at http://veragibbons.com/.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.