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The Basics of Making an Offer

What is the typical down payment for an apartment in NYC?

How much should I put down?

One of the questions we are asked about most often is about the size of the downpayment. In most of the country, this answer is determined by credit and income factors. Lenders offer pre-loans that require anywhere from 5-20% downpayment - so in theory many first time home buyers would be financially qualified to buy a home with as little as 5% down.

However, the New York housing market it unique, and a number of factors drive us to advise almost all buyers to consider 20% downpayment a minimum for purchasing a home in NYC.

First, a majority of the apartment inventory in New York City (roughly 70%), are co-ops. Co-ops are unique to New York, and most require a minimum downpayment of at least 20% down, with some requiring higher percentages, with 25% most common, and even higher amounts more rare. For more information on what a coop is and other financial requirements they might impose, see our earlier post here.

Condos typically allow buyer to put as little as 10%, but in reality, where demand for a particular unit is high, we find that 10% is simply not competitive, even if those prospective buyers are offering a higher purchase price. A higher downpayment gives the seller more assurance that financing is not going to be an issue, either due to the borrower's qualifications or factors related to the building or specific unit. Thus, especially at lower price points (under $1.5M), we advise our buyers to be prepared to put 20% down, even if the building permits greater financing.

Also note that in addition to downpayment, buyers should be prepared to have the liquidity for closing costs. We've outlined these costs here, but note that they are much higher when a buyer is financing a condo than a coop. That said, coops will have reserves requirements, so in either case, a buyer must be in a position to have additional cash beyond the downpayment to complete the purchase.

The structure of your offer, not just the number, is important when buying a home in New York City. An experienced and knowledgable buyer's agent will advise you on what range of purchase prices you are most qualified for and how you can structure your offer to be the most competitive.

Do I need to be all-cash to be competitive?

In the last few years, we've all heard the news: All-cash buyers are flooding the market; unless you can buy outright, stay out of the market. Well, there was some truth to this until recently, but only really if you were looking at properties valued over $2 million. Even at the peak of the all-cash-buyer phase, most purchases still involved financing. So what if you are one of the majority that needs financing... well the first step is contacting a mortgage professional and getting a preapproval letter.

In order to make an offer where some part of the purchase price will be financed, a buyer will have to submit a preapproval letter. It could take a few days to gather the documents necessary to present to a bank, and the bank will have to review and verify the buyer's financial profile before issuing such a letter. Thus it is important to have started the process of obtaining a preapproval letter with a mortgage professional very early in the process.

A preapproval letter states that the lender's representative has reviewed the financials of the buyer/borrower, and that the potential borrower has met all conditions for lending up to X amount. In reaching this determination, the potential borrower has to fill out lengthy forms, submit to a credit check, and provide documentation of assets, salary, debts, etc. Gone are the days (at least for now) of the pre-meltdown "no-doc" loans with 2% down.

The relationship with the mortgage professional is ongoing. The initial prequalification will state some approved amount. But what if the potential borrower/buyer sees a perfect property and wants to put an offer in that's higher than the initial preapproval amount? Well, based on certain apartment-specific factors (like if there is unusually low monthly maintenance), the pre-approval could be increased, and a subsequent letter issued. Similarly, if the potential borrower/buyer wants to place a bid that is significantly lower than the preapproval amount, a new letter for a lower approval amount might be better for negotiations so as not to tip off the seller that the offer could be increased.

I've been using the term mortgage professionals because the relationship could be with a banker, a broker, or a broker/banker. The mortgage professsionals at major banks are mortgage bankers. They will approve the loan based on their bank's criteria and the bank will fund the loan. A broker will preapprove the individual based on their creditworthiness and later find an appropriate lender once a specific property is identified. A broker/banker can do both: They can tap into banks, other lenders, and could even have their own bank fund the loan. Depending on your circumstances, it might be appropriate to work with one of these individuals over the others.

Should I make a lowball offer?

As an agent, I’m often asked, how low can I go? Especially where buyers smell negotiability, it may be tempting to make a lowball offer and just see what happens. The truth is lowball offers have a tendency to alienate sellers and can preclude negotiations, rather than encourage a dialogue. A low (but not lowball) offer may be appropriate in some cases, depending on current market conditions, the type of property, and your relative strength as a buyer, and other factors. However, a perceived lowball will almost always be counterproductive.

In a normal market, I advise clients to stick within 7% of the asking price if we believe there is negotiability. Any lower than that and the sellers would have lowered the price themselves. Even if a property is truly overpriced, an offer that is perceived as a lowball -- no matter how fair or appropriate under the circumstances -- is unlikely to be the reason why a seller finally comes to their senses. In those cases, it’s usually better to make no offer on the property unless and until there’s a price cut.

Of course, your strength as a buyer may have some effect on your ability to negotiate. An all-cash buyer may have a freer hand to make aggressive offers without alienating sellers, particularly in a slower market. Being all-cash is especially advantageous when a property is difficult (or even impossible) to finance -- but then again, most such properties are already priced to reflect these challenges. Generally speaking, the perceived advantages of being all-cash are frequently overblown or exaggerated. For example, in the more common scenario of a financeable property, the main advantage an all-cash buyer has over a financially qualified borrower is an earlier closing date.

Unlike resale properties, luxury new developments may offer greater opportunity for price negotiation. Depending on the sheer number of similar new development units that hit the market at once, what percent of units are currently in contract, and and how aspirational the sponsor was in pricing those units, there may be significant (20-30%) room to negotiate below the asking price. Sponsors are also unlikely to be personally offended by low offers, compared to a seller who is more emotionally attached to their home they are selling.

As always, if you’re looking to buy a property and want to know more about how much you should offer and any other steps in the process, feel free to reach out.

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