Q: We are about to buy a co-op, and one of my friends asked me if I was going to do an inspection. Do I need to do this for an apartment in a building?
A: A home inspection is not generally done for a co-op apartment because the co-op is responsible for the structure of the building. The only time I would recommend an inspection is if your apartment is located on the top floor or below street level and there is evidence of structural issues.
In either case, it is almost always the responsibility of the co-op to repair any structural problems. You can personally check things like appliances and water leaks and save yourself several hundred dollars of home inspection fees.
Q: Why do I need a lawyer to buy or sell?
A: In many other states, lawyers are not used for transactions. This is usually handled by the brokers and title companies. Using a government-mandated form, you only have to sign a simple agreement and you are in contract.
In the New York metropolitan area, lawyers are very important due to the overwhelming amount of paperwork required to enter into contract and subsequently close a transaction.
This can be even greater if there are banks involved. An experienced attorney will be able to protect your interests and keep you out of bad situations that can cost you money.
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Q: I am told that rents are still very low, and I should rent instead of buying. Is this true?
A: While rents are slightly lower than they were pre-pandemic, consider that unless you’re in a rent-stabilized apartment, when you renew your lease, if the rental market has improved, the landlord will likely raise your rent to market price.
Couple that with the fact that prices have not fully recovered on sales, and this might be the ideal time to become a homeowner. Of course, if you are planning to move in a short period—say one to three years—then I would recommend a rental.
Q: Someone mentioned that as an owner, I can get a rebate from the government. What is this about, and does it also apply to a coop owner?
A: STAR is the School Tax Relief Program put in place by New York State as a rebate for homeowners. And yes, it does apply to cooperative and condominium owners as well.
In order to benefit from this, the unit must be your primary residence. You are required to fill out an application form and submit it to the NY State Tax Authority.
There is also an enhanced STAR rebate for those over 65 whose income is below $90,500. Note that you can only benefit from one STAR rebate regardless of how many properties you own, and there are some restrictions. Visit www.tax.ny.gov to learn more.
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Q. I have an apartment that I rent. The tenants have not been paying their rent. Can I just change the locks? Is there anything COVID-related that affects this?
A. Evicting tenants is a process that must be done through the court system. I strongly recommend contacting an attorney who specializes in landlord/tenant disputes. They will start a process through the court system, and your tenant will have the opportunity to contest it.
Until a judge rules in your favor, the tenants cannot be removed, harassed, or otherwise intimidated into moving. Additionally, as of right now, there continues to be a moratorium on evictions in the City of New York.
You might try negotiating a settlement with your tenants, e.g., offering to let them leave without having to pay the back rent.
Q. We are currently renting and have been considering a purchase. I have been hearing that people are moving out of New York. Should we wait to buy?
A. While it is often difficult to predict future markets, I can tell you from experience that the market continues to be very active.
Additionally, the COVID-19 issue is slowly being overcome with a large percentage of the population at least partially vaccinated. This will bring some “normalcy” back to the market.
The conditions are still very good if you plan to purchase now. Interest rates continue to be very low, although there has been a slight rise recently. If you consider the amount of money that you spend in the space of five years of renting, you will see that purchasing is definitely a good idea.
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Q. I am getting ready to sell my house, and I think I have asbestos in my basement. Am I required to remove it before selling?
A. You are not required to remove asbestos. However, at the time of negotiation, it may come up as an issue. You have a few choices.
First, you can wrap the asbestos, which is a less expensive way to mitigate the problem. Because you are not cutting into the asbestos, it is easier and less intrusive if you are living in the house.
A second solution is to have the asbestos removed, which is a bit costlier depending on the amount that you have.
The third choice is to just leave it alone, let the purchaser deal with it, and cover it in the price. If it is a very small amount of asbestos, I recommend removing it. In this way, it will not become an issue.
Q. I currently have oil heat in my house. My boiler is quite old, and my plumber says it might be time to buy a new one since it’s been giving me trouble. Is it a good idea to convert from oil to gas or does it matter if I sell the house?
A. It is easier to change from one oil boiler to another. However, it may make more sense to take this opportunity and convert to gas heat. Most buyers prefer gas heat in my experience.
Also, if you check with your local gas provider, they may offer credits or assistance in converting over to gas heat to make it even more cost-effective.
Bear in mind that if you do switch to gas heat, you will have to either dispose of your oil tank or have it filled with sand to protect the environment. This has to be done by someone who can give you a certification that it was properly handled.
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