After five years of renting in Manhattan, I bought my first home.
It’s a one-bedroom co-op apartment in a New York City suburb, about 30 minutes away from Penn Station by train.
In late October, I made an offer, and we closed the last week of February. Thank goodness that’s over.
Going into the process, I had no real idea of what to expect, other than that it would be expensive (correct!). Along the way, I learned something else: Buying an apartment requires a veritable flood of paperwork.
Note that since I bought a co-op, I own shares in the building, complete with stock certificate. For that reason, I was vetted not just as a neighbour, but as a business partner.
That means more paperwork.
If you’re buying a house, or a condo, I imagine you can eliminate many of the documents from the list below. I didn’t even get into what I needed to submit to the bank to secure a mortgage, because there was a lot of overlap with the papers required by the management company.
Now that I’m on the other side, I’ve realised there are a lot of stages of the home-buying process that no one ever warns you about. Here is your warning. If you’re buying a co-op, expect to submit something similar to the following:
To the management company and the co-op board of directors
Copied straight from the document the management company sent me, with some light editing for readability and privacy, and italicized commentary to emphasise how simple and not at all stressful this was:
1. A copy of the signed contract of sale
2. Personal reference letters per applicant (two) — friends or neighbours
3. Personal reference letters per applicant (two) — employer and current landlord or building manager. Months later, I found out that I should have interpreted from this instruction that the employer letter had to be on company letterhead, and “current landlord or building manager” actually meant “entity to which you pay your rent.” I had to get new versions of each. Total: six recommendations.
4. Last two years’ income tax returns plus last two years’ W-2’s per applicant. Sent these to the bank before they ever went to the management company in order to get a mortgage pre-approval. Got the approval, then sent them, plus the approval, to the management company.
5. A non-refundable check in the amount of $350.00 made payable to [the management company] for processing of your application and $100.00 per credit check / criminal check for each applicant. More on fees another time.
6. The completion of an application for proprietary lease
7. Statement of assets and liabilities and include two recent pay stubs
8. Mortgage commitment showing rate and monthly payment — if applicable
9. Most recent stock portfolio and bank statements for three months showing recent balances as back up to the statement of assets and liabilities
10. Execution of house rule affidavit. This proves I read and agree to abide by the rules, which forbid wholly modern transgressions such as playing your “phonograph” or “citizen’s band radio” loudly at night or storing your “velocipede” in the hallway.
11. If financing is involved, the mortgage company and appraiser will require questionnaires to be completed by us. Yes, I did take out a mortgage, so I had to deal with this.
12. Upon receipt of them, $150.00 fee is payable to [the management company].
13. A credit inquiry letter authorizing a credit check. Saw my credit score go down for the first time ever after this process (by 10-15 points). Don’t worry, it will recover.
After submitting this package, the management company realised it forgot to request:
14. “Tenant estimated income and expenses.”
A form that looks a lot like a budget for me to estimate what my monthly costs would be while living in the new apartment. I was grilled on this during the board interview because my estimates “didn’t seem realistic” and my projected grocery costs were “too low.”
And ultimately, I also had to send:
15. A signed affidavit from my parents showing that they gifted me some of the money for the down payment (and that they weren’t about to take it back, I guess)
16. Employment verification letters / contact information for my current and most recent previous employer. These were requested last-minute, once the board interview had already been scheduled, and every other paper was in.
17. Because the process took four months — three months is considered a long time, usually, but that’s what you get for trying to buy something over the holidays — I also had to re-submit bank account statements and pay stubs to show I still had money.
18. And lastly, on the advice of my real estate lawyer father, I sent along a few articles I’ve written that live on the internet and prove I’m gainfully employed and generally sane (pre-apartment purchase, anyway).
I might be missing some papers in this list — so much for “comprehensive” — but I can’t bear to hunt down another one. I didn’t even like getting them together the first time.
For the record, I’m convinced only one person read these forms in any detail (the grocery sceptic from the board interview). I came to that conclusion when I showed up at said interview on a frigid night in January and a co-op board member picked up my application, glanced at it, and observed, “Wow, this a lot of papers, isn’t it?”