Advice for Physicians Relocating to New York City

In a four-part series, the doctor offers advice and guidance on a subject many people seem to have an itch to do these days: Buy property in New York City. Here she lays out some things buyers need to know.

In Part I of a four-part series, the doctor offers advice and guidance on a subject many people seem to have an itch to do these days: Buy property in New York City.

Getting Started

My husband and I have a two bedroom co-op in Manhattan. We purchased it in 1994 for our daughter to reside while working in New York City. Our idea was that it would be used simultaneously as a pied e terre for Mom and Dad. This worked smoothly until our daughter married and had a baby. Then, the apartment was crowded when the five of us occupied it at the same time. Our grandchild and her parents decided to more into their own place.

Now, we enjoy the co-op on average about eight days a month, which is enough to justify the maintenance and taxes we pay. In this way, one can look at it as a cost-effective luxury, if the original outlay is not considered. Of course, with the stock market more or less in shambles, this real estate move in 1995 turned out looking brilliant as our place has increased markedly in value -- just like most residential property in the city.

This brings us to the crux of the issue: Buying a home in the big apple. It’s a question I’m asked about often. Working through it is applicable to anyone thinking of fulfilling a dream: Living in one’s own home in Manhattan.

Although we love our Upper East Side location and the building in which we live, there are some downsides. We are in a building where there is no second exit/service door. In case of fire or emergency, this could be a problem. Additionally, we have a very poor view. Like most kitchens in Manhattan, ours is small and it has no vent. The building manager controls our heating and air-conditioning, not us -- this means the apartment temperature can be uncomfortable in the spring and fall when the heat is on and the air-conditioner is off. For these reasons, and some others, I decided to try to improve out lot by looking for a home in a new building.

We started with Streeteasy.com, a largely free website that’s enormously helpful to the real-estate enthusiast. It gives all kinds of statistics, including links to a property’s photos and videos, floor plans, prices and maintenance fees, plus any decrease in original asking cost and more. Also, it shows the location of the property and what is in the surrounding area. Streeteasy contains screens with filters, so for example, you can narrow your search down to a two-bedroom co-op or condominium in the borough of your choice, with an asking price between $750,000 and $1 million. You can even specify the maximum monthly maintenance fees. Generally the price of co-ops is less than condos because the bar for entry is far more stringent. Co-op purchasers have to be approved by the board. Condominium buyers do not.

PropertyShark.com is subscription website for property information. Here, you can search for ownership information, title history and more for $24.95 per month.

According to Zillow.com, real-estate prices have been fluctuating on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and surely in all of New York City. For example, the average price of a home in this region was $850,000 in April 2010, down from $1.15 million in June 2009. But if recent sales are any indicator, prices are on the rise again. The problem for buyers is that these statistics are retrospective. Therefore, a purchaser is often better off diving in when you want to buy (or need to buy), unless the trend appears to be strongly leaning one way or the other. Buying near the trough on the downtrend is wise if someone can be that lucky, or purchasing on the upswing, assuming economic indicators look positive.

Next week: Part II: Brokers, Bids and Breakpoints.