Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - A Room (or Two) of My Own, Eventually

Tonight I went to a session offered by Mindy Diane Feldman, a Penn alum and SVP at Halstead Realty, on the ins and outs of buying an apartment in Manhattan. It is a complicated, cumbersome process and the current economic downtown has heightened the complexity considerably. The session lasted almost 3 hours and we just barely scratched the surface. It is not an undertaking for the faint of heart! While many of the other alums left feeling a little dejected and depressed how complicated the process is, I felt lifted up. I felt like I was armed with a little information that would help me to move in the right direction of finding a room (or two, or three) of my own on this tiny little island that I love so much.

Some of my friends are surprised by my desire to stay in New York after this September. I can understand the confusion. I had the opportunity to just pick up and go somewhere new after losing my last apartment and most of my belongings. Realizing how much I don't need in the way of material belongings, why would I ever want to be tied down and own my own tiny place?

I don't have a clean answer. All I can say is that the thought of leaving New York never crossed my mind. In fact, I feel it's even more important now for me to know my neighbors and my building and my neighborhood by owning an apartment. I am so tired of starting over. I've done it every year since I was 18 years old. I've had enough moving and transience in my life. A temporary dwelling is no longer appealing to me. And while I'd love to work abroad on an assignment and travel extensively, I finally found the city where I feel most at home. After so much looking and so much loss, the comfort of calling someplace a real home brings me a tremendous sense of peace.

I won't even attempt to cover the 3 hour session in this blog post. I can't even list all of the highlights in a reasonable amount of space. Here are the top 5 pieces I found most useful in my decision to begin working toward buying my own place:

1.) There are huge differences between co-ops, condos, and "condops". Each has its positives and negatives and determining which one is the right one for us takes extensive research and soul-searching.

2.) Unlike with rentals where I find most brokers to be a little tough to handle, when we buy a place, particularly in New York City, our real estate broker is our very best ally, resource, and champion. Interview them. Ask A LOT of questions, and go exclusively with 1 broker (and tell them that you're doing so.) If they know that you've committed to them, they will be committed to you. They are the lynch pin to helping you go from being a renter to an owner.

3.) There is actually a triumvirate of allies that are critical to buying an apartment in Manhattan: the real estate broker, an established, private residence real estate attorney, and a financial broker. The real estate broker is the pilot of the entire transaction and the other two are the co-pilots.

4.) The savings process and the purchase process are long affairs. Mindy opened the session by asking who was interested in buying an apartment in the next 3 years. That was the shortest time horizon she asked about. With today's climate and for the foreseeable future it takes much more money than it ever has before to buy an apartment. It is a serious investment of time and money. At first I thought it was foolish for me to go to this session because I am several years away from being able to purchase an apartment. Mindy helped me realize that planning now, years out, is the best thing I could possibly do!

5.) I'm one of those people who is always out in the world looking for opportunity. With the economic downturn and the real estate crash, I've been wondering if I should buy now, even if I'm not really ready. Deals abound so shouldn't I take advantage of them? Mindy's answer was an emphatic "no". A home is not our retirement or our 401K. It is an investment on a very different level. There is a psychological, emotional, and financial investment wrapped up in one and it needs to be treated with greater care than any other investment we make. To buy when we aren't ready, financially or emotionally, is a huge mistake. Gaming the economic situation is not a good idea. Buy when you're personally ready.

Given the value of this session, I highly recommend getting in touch with Mindy should you be interested in learning about the apartment buying process in Manhattan and determining if it's the right thing for you. She can be reached at 212.317.7887 or

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