Meet the New Yorkers who bought apartments during the coronavirus
When Kerry-Anne Hoffman signed the contract for her first New York home purchase – a two-bedroom condo in Clinton Hill with washer / dryer and dishwasher for $ 1.29 million – in late February, she was told that it would take about two months for the deal to be concluded.
Even though the coronavirus was making headlines abroad, it did not appear to threaten its tentative closing date: April 16.
“I was still listening to the story of someone from America who was on a cruise ship and got it, and I was like, ‘Oh, what’s going on with this thing?’ Remembers Hoffman, a 34-year-old project manager, who bought the Brooklyn apartment with his partner Sung Choi, a 43-year-old software executive.[There was] nothing about what will happen to the market, or will the seller back down, [or] is this the right time to buy?
But by mid-March, everything had changed. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 20, banning all non-essential gatherings in New York state.
Even though the real estate industry is “essential,” activities that were previously conducted in person – from apartment tours and open houses to appraisals and closings – had to take place virtually.
For Hoffman and Choi, that meant their closing date was pushed back to May 5. And when that finally happened, all verbal communication took place via FaceTime, while the documents had to be FedExed from buyer to seller and vice versa rather than inked at a roundtable.
“There was a time when I thought, is this a good time to buy? What if I lose my job? It wouldn’t be great. Should we reconsider? “Says Hoffmann.” But the advice we received, which made a lot of sense, was that we were always going to own. If we didn’t buy now, we would probably postpone this for at least a year, and prefer we not start our investment now? “
Plus, Hoffman adds, “We love Brooklyn. We know we want to live here for a very long time, so no matter what, we will straddle it here. “
Some New Yorkers may be fleeing the city for the Hamptons or the suburbs, but others are doubling their real estate investments in New York. In absolute terms, there are far fewer real estate transactions in New York amid the COVID-19 crisis, with transactions in April falling 61% from the same period last year, according to PropertyShark.
But the biggest fans of the Big Apple always follow.
Yet for first-time buyers, the coronavirus has added new layers of stress to a process that is already filled with piles of paperwork and nerve-wracking interviews – not to mention shell out huge amounts of money. .
“It’s uncharted territory, so the standards for reviewing a package or how to do an interview with the board or what are the move-in procedures – [it’s] everything on the move, ”explains Allison Chiaramonte, agent at Warburg Realty. “Things take longer and there are often unforeseen steps and costs, like extra cleaning or security for the accommodation. “
There has been a major problem for Liwen Zhang, 27, and Albert Louison, 26, as they prepare to close a two-bedroom $ 680,000 condo in Midwood. The pandemic and its financial fallout have slowed down the process of obtaining a loan. The couple made an offer for their apartment in February and initially applied for a loan under Bank of America’s Home Grant program. But after the bank imposed a new lower income limit on the loan, the couple had to relaunch the request for only one of them to be the beneficiary.
But even with this hitch, the couple continued and are expected to close their condo next month. “For everyone, it’s just stressful,” says Zhang, who works as a partner in a bank. “You worry about job security and you take out the first big loan of your life. “
Buying an apartment proved even more stressful for those who started looking for a pad after lockdown began. Stephanie Gerst, 37, director of solutions engineering, began her research in late 2019 and applied for a one-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side in early February. But after sitting at her request for a month, the co-op’s board changed her financial requirements and ultimately rejected her. With a tough May 1 move date on his rental, also on the Upper West Side, Gerst had to find another apartment in mid-March – with the help of his broker, Becki Danchik from Warburg – just in time. where New York State began to shut down. down.
“We had been at open houses earlier where a dozen people walked in and out and took turns going up the elevator,” Gerst says. But the second time it was different; only one group was allowed in a unit at a time to maintain social distancing. Gerst and Danchik examined a handful of apartments on March 15, before New York City forced the masks, but they packed a lot of hand sanitizer and wore gloves. “We stayed away from the people, waved rather than shake hands, and it was less crowded,” she adds.
Gerst ultimately fell in love with the first apartment she saw that day, another one-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side, and submitted a request within a week of visiting. After doing a Zoom interview with the co-op board (“It was only 10 minutes because one of the guys was late and one of the guys was having a bit of technical issues and no one wanted to start She said), her request was approved; it expects to close remotely in June. Gerst has stayed with his family in Ohio until then, but can’t wait to get back to town.
“I’m not an Ohio girl anymore,” she said. “Even though I’m a bit of a homebody and introvert, there’s an energy you get – even with COVID, hanging out the window, banging on pots and pans at 7 p.m. – that you don’t get in the Midwest. “
Gerst thanks Danchik and his real estate attorney for helping take the guesswork out of switching to a virtual home purchase, and other experts stress the importance of a good team in helping buyers navigate the process – especially now, because traditional methods of property control are prohibited.
“When you cannot be physically in a space, the knowledge of a building by your broker [and] its pros and cons and what to ask for when looking for virtual tours are more important than ever, ”explains Chiaramonte. “The complications of a deal due to COVID-19 are new to most buyers, but especially to first-time buyers, who have never gone through a normal process.”
For Elaine Tsai, 32-year-old product manager at a tech startup, that meant relying on her broker – and only her broker – to answer questions on the last two-bedroom condo tour in Long Island City with a huge private terrace. (Similar two rooms sold for around $ 1.2 million.) “I would have loved to bring some family and have a few eyes on the house, but that wasn’t possible,” Tsai says. “My broker was on standby, so I could take pictures, I could make videos, I could send them, and we were able to communicate quickly. “
Tsai closed her apartment in early May and, as is now the norm, the process leading up to that – obtaining the deed, for example – was fully online. “As a first-time home buyer, you are essentially making the biggest purchase of your life and you want to be there for everything,” she says. “With the coronavirus, it was like, ‘Okay, that just doesn’t make sense anymore. This is not the reality. “
Now Tsai is wondering when she will be able to move in, but she is in no rush. “I bought this house to be near Manhattan and to be able to have friends there, but right now I’m living with my family,” says the Queens native. “You can’t really go to town, so I continue to shelter in place with my family and hang out with them, because that’s why I moved back to New York. There is certainly that balance.
For Hoffman and Choi, who moved into her new home in mid-May, buying their first home during the coronavirus was a beacon of hope during a dark time: she was still mourning the passing of her deceased father. of the deadly virus in late March. “Someone said, ‘Oh, buying a place and moving just shows that life is going to go on, and life is happening, and the world is always on the move, even though it doesn’t feel that way” – and that for me was the most helpful and heartwarming way to think about it, “she says.” We are still living. We have to be safe and do the right thing, but there is access to property. There is life beyond the coronavirus. “