{House} Kitchen Inspiration

When I moved into my apartment over a year and a half ago, I knew I’d renovate the kitchen (and bathroom).  The new layout would be pretty straight forward, as I can’t change the location of the sink or range.  But the aesthetic took a little longer for me to develop.

I’ve always liked the look of white kitchens, as they’re timeless and versatile.  Since this is a starter apartment with (by some standards) a small kitchen, I decided to go with white high gloss cabinets to help bounce light around.

At some point, I stumbled upon an NYC coop kitchen renovation that also used Ikea’s high gloss white cabinets!

Photo by Pablo Enriquez

I liked the clean and modern look of her kitchen, though I’m not fond of some of the details. I then found other kitchens with glossy white cabinetry that I felt were more my style.

Photo by Croma Design Inc

Photo by Natasha Habermann Studio

Photo by JAX Builders Ltd.

Photo by Basic Builders, Inc.

Even though the craze for herringbone tile is mostly over, I’m drawn to this herringbone tile every time I walk into Lowe’s.  In person, it’s much more white and grey than the yellow-ish tone it has online.

For counter tops, I’m going with a light to medium grey quartz.  It’ll tie in nicely with the veining in the marble.

a quick “mood board” with the marble herringbone tile, grey quartz counters, and high gloss white cabinetry

Though I’ve had a tough time finding a place to get the counter tops!  Lowe’s and Ikea both have minimum requirements for square footage (25 square feet), and since I don’t meet that requirement (I’m estimating I’ll need about 17 square feet), I have to pay a penalty (to the tune of $250).  Home Depot just has a minimum charge ($1200) regardless of square footage needed, and the price per square foot for their grey-colored counter tops is about $1200 anyway.  I’m still planning on talking to a few stone yards to see if they’re able to help me out.

In the mean time, I’m still meeting with contractors and sub-contractors to satisfy the board’s requirement of me not doing it alone.  Right now, it looks like I won’t be starting on demo and construction until September.


{House} It’s a Learning Process

I was young, eager, and green at the beginning of the year when I declared this the year of the kitchen.  Even though I had grand plans to do most of the paperwork before my exam, I didn’t get in regular contact with the property manager until June.  Since then, we’ve talked every week, and she’s been my go-between with the co-op board.  While I believe I have the skills, know-how, and can-do spirit to renovate the kitchen myself, the board is not so optimistic.  Now I’m on the hunt for a general contractor to supervise the job.  I’m hoping to find a GC that will allow me to work alongside them.  Then, fingers crossed we’ll be able to start the project sooner rather than later!

As part of the process (both for me and the board), I created a major to do list for the kitchen!  I even published it under “The List” for safe keeping.  I marked it with items I expect to purchase, as well as approximate costs.  I’m budgeting $15-20k for the whole remodel, but it will probably be on the higher end, given that I need to hire a GC now.

In the mean time, I’ve ordered my cabinets!  After some research, I’ve decided to use Ikea’s high-gloss white cabinets, as they’re DIY friendly, and cost effective.  Ikea’s summer kitchen sale ended this past weekend, and after confirmation from the property manager that the cabinets were fine, I plopped down a few grand on half the cabinet order.

I’ll be back soon with more details on the kitchen!

{House} I Can See Clearly Now

Even though the rain isn’t gone.

There’s only one set of windows in the living area, and they were very dirty.

No one comes to clean the outside of the windows, which meant it was up to me to clean them. Luckily, I didn’t need any fancy equipment–since the windows are fancy! They’d been replaced at some point, and now they fold into the apartment when you release the clips.

Then I took some window wipes and wiped them down.  I went thru quite a few wipes to get them clean!

Cleaning the top window was a little trickier and required some balancing.  I guess I could’ve researched how to do it before I started, though.

Well, it’s still a little streaky, but it’s much better than it was before!  Note to self for next time: don’t clean windows when it’s dark out.

{House} Buying a Co-Op in NYC

I’ve been thinking of writing this post for awhile, and today I’m posting it in honor of a friend that has started to look at apartments and put her first offer in on Sunday! (FYI Another friend commended me the other day for having concise posts–just a heads up that this one will not be!)

What is a co-op?

NYC is among a few cities to have these strange things called co-ops (short for cooperatives).  They became popular in the 1980s, when owners of rental apartment buildings wanted to sell the building, and sold it to the current tenants.  The tenants then created a cooperative, which oversees the operation of the building.

Buying a co-op is not necessarily more difficult than buying a condo or a house, but it does have some differences.  The biggest difference is that you do not own any property when you purchase a co-op.  Instead, each apartment unit is assigned a number of shares (as specified in the cooperative offering plan), and your purchase of those shares entitles you to be the only one that lives in that unit.  Because you’re not buying a piece of property, you don’t owe any city or state taxes when closing!  This saved me a couple thousand dollars.

There are other buzz terms around co-ops.  Even after the seller has accepted your bid, and you’ve both signed the contract, the co-op board will review your application.  This includes all your financial information, as well as some reference letters.  It culminates in an interview with the board, before receiving approval to close the deal.  If you stumble upon a sponsor unit, that’s an apartment still owned by the building’s original owner, and is therefore exempt from the co-op board review.  Finally, a co-op charges a monthly maintenance, which includes the salaries of the superintendent and doormen, the cost of the building’s mortgage and property taxes, as well as water and heat for each unit.

Cash Money Dollars

One of the first things to think about before buying a place is the money.  Do you have enough to put down?  How much will a bank lend to you?  What monthly payment can you afford?

A simple check of my bank account was enough to figure out how much I could put down.  Also, given the high cost of living in NYC, I thought it was worthwhile to borrow a little from my 401k to help get me over the 20% required down payment–a requirement a lot of co-ops (and banks) have.  Another requirement that a lot of co-ops have is a minimum amount of money in the bank after closing.  It varies from building to building how it’s calculated (ie. a year maintenance payments or two years of total mortgage and maintenance payments), and what money counts (some were ok with investment accounts, while others wanted it all in a savings account).

Applying for a loan dings your credit score slightly, so I chose a few days one week to apply to every bank I could find, starting with the banks where I currently have accounts.  Many of them offered a slight discount if you had a savings or checking account with direct deposit or maintained a minimum account balance.

I’ve found that I’m very conservative with my money, so I did a “reverse budget” to figure out how much I was comfortable paying each month.  Basically, I took my after tax income that is direct deposited into my checking accounts each month, subtracted out the expenses I have (like credit cards, electric, internet, travel, retirement contributions, savings, etc–anything that I’d like to spend money on in a month), which left me with a monthly payment amount to use for my mortgage and maintenance payments.  Luckily, my down payment lined up with my monthly payment and mortgage loan amounts, and left me with a very comfortable range of list prices to start looking at apartments!

The Hunt

In a market like NYC, an apartment will sell quickly if it’s listed for the right price.  Therefore, working with your broker (a real estate agent) to see apartments right away, as well as having them be engaged with the seller’s broker is very important.  My broker was great, and put up with me driving my own search and asking endless amounts of questions.  His approach was to look at any apartment that I might be slightly interested in, so I spent most Sundays in the spring and early summer going from open house to open house.  Some apartments I knew from the beginning weren’t for me, and others stuck around in my mind long after I passed on them.  But then one day I saw a new apartment pop up on StreetEasy.com (the go-to real estate site for NYC rentals and sales), and I could tell it was special!

Offers upon Offers

If the upside to living in NYC is that there’s an endless amount of apartments, the downside is that there’s an endless amount of buyers.  And some of these buyers will have more income, and some are able to make all cash offers.  It’s very common to lose out on the first handful of offers you make.  My broker said that a lot of his clients put in offers on four or five different apartments before they finally get one.

The first time I put in an offer was in May, and I had seen the apartment twice–once during the week, and again a few days later on a Sunday afternoon.  The offer process for that apartment was very organized.  We were told that the seller’s broker would send the seller all the offers on Sunday night.  He did, and then a few days later we were faced with a second round of offers.  We knew that the leading offer was all cash, and $50k over asking!  I couldn’t compete with that, but I liked the apartment, so I submitted an offer just $25k over asking.  Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the apartment.

I spent more time visiting open houses until the apartment that would become mine was listed in the middle of July.  I went to the open house on Friday, and saw it again the following Monday, when I put in an offer a couple thousand over asking.  This time, the offer process wasn’t as well organized, and there was a lot of back and forth with higher and higher offers.  Again, there was an all cash offer, but because I ended up going higher, the seller still picked me!

Under Contract

It’s recommended that you have a lawyer, and I had contacted one when I put in my first offer.  He also answered a lot of questions for me, but more importantly, he compiled the contract, and made sure the co-op wasn’t having any issues that should give me pause to buy.  The contract deposit was half of the down payment, and the lawyer fee was a couple thousand.

The Waiting Game

Once we were under contract, there were some loose ends to tie up.  I had a lot of paperwork to finish with my mortgage company, and they did an appraisal of the unit.  It’s not common to have an inspection, so I didn’t have one either.

I also had to prepare the board package (the binder full of financial and other documents that the board reads before deciding to extend an interview).  I was nervous that they wouldn’t like some of my financials, since I wouldn’t have twenty-some thousand dollars in a savings account after closing.

Fortunately, they were ok with my financials and extended an interview!  A week before Thanksgiving, I went to the building and met with the co-op board.  Yup, it was over three months since my offer was accepted, but it’s common to wait three to four months before closing in NYC.  It took the co-op board almost two weeks to get back to me–this is unusual, as it usually only takes a day or two before getting the board’s approval after meeting.

Closing Time

Then comes the best part: closing!  It took another week or two before everyone was able to spend a few hours at the co-op’s lawyer’s office signing all the documents for closing.  I think there were at least ten people at the table: me, my broker, lawyer, and mortgage agent; the seller and her husband, her broker, and lawyer; the building’s lawyer; and the deed insurance company, since the seller couldn’t find the original co-op share certificate (which is now safely in the co-op lawyer’s office).  And the majority of them were Jewish–only in New York!

It took about an hour for everyone to arrive and all the paperwork to be signed and copied, but then it was done!  I was handed a few sets of keys, and sent on my way.  My broker took me out for a beer to celebrate, and then I spent a few minutes alone in my new apartment, before returning to my old apartment to finish packing up.

Because once you buy your place, you want to move in!  So I scheduled movers for the day after I closed.

And she lived happily ever after 🙂

PS. The pictures in this post are the listing photos for my apartment!  Would you fall in love with it like I did?

{House} Using Shrooms

When I moved in, the water was very slow to drain out of the bathtub.  I had the super snake it, and he caught a huge wad of hair.  I promised that I would get some kind of hair catcher for the drain.  I used two different ones this past year, but come December, the water suddenly didn’t drain as quickly as it should.  I asked him to snake the drain again last week, and he grabbed a small clump of hair. Again, I promised that I would get a better hair catcher for the drain.

I had seen these funky drain catchers in two of my friends’ bathrooms, and wondered how I missed the memo!  Bed Bath and Beyond sells them, so I grabbed a 20% off coupon and picked one up.

I chose grey instead of white, since I was afraid that the white would discolor more than the grey would.

It works pretty well, though I think my drain is slightly too small for it. As more hair collects throughout the shower, the water starts to back up. I’ll have to report back a year from now if it keeps the pipes clear from hair!