Buying a House in the Big Apple (Because the Rent Isn’t Great Either!)

Buying a house in New York City will test your patience, budget, and knowledge of a city spanning 304.8 miles. You’ll need thick skin and an experienced buyer’s agent on your side — or you’ll spend too much (the city ranks 274th on a list of 300 cities for affordability), underestimate the sheer amount of time involved, or end up back where you started: renting like two-thirds of NYC residents do.

But if you can get through the challenge, you’ll own property in a world-renowned hub of innovation, art, and culture.

We spoke with top New York City real estate agent Erin Wheelock and conducted our own research into where to buy, how much you’ll spend, and what you should look out for. Take this advice to heart and get a great agent on your side, and your search for the perfect NYC home will go more smoothly.

New york, where you can buy a house.
Source: (Tatiana Fet/ Pexels)

Buying a home to escape New York rent 

If you’re looking to make a home in one of New York’s five boroughs, you’re familiar with its reputation as an expensive place to live. In New York, the median house costs nearly 10 times the median household annual income.

But the rental market won’t offer much relief. Between 2009 and 2017 asking rents in NYC increased by 33%. NYC rents hit a three-year high in June 2019, reaching an average of $2,980 for a one-bedroom apartment. If you think that’s high, try finding an apartment in Manhattan where the average rent is $3,667

Despite skyrocketing rents and pricey Impossible Burgers, it’s possible to purchase a condo, co-op, or walkup in New York City at a decent price.

The median NYC home price is $386,862, compared to the national median of $227,025. But according to seasoned real estate agent Erin Wheelock, you can find a good home in the City for as little as $300,000 if you know where to look. Prices run the gamut from there, she said, depending on what you’re looking for.

Source: (ELEVATE/ Pexels)

Set a housing budget so you can still afford to eat (and have fun!) in NYC

Careful budgeting and a realistic assessment of how you can stretch your money is essential when it comes to the home-buying process in New York. Start with HomeLight’s simple home affordability calculator and set your location to “New York” to get a ballpark idea of how much house you can afford based on your income, current savings, monthly debts, and credit score.

After accounting for your upfront expenses (down payment, closing costs) and budgeting for your monthly mortgage (principal and interest) payments, you’ll also need to account for, among other costs:

Property taxes

You can turn to resources like the city’s Property Tax website for more information. Property tax rates are actually comparatively low in the City, averaging about 0.90% for most people, compared to the state average of 1.68%.

Homeowners insurance

You’ll need homeowner insurance, too, which costs New Yorkers about $97 per month, on average.


You should set aside at least 1% of your home’s value for yearly maintenance costs, on the median $386,862 priced NYC home, that’s $3,868.

Cost of living

In addition, make sure that buying a house won’t prevent you from enjoying what the city has to offer. You don’t want to be “house poor” in a city where the cost of living is 68% higher than the national average. According to an analysis by SmartAsset, some of the pricier aspects of living here include:

  • Food ($471.34 per person each month, compared to the national average of $324.20)
  • Parking ($606.37 per month)
  • Entertainment ($15.25 to go to the movies, $190 for a Knicks game)
A brownstone house in New York.
Source: (Rachel Martin/ Unsplash)

Get the lay of the land in New York City

New York City benefits from countless communities, from the large city as a whole to the borough-level to individual neighborhoods, like the Upper East Side, the Flatiron District, and Washington Heights. Determining where to target in your home-buying quest will require you to do a bit of soul-searching. What is most important to you?

First, let’s give a quick overview of the five boroughs:

What most people think of when they picture New York City, packed with skyscrapers, museums, and traffic.

More room to breathe than Manhattan with lots of culture and great eats, this borough is popular with families and young professionals.

The largest borough, with a plethora of fabulous restaurants and a suburban vibe.

The Bronx
Full of character and urban culture, with a longer commute into the Manhattan area.

Staten Island
Connected to Manhattan via a short ferry ride, Staten Island is more suburban and popular with families.

But Wheelock suggests that there are several neighborhoods where you can expect to get a great deal in the $300,000 to $400,000 range in NYC, many of which boast excellent neighborhoods, parks, and schools. Especially for a one-bedroom home, this range is very doable, she says.

If budget is your top concern, Curbed New York offers a list of NYC’s most affordable neighborhoods. Here’s a list of the top five (Neighborhood / Borough/ Median Sale Price):

  • Parkchester / Bronx / $180,000
  • Hammels / Queens / $275,000
  • Port Ivory / Staten Island / $362,228
  • New Brighton / Staten Island / $365,000
  • Howard Beach / Queens / $387,795

Other considerations might be:

  • If you have a family and are focused on living in a neighborhood with amazing schools, consider Flushing, where you’ll find U.S. News and World Report’s top-rated Townsend Harris High School.
  • The East Village, which boasts top-rated Stuyvesant High School (locally known as Stuy), or the Bronx for its Bronx High School of Science.
  • Love to shop? You might choose the Greenwich Village area to be near the world-famous stores of Fifth Avenue.
  • If getting outdoors is more your style, Brooklyn Heights, with its scenic promenade and stunning views of Manhattan, could be an excellent choice.
  • Want a more suburban vibe but easy access to the subway? You can take the A train from Queens to Manhattan in just 44 minutes each day. Talk to your buyer’s agent about what matters most and he or she can help guide you to the neighborhood that’s right for you.

Consider the nuances of condos and co-ops in New York

“Buying a house” in New York City doesn’t always refer to the purchase of a single-family home. In fact, according to Brick Underground, co-ops (short for cooperatives) account for 70% of the city’s housing stock. While co-ops tend to be older buildings, many units built after 1980 are condos.

Purchasing a condo means that you own not only your portion of the building, but you also get an undivided interest in the common areas, as well. You will get a deed at closing, just like when you buy a house.

When you buy a co-op, you buy part of the corporation that owns the building, and receive “shares” rather than a deed at closing. While it may be more difficult to secure financing for a co-op than a condo, co-ops tend to be cheaper.

However, don’t underestimate the challenges of buying into a co-op. Curbed New York notes that “buying a co-op apartment in NYC may be the most difficult application process of your life.” Additionally, most co-ops require you to put 20%-25% down but it can vary depending on how high-end the building is.

To get your co-op application to stand out, include personal and professional reference letters, as well as a note from a past landlord that speaks to your reliability as a tenant. Treat your interview with the co-op board like any job interview. Show that you are professional and dress the part. Know a lot about the co-op and be prepared to explain why you’d be a great fit.

A house in new york with mold.
Source: (Niklas Herrmann/ Unsplash)

Watch out for mold and pest issues in older New York City housing

No matter what type of home you buy, note that many buildings in New York City are nearly 100 years old and have been retrofitted, so old roofs, plumbing problems, and pest control issues are things to watch for.

Respected mold removal experts like Apex, which has been helping New Yorkers for over two decades, note that mold can have serious impacts on the health of residents, particularly children and the elderly.

Call a trusted mold removal company to inspect any property you are considering before you sign a contract.

If you buy a newer NYC home, you’ll spot these trends

On the subject of new construction, be prepared to find things that are “on-trend” in newer buildings, especially lifestyle buildings, says Wheelock.

Things like marble in the kitchen, stone throughout the home, open layouts, patterning and herringbone in wood, and larger windows are all in vogue right now, she explains, so you will pay a bit more if those are on your must-have list.

Opting for new construction? Many newer properties rely heavily on glass walls and windows, which is lovely but limiting if you have a lot of artwork, so plan accordingly.

Many buildings and sellers throw parties and lavish open houses to get the buyers’ attention. If you’re attending this sort of event, be prepared to pay more. It’s likely to have several offers.

Get a good New York attorney on your side 

In New York, it’s customary for both the buyer and seller in a real estate transaction to be represented by an attorney.

Your attorney will:

  • Review your purchase agreement
  • Look over your mortgage documents
  • Evaluate titles, deeds, and transfer documents
  • Be present at your closing and speak on your behalf, if needed

To find a great attorney, ask your real estate agent for a referral and be prepared to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $2.500 for attorney services.

A person buying a house in new york.
Source: (Patrick Tomasso/ Unsplash)

When to buy a house in New York City

When you buy a home in New York you’ll need to take advantage of any opportunity to save money. One way you can try to do that is by timing your purchase during New York’s “offseason.”

According to data from HomeLight, New York City homes sell for the highest rates (9.16% higher than average, in fact) is September. In other words, avoid an early fall purchase!

April sales in New York, on the other hand, bring in 8.87% less than average, so buyers could potentially negotiate a good price in the early spring.

Find a top buyer’s agent in New York City

Finding a top agent is critical to the home-buying process, especially in a city like New York that has unique challenges and a fast-paced real estate market.

Of the thousands of agents currently working in the City, top buyer’s real estate agents in New York can get their clients into a great home for 81.9% of the list price on average. Average New York real estate agents, in comparison, get clients the same flat for 91.8% of the list price.

That’s a $74,977 difference that could be spent on designer couture hot off the runway from NY fashion week.

Agents with experience offer you tailored advice. Wheelock says that the consultation she offers buyers begins with a discussion of their five to 10-year goals, to see what sort of housing investment makes sense for them.

Buying a home can be a complicated process, but it should be enjoyable and ultimately result in you settling down in a place you love. Working with a top real estate agent in New York, NY can help you to navigate the co-op board approval process or choose the right home inspector for a retrofitted Washington Heights brownstone.

Header Image Source: (Patrick Tomasso/ Unsplash)