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The debate over Co-ops and Condos

It’s sort of like You’ve Got Mail.  And no, we’re not talking about ’90s pixie haircuts, or how Tom Hanks is the perfect man (which undoubtedly, he is). Rather, remember how Little Shop Around the Corner couldn’t compete with big, bad Fox Books because they weren’t keeping up with the times?  That’s sort of what’s going on with NYC co-ops (Little Shop Around the Corner) and condos (Fox & Sons Books). But first, we need to back up because a lot of us look at the word “co-op” and think “hut where chickens lay eggs.”

In New York City, all apartments are either co-ops or condos.  The difference?  The approval process for a co-op tends be stricter, there’re more of them, and they generally  carry a lower price tag.  But here’s my favorite part: while most apartments are new, co-ops almost always were built before 1980.  In other words, Holly Golightly’s brownstone in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?  Cooperative.  Don Draper’s apartment at The Waverly built in 1928?  Cooperative.  P.S.  Jon Hamm.  Le swoon.

So if you’re anything like me, right about now, you’re thinking: “Beautiful facade.  A rich history.  Man, I’d rather live in a co-op than a condo.”  Us girls, we’ve got style.  Most of us love glamour.  And when we think about those Depression-era lobbies, those classic exteriors…Hmm!  There’s a cool factor in co-ops that those brand new towers in Greenwich Village just do not have.  Co-ops are also harder to get into than Kim Kardashian’s birthday party (if for some, inexplicable reason, you actually wanted to go).  In a way, that exclusivity makes co-ops more desirable.  You’d probably be neighbors with the guy who invented the cell phone.  There’s something cool about that.       

But!  And that’s a big “but.”  In the past, brokers have urged their clients to go with a condo, not a co-op.  Why?  Well, you know those co-op rules we talked about earlier?  They’re super strict.  One of the things that make co-ops cool—that they’re very exclusive—obviously makes them really hard to get into.  Famously, one Big Apple co-op rejected Richard Nixon.  The application process for a co-op can be very, VERY daunting.  Plus, with a co-op, you’re not allowed to rent the property out, which can be a huge turn off if you anticipate ever having to relocate for work, etc.  Pets, smokers, and playing your piano past 10 p.m. might not be allowed, etc.  Basically, co-ops are white-gloved, white pearled fortresses.  Condos are a little more, “Hey man, let’s party.”

But everything is changing.  And at the heart  is a situation similar to the bookstore war in You’ve Got Mail, which btw, makes dial-up internet and chat rooms look like ancient dinosaurs.

Recently, old-style co-ops have seen their values diminish as prices of new condos rise.  It’s a luxury marketplace, and compared with brand-new high rises, co-ops are a little dusty.  Plus, who wants to even try to apply for a co-op when they know they’re going to be rejected?  So the co-ops can stick to their old ways and not sell, or they can accept that times are changing and adapt.  They’re doing the latter.

How?  For one, they’re being friendlier.  Unlike in years past, the interviews are less intimidating, and people who would typically be rejected, like young couples, pet owners and foreign buyers, are being accepted.  Ironically, the reverse is happening with condos.  The rules are getting tighter.  The application fees for condos are getting unreasonable, and while they used to run $250 to $500, they’ve reached the $500-to-$700 range.  And unlike condos where you have less control over who lives there, the co-op is still very selective.  They’ve eased up a little bit, but they still make sure they’re accepting good, community-focused, emotionally-intelligent neighbors.  After all, when you’re in a vertical living situation, you’re part of a group—not all on your own in a white picket-fenced house somewhere.

So. The young hot shots, big wig attorneys by day, and The Wolf On Wall Street-esque party people by night—they’re moving into condos.  But your girlfriend who graduated from Stanford, married, and moved to New York?  She might be a good candidate for a co-op. And if housing trends continue down the path they’re on, it might be the better decision.  Only time will tell, but one thing’s for sure: co-ops are not the Junior League-ish, caves of Ali Baba that they used to be.

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Natalie Holtz
Natalie Holtz is an avid blogger and freelance journalist living in San Diego. Her work has been featured in regional magazines and by online publications such as WordPress' Freshly Pressed, Elephant Journal and Quarterlette. Inspired by her real estate-saavy grandmother, Natalie dreams about owning a house with a clawfoot bathtub and a garden. She is also passionate about empowering others to live their best lives through her writing. For more on Natalie, visit her blog http://thesurferstokeproject.com/.
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