Jan
23

Maintenance Fees are More than Just Maintenance

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For most buyers in Manhattan, getting past the asking price of a co-op or condo is only the first in a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  The monthly maintenance fee is the second.  From a few hundred dollars a month to a few thousand depending on the various buildings, most owners find the maintenance fee never goes down, and rarely stays constant.   Most are adjusted on an annual basis.

Buyers need to be concerned about the fee as a direct impact on the property value, not just because of the cash going out every month.  The maintenance fee covers operating costs:  Staff Salaries, management fees, heat, water and sewer and other items.  In co-ops, the real estate tax bill and underlying mortgages on the entire building is part of the maintenance fee, and is proportional to the number of shares you own in the co-op corporation.

Condos are different. The common charges still cover the operating costs the same as co-ops, but the property tax bill goes directly to the owner because of the different ownership type.  Condos may have more amenities but lower common charges due to this distinction.

According to the Council of New York Tax Cooperatives and Condominiums, the fees have skyrocketed over the last decade.  For example, the median maintenance fee for co-ops on the West Side of Manhattan rose by 59% between 2000 and 2009, while condo common charges increased by 38% city-wide for the same period.

Increasing Real Estate Taxes are the main reason for the rise in co-op fees.  Both the tax rate and the assessment of property values have increased in recent years.  On the West Side, co-op median real estate taxes increased by 116% between 2000 and 2009.   On the East Side in 2000, 23% of the maintenance paid was attributed to taxes; by 2009, that figure had risen to 33.3%, indicating that taxes were a larger portion of the maintenance fees.

Land Leases are another issue for increased maintenance fees for some co-ops.  As a number of co-ops do not own the land their building sits upon, rather rents the land.  Some of those leases are coming up for renewal soon, and the experts predict there will be a huge jump in cost.

Finding savings to offset the increases is difficult.  Most costs are fixed, including salaries, taxes, insurance, upkeep and utilities.  Several co-ops have hired consultants to check for water leaks, while others are switching to natural gas from oil heat.  Still others are metering each apartment’s utilities separately.

Many co-ops are refinancing their underlying mortgages to take advantage of low interest rates.  Others are generating income by imposing or increasing fees for using the bike room, moving in or out or renting a unit.

Reviewing a building‚Äôs financials will give a buyer an understanding of how a building spends its money.¬† If you disagree with how a building spends the fees, there‚Äôs little point in moving there.¬† ¬†See our Series on reviewing building financials starting with¬† ‘Tis the Season: Many Manhattan Coop Financial Statements Are Released In May.

Inspired by New York Times Article on Jan 15, 2012 by Jim Rendon.

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