In New York City, it can be tough to find an apartment with more than three bedrooms. So what are large families that need more space supposed to do? One solution is to buy two smaller apartments and combine them.
If you're considering this route, time is of the essence because mortgage rates are rising. However, you should bear in mind that they are climbing up from what were historical lows, so buying two smaller apartments and combining them may still be a good option for those willing to do some renovation.
“While financing an apartment combination is fairly common these days,” says Robbie Gendels, a senior loan officer at National Cooperative Bank in Manhattan, “You could be in for some surprises if you’ve never done it before.”
There are two routes you may take and they have different impacts on financing.
If you intend to combine apartments right away
After you to go to contract on the apartment(s), apply for a mortgage.
Next an appraiser will decide what the apartments will be worth after you make these necessary renovations: Removing the interior wall to join the two units and taking out one of the kitchens to make it a legal single-family apartment. Keep in mind that the appraised value at this rudimentary phase will likely be a good deal less than what the apartment will be worth when your renovations are complete.
Also you should know that the loan-to-value ratio will be lower than a traditional mortgage, so budget accordingly.
“At National Cooperative Bank, we have a 65 percent loan-to-value ratio of the future estimated value on an adjustable-rate mortgage. So if the apartments appraise at $1 million, you can borrow a maximum of $650,000,” Gendels says.
Finally, you’ll need to leave some money in escrow until the apartments are legally combined. "Legally combined" is not the same as "fully renovated."
“We hold back 1.5 times the cost to combine units," Gendels says. "This is based on the borrower’s contractor’s estimate of the cost to remove one kitchen and the connecting wall. Once that’s done, an appraiser goes back out to check, and the escrow is released.”
If you don’t intend to combine apartments right away
If you plan to hold off renovating for a while, you’ll need to finance the apartment that’s not your primary residence as an investment unit.
"For a loan on an investment purchase, we like to see a 30 percent owner-occupied building, a maximum loan-to-value ratio of 75 percent, a minimum credit score of 720 (FYI, for a primary residence it would be 700), as well as 12 months of principal, interest, taxes, and insurance in reserve," Gendels says. “Once the owner decides to combine the units, we can look to refinance the property into a single loan."
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