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A timeline for selling your NYC apartment: From pre-listing to closing

Presentation, marketing, and the ability to finalize the deal quickly will all play into the timeline for sale. Emily Myers/Flickr

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You have decided to sell your New York apartment or house and are wondering how long it will take. 

If you've been following the market, you'll know an oversupply of new development is affecting sales. The median price for a Manhattan apartment has dropped. In Brooklyn and Queens, the median price is up, but so is inventory, and the number of sales is down. These factors play a part in the timeline for selling an apartment in NYC.

Currently, getting an apartment in Manhattan from initial listing to contract takes an average of 93 days. It can then be another four or so months to close, according to Douglas Elliman's Manhattan sales market report for the fourth quarter, which says it takes an average 7.5 months to sell. The timeline will also be affected by the type of unit you're selling as well as its presentation, marketing, and the ability and desire of those involved to finalize the deal quickly. With that in mind, here's Brick Underground's timeline for selling your apartment from pre-listing to closing. 

Pro Tip:

Looking for a way to discreetly test the waters before publicly listing your co-op, condo or brownstone? Test your price, marketing strategy, and demand by "pre-marketing" your place first. The pre-marketing program at New York City  brokerage Triplemint is a no-risk way to get feedback and offers from actual buyers shopping for a place like yours.  There's no charge to participate and no obligation to sell or enter a traditional listing agreement if you haven't found a buyer by the end of the pre-marketing period.  To learn more, click here. >>

Week 1-3

Hire a Broker: Strictly speaking you don't need to hire a broker, but the majority of New York sellers do—and in the current market, where sellers need plenty of support, it's a savvy choice. The process typically takes a few days to a couple of weeks and involves interviewing several candidates to decide who has the most relevant expertise and the best plan to market your place.

Choose an attorney: You want to line up a qualified attorney—someone who specializes in New York City real estate transactions—long before it’s time to draw up a contract.

Get the apartment into shape: “Right now, everybody is tightening up their presentation to the highest level possible,” says Michael Graves, real estate broker with Douglas Elliman. Plan on spending a week or two decluttering, rearranging furniture and cleaning. In some cases minor renovations will be needed, like painting, updating appliances or reglazing the tile or tub. This could take two to three weeks, says Jay Hart, a staging expert at Sold With Style. Of course, the process could take much longer if you undertake a bigger overhaul of the kitchen or bathroom. You may also want to stage the apartment.

Show the apartment: "In an ideal world, your broker could photograph your home on Monday, publish the listing mid-week and hold the first open house on Sunday," says Harold Kobner, a broker with Argo Real Estate. If your place needs more work, it will take a little longer to schedule the open house for showings.

Adjust your strategy (if necessary): "It's a buyer's market on a downward trend," says Graves who tells sellers, "patience is your best friend." However, if you’ve had the apartment on the market for several months and received no offers you might want to take a different approach—cut the price, change up the home decor, and so on.

Week 3-15

Though the number of offers you will get and how fast they come will vary wildly depending on your apartment and the demand for it, as soon as you decide to take an offer, the timeline begins to speed up.

Accept an offer: Negotiating the deal could take 24 hours to a few days, depending on how long the parties need to decide on the terms, Graves says. But know this: deals die when they sit too long.

Draft a deal sheet: The deal sheet is a summary of the terms of the transaction (price, closing date, any specific clauses like a mortgage contingency) and contact information (for the parties, the attorneys and building management) that the brokers put together based on their negotiations.

Week 16

Sign the contract: As soon as the deal sheet is drawn up, the seller’s attorney can put together the contract itself. Meanwhile, the buyer’s attorney is conducting due diligence on the property, reviewing the offering plan, board minutes, building financials, and other information. Typically, it takes about a week to get the contract signed. If the parties are in a rush, it can go as fast as a few days or take as long as two weeks if, for example, the building’s managing agent ties up the process. The contract will specify a closing “on or about” a specific date, which gives both the seller and the buyer the right to delay the closing by up to 30 days.

Weeks 17-28 (or later)

Once the contract is signed, the major responsibilities shift to the buyer, who will have to get a mortgage commitment letter from the bank (unless they’re paying in cash) and secure approval from the co-op or condo board. But a seller should still stay on top of the process and have their broker check in with the relevant parties to make sure everything is moving along.

Order the stock and lease: If you took out a loan on your co-op, you likely handed over your stock certificate to the bank, and you’ll have to get it back ahead of the closing. Your attorney should ask the bank to track down the document from their files well in advance of the closing—it can take some lenders 30-60 days to get it says Steven Hafif, a real estate partner at the law firm Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson.

Monitor the buyer’s bid to get a mortgage: It’s no wonder sellers prefer all-cash deals—if your buyer is paying cash, you can skip this part altogether. If not, your buyer will have to get a commitment letter from the bank before the board will approve any sale, even with the preapproval letter. The whole process can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the managing agent’s ability to supply the bank with prompt information, the buyer’s preparation and bank’s experience with New York City apartments, especially co-ops. In all likelihood, your contract will specify how much time the buyer has to get a mortgage, you could also require them to use a specific bank that’s familiar with your building to help speed things up.

Clear up any title problems (if necessary): Though the buyer’s attorney orders the title report or lien search, in condos and co-ops, respectively, to verify there are no issues with the ownership of the apartment, the seller will want to be on top of the process to clear up any issues before the closing. Sometimes in co-ops, for example, an old loan against the apartment will be listed in property records even if it’s been paid off and the seller’s attorney will have to work with the lender to remove it. In other cases, you may have unfinished business with the Department of Buildings that was never signed off on after a renovation.

Submit to an appraisal: As soon as the contract is signed, the buyer’s mortgage lender will order an appraisal (typically only of the buyer is getting a loan). Generally, it will be done within a week or so, unless you live in a particularly rare (and therefore hard to appraise) place.

Monitor the board approval process: Again, it’s on the buyer to get the board’s green light, but you’ll want to make sure your broker is keeping in touch to get things moving along.

Condo: The buyer submits a purchase application to the building’s managing agent, who will approve it, and send it to the board—a process that takes about a week and a half. The board has to waive their right to first refusal, essentially saying that they won’t exercise their right to buy the condo, which typically takes a couple of days. If the deal is good, condo boards are usually pretty eager to waive the right of first refusal and let it close.

Co-op: This is a lengthy process; plan on four or five weeks from start to finish. First, the seller’s broker will submit the buyer’s board package to the building’s managing agent for review. This can take anywhere from a day to, more often, a couple of weeks, depending on how busy management is. Then it goes to the board. Generally, the board will spend a couple of weeks with the documents before scheduling an interview. A couple of days after the interview, you’ll get the approval (fingers crossed). But keep in mind that this will vary, depending on the board’s schedule. Some boards only interview buyers during their regular board meetings, say every third Thursday of the month, so you may have to wait, while others collect applications for a few co-ops at a time, and interview the buyers in a single day.

Week 29 (or later)

The buyer’s final walk-through: The day of the closing (or sometimes the day before), the buyer will inspect the apartment for damage or other issues. This is also when any furniture you rented to stage the apartment goes back to the stager—they tend to leave it to the last minute just in case the deal falls apart. The industry standard for furniture contracts is 90 days, says Hart.

The closing: Scheduling the closing usually takes a week or two, the main hurdle is aligning the schedules of the buyer, seller, their attorneys and brokers, the bank’s attorney, the managing agent (for co-ops) and the seller’s bank (if you have a mortgage). The closing itself? Budget a couple of hours.