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Point of View: Co-op units difficult, costly to acquire

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A family friend and her husband recently sold their co-op apartment on 41st Road in Flushing. Yes, they made a good profit from the sale. But the profit was not the real motivation for the sale; it was the ridiculously high maintenance fees.In six years, my friend said, her co-op maintenance fee had increased nearly 30 percent, reaching $950 a month and no end was in sight. She was angry because no reason was given for each hike.That amount of the fee is probably enough for a monthly mortgage payment for an average detached house in Queens. Sounds logical. And they have just made that choice.Also, it seems logical that more local homeowners begin to sell their houses as their real estate values hit the roof. They use their proceeds to buy better or bigger ones upstate or in other parts of the country.Despite older residents' departure for other areas, housing in Queens, particularly Flushing, is still in great demand because of the continued influx of new immigrants from around the world. So it's safe to say the housing industry bubble is unlikely to burst in the foreseeable future in this part of the country.Last year alone five families on my block sold their houses built in the late 1940s or early '50s. They perhaps moved into their dream, yet inexpensive, houses in faraway places.No sooner had they left this area, though, than builders turned their detached one-family homes into two duplexes with basements that may be enough for four to six families. It's now the construction norm in this region. Each duplex carries a price tag of $690,000 or higher. And each floor won't exceed 900 square feet in size. Yet they all were sold shortly after the construction was completed.A homebuilder told me last year that he made a profit of $600,000 out of three such duplexes right across the street from my house. Besides, he had several sites under construction simultaneously in Queens. It's a lucrative field, isn't it?In Queens, there are more co-ops and condominiums than houses and townhouses. Yet it's hard to get a co-op unit or a condo because of the supply-demand factor. The former, it seems, is more affordable than the latter in terms of prices.The big hurdle in the purchase of a co-op unit is none other than the board of the apartment building. Some of the board members are old-timers; therefore, they have the final say on any deal. I went through this bitter experience twice.Eight years ago we moved from Putnam County to Flushing, where my wife landed a job. Before the move, we were seeking to buy a co-op unit in Flushing. That was against a bank executive's advice to scrap that plan. In a couple of days, we found a decent one with two bedrooms on Kissena Boulevard. After our application got the board's nod, we were summoned to answer questions before a five-member panel.Then we waited. After two months, I called the board, inquiring why there was no decision on it. The response? A member was on vacation.Regardless, we still thought we could get the unit, so we gave the owner $300 as a deposit in security, assuring her we could make the deal within a month before her planned move to Florida. We were wrong.Later we found out we were unable to secure a loan because the building was on the unfavorable list of the bank we dealt with.A year later, we tried our luck again in another building between Sanford and Kissena Boulevard. And again we failed, blaming the arrogance of the board's president. She refused to see me and ignored my messages left on her answering machine.Regrettably, we forgot the lesson from the first failed deal. And once again we gave the owner of the unit $760 as a deposit. This time, however, we got our money back after our bid fell through.The owner, also a single woman, was eager to sell her unit. She told me that I was the third prospective buyer rejected by the board. Apparently the board was very selective, if not prejudicial.Besides, there is a paradox. Trying to buy a co-op with 100 percent of cash without a job is no guarantee you will get it. If you put 10 percent down, you will raise the board's doubt about your financial situation.Folks, think twice before you decide to buy a co-op unit.

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