Land-lease building should be your last resort


One of my favorite posts.

The phrase “land lease” often strikes terror in the hearts of co-op and condo buyers and brokers alike.

It should.

That’s because a land lease means that the building sits on land it doesn’t own. Someone else holds title to the property and rents it to the building.

A two-year-old article Wall Street Journal article notes that the arrangement occurs when developers fall in love with a site but the owner refuses to sell. Or, land leases are known to occur when developers convert a rental property to an owner-occupied cooperative building and, again, the original owners refuse to sell the land. The leases usually run 50-100 years.

This bargain-priced apartment has been on the market for 67 weeks. Why?

Paying rent wouldn’t be so bad if (1) the property were not subject to the landlord’s possession legally but, for the most part, just theoretically; (2) the rent were not renegotiable (always up) at intervals as frequent as 10 years; (3) the were no tax consequences.

When the rent goes up, generally by an unforeseeable amount, maintenance increases for that reason alone.

For potential residents, such properties can be hard to finance and thus harder to sell. Moreover, the usual co-op tax deduction will be smaller. Reason: The portion of the real-estate tax paid by the co-op on the value of the land will not be deductible because the tax on the land is paid on the behalf of someone else, a usual stipulation in the lease. Also, the ground rent is not deductible; that’s in contrast to interest payments on a mortgage that frequently covers the cost of a co-op’s ownership of that land.

Withal, there is one big advantage to purchasing an apartment in a land-lease building, and that is the tradeoff for the disadvantages: Purchase price.

Consider the appealing 680-sf co-op pictured above and below on the sixth and top floor of a modest 1950 building in a prime Greenwich Village location. The one-bedroom corner unit has open views north and west, gleaming hardwood floors, a big and decently renovated open kitchen with breakfast bar, nice bath, plenty of closet space and generously proportioned rooms.

The elevator building itself has a common garden, live-in super, central laundry and a garage. The board allows pets, renters, pieds-à-terre and co-purchasing. Included in the maintenance of $1,063 a month is the cost of electricity plus the usual heat and hot water.

Two days after the collapse of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008, when everyone knew that the local housing market would tank, the apartment went on the market for $650,000. After fluctuating in price up and down 10 – 10! – times and changing brokers once, the seller is asking $519,000, a bargain in contrast to comparable apartments that are unburdened by its presence in a land-lease building.

If buyers have proved wary of making an offer on the place, their reluctance is not only understandable but justifiable as well.

Please note: You won’t find any previously unpublished posts during my blog’s annual August hiatus, but I hope you’ll enjoy reading some of my favorite ones. Although I’m not publishing new posts right now, I am continuing to assist buyers and sellers with their needs. Feel free to be in touch, and I hope you enjoy the last few weeks of summer.

To take your own bite out of the Big Apple, you have the option to search all available properties privately.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
Web site

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