Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Condo Approval Morass

It's not enough to qualify and approve the borrower, nor has it ever been, but when someone is buying in a condo or coop, the building must also be approved. This has become increasingly more difficult as condo / coop approval departments are overloaded increasing turn times, but also as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac begin enforcing rules that up for years were not enforced.

One major hurdle with existing condos and new development condos is a line item in the budget for reserves that equals 10% of the budget. In most, if not all, of the other states in the Union, this is not an issue. But here in New York, it's becoming increasingly more of an issue. New York City has always gotten away without creating a reserve funds for 2 reasons. The first is that the NY Attorney General's office, which approves all condo offering plans, doesn't require it. The second is that here in NY the argument was made that if the budget ran low, or if a capital improvement was needed, there would be a special assessment to pay for it. Fan/ Fred went along with this, but not anymore.

So most budgets on new developments (though they are faster to change, needing the sales) and existing condo project don't have a reserve line item in the budget. They frequently have a contingency line item, but it doesn't add up to anywhere near 10% of the annual budget.

What do you do? Create a reserve analysis, that's what. You'll have to show that the contingency is enough for the capital improvements without a special assessment to the condo owners. This can be done by aggregating the amount that the contingency will accumulate in the next years before any major improvements or repairs need to be done. This is especially useful with new development where the assumption is that since it's newly built, it will be 10-25 years before the building will require a new roof, exterior work or other major expenses or improvements.

Another hot button is the pre-sales requirement for Fannie Mae approval. This has increased to 70% of the units for most developments. This is coupled with a new math in determining the pre-sales in a building as well. Sponsor held units are now counted, whereas before they were not, also any rental units (here in NYC some apartments in a conversion are rent regulated making it difficult to remove tenants) are now counted. Before they were not. Also any investor owned units are not counted. So what you have left is all of the owner occupied and second home units in a building. That can be tricky for areas like Miami, LA, SF, Vegas and NYC. This is on top of an already down market, so it's reducing the deal flow even more, since many banks will not offer financing in a building that is not approved by Fannie Mae. Even if the mortgage is not being sold to them, it's considered the gold standard for condo / coop approval.

If the building is a ground up new construction and less than 200 units, then it's possible to get it approved at 51% pre sold. If it's a conversion of any size then it's more likely to be 70%. There is a process by which Fannie Mae will do a full review of the building and approve it at a lower pre sale, but generally speaking it needs to be at least 51% pre sold (remember these need to be owner occupied or 2nd home buyers) and have good sales velocity. Also the developer needs to pony up a $1200 application fee along with $30 per unit for the review. There is quite a bit of documentation that is needed as well.

If that wasn't enough, the scrutiny of the building's insurance coverage has also gotten a bit tougher. The Fidelity Bond coverage is a bit more restrictive, also if the building's coverage does not cover an individual unit from the studs in, then the homeowner will need to buy insurance to make up the difference.

Managing Agents don't seem to be stepping up to the plate in this changing world either. They aren't completing questionnaires fully so that the building can be properly assessed. This is despite the fact that in NYC, they charge a fee for its completilon, sometimes as high as $125. They need to understand that they are doing their owners a disservice by not completing the questionnaires and providing as much information as they can to help the approval process along. Everyone in the process understands that it's a hassle, but it's not the man on the street's decision, it's much, much higher up than that.