Can a Board Decline an Apartment Sale Over a Low Price? Several Factors Determine Whether or Not a Transaction Goes Through

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The power of a co-op board to approve or reject sales, as well as co-op applicants, is pretty much unlimited -- as long as the decision is made within the limits of applicable law. Boards require extensive information and documentation -- known generally as “board packages”-- from prospective purchasers which can explore everything from an applicant’s financial position to their prior experiences as co-op owners elsewhere. Most board packages routinely require letters of recommendation and personal references for the purchaser(s). But then what accounts for the board’s authority in determining whether an apartment transaction can go through or not, especially if the price offered by the seller is considered low?

The Board’s Prerogative

Phyllis Weisberg, a partner at the New York law office of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads,  says: “A co-op board can turn down any applicant for any reason or no reason, as long as they don’t engage in prohibited discrimination.” Such reasons include price.

The matter has been the subject of litigation, with conflicting case law and industry opinion coming down on both sides of the question. To date, there doesn’t appear to be an appellate decision defining the legal issue. However, the big question remains: does selling at a price below the market average for a particular unit negatively affect the valuation of other units in the building? It depends who you ask. 

Terence Tener, a founding principal of KTR Real Estate Advisors in New York City, has been active in real estate appraisal and valuation consulting for nearly 40 years. He maintains that the answer lies in how an appraiser utilizes comparable information in his analysis. “Appraisal,” he says, “is basically like legal discovery. It’s an uncovering of the facts.”  

Tener explains that in completing a valuation of an apartment unit, an appraiser will view and analyze all the facts. The appraiser will look at all the sales of other units within the building, as well as sales of similar units in nearby properties. “If the typical unit in a building sells for $1,000/per square-foot,” says Tener, “but one unit sold for $750/per-square foot, that sale would be considered an ‘outlier.’” The appraiser would note the sale in his or her analysis, but would not necessarily lower the valuation of other unit(s) in the building as a result of the one lower-priced sale.

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