We're about to close on a co-op with a washer/dryer. The sellers' broker told us repeatedly that it was installed legally, but has never provided proof. Recently the board asked the owners to take it out before they sell. We have two very young, very messy children, and we would have never made an offer on a place without a washing machine. We're about to go for our board interview this week. What can we do?
Unfortunately, if you’ve already signed the contract, you probably can’t get out of the deal -- but you may be able to keep the washer/dryer, our experts say.
“As is often the case, the key is what was said in the contract of sale,” says real estate attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. “What the broker said and claimed has little legal weight and cannot be relied on in order to maintain the washer and dryer. … Absent a representation in the contract it would be difficult to get out of the purchase and even if you could [it would] prove costly in fees and expenses.”
However, our experts recommend getting more facts before you go for the board interview. First, ask the managing agent why the board has required the sellers to remove the appliances, recommends Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager at Time Equities.
Is it a problem with the installation? Perhaps the sellers have flaunted the common “wet-over-dry” rule, which requires rooms with plumbing to sit over other rooms with plumbing? If they sidestepped the board’s guidelines in some other fixable way, it may be possible to install the machines to put the board at ease.
Even if the building expressly forbids washer/dryers, you should double check whether the unit in your future apartment predates the ban. “Very often existing washer/dryers are grandfathered in co-ops that have recently instituted a no washer/dryer policy,” says real estate broker Shirley Hackel of Warburg Realty. “But in those situations, it’s important for the seller to provide proof that’s the case.”
As for pursuing the issue with the seller or the board, our experts suggest several different approaches.
If the board asked the sellers to remove the washer/dryer after they accepted your offer, bring up the issue with your attorney, suggests real estate broker Gordon Roberts, of Sotheby's International Realty. “Since your board interview has yet to take place, and your purchase application is not yet board approved, I’d advise you to go back to your attorney, and make the sale contingent on the ‘legitimacy’ of the washer/dryer,” he says.
Norris’ Roberts recommends “coming clean” about the washer/dryer during the interview. “Seek an accommodation with the board that you will have the installation reviewed by a professional plumber to ensure that it does not adversely affect the building’s plumbing,” he says.
The other alternative is to ask the seller to lower the price or “see what you can do to get out of the deal,” Axelrod says. “Note: if the board turns you down you are out free.”
While it’s probably not much comfort this late in the game, in future, this issue is avoidable. If you’re looking at listings online, usually they will specify whether washer/dryers are allowed -- just like they would with pets -- and the policy would also show up in the co-op’s house rules, notes Warburg’s Roberts. “It may also been raised as an issue in board meetings, and there’d be a record of it in the board meeting minutes, which your attorney would have read,” he adds.
Also, in a situation where the sellers’ broker declined to provide proof, “I would have asked the buyer’s attorney to add a provision to the rider where the seller represents that the installation had been approved by the board and thus grandfathered for subsequent owners,” Hackel says.
Leigh Kamping-Carder is a senior editor at BrickUnderground.com, the online survival guide to finding a NYC apartment and living happily ever after. To see more expert answers or to ask a real estate question, click here.