When Monica Gonzales and her husband, Dennis, began their property search, they wanted nothing to do with renovation headaches. So they bought a freshly built, crisp, white-painted condominium on the Upper West Side. Yet Monica says a handyman special—or something like it—is what they got after moving in early this year. The brand-new hardwood floors needed redoing, the moldings weren’t aligned, the marble countertop in the kitchen was cracked, and the heat didn’t work. “We had to wear sweaters to sleep,” she says months later, still shocked. What’s more, the lobby was still coated with construction dust, and the elevators, though functioning, were papered over, awaiting paneling. “I didn’t want a fixer-upper, and I ended up in [one],” she laments.
The Gonzalezes aren’t the only ones who’ve suffered through this particular rite of passage. Buyers throughout the city are discovering that picking a new home—whether in a new structure or a gut-renovated one—doesn’t promise problem-free spaces. “It’s the nature of the beast,” says Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Toni Haber. “These are growing pains.” For the most part, brokers say defects are par for the course and that delays are typical, some of them deliberate. “The last thing you want is for movers to destroy your lobby or elevator [when everyone’s coming in],” explains Shaun Osher of Core Group Marketing. But some developers—especially first-timers—have been redefining the word finished, and scheduling move-ins a little earlier in the process than those residents might expect. Media trainer Kayla Schwartz thought her condo in southern Harlem “was going to be well built … because it’s new,” she says. But nine months after moving in, she and many others are locked in a battle with developers over “punch lists”—which detail problems buyers notice during walk-throughs and want addressed—and common-space issues that include buckled floors, falling cabinet doors, unfinished paint jobs, and a security camera that doesn’t appear to have been hooked up.
Dennis Gonzalez, who paid well over a million dollars for his Upper West Side home, insists, “If you want to please a luxury customer, you can’t have these things happen.” Nevertheless, nearly a year after moving in, he says his family is, for the most part, happy with the purchase. Nearly all their complaints have been addressed. “You just need to know what you’re getting into,” he warns. “We lucked out that our developer kept their word. It could’ve gone the other way.”