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The sale of unused common area can be a win-win transaction for both buyer and seller. The buyer is likely an individual apartment owner or purchaser. The seller would be the coop corporation (or condo association). As operating costs continue to rise, boards are considering other sources of income to operate their buildings and keep maintenance increases and assessments to a minimum. The sale of common area to in-house residents has become more commonplace in recent years and provides an opportunity for additional income. At the same time, apartment owners have had fewer purchase options as a result of the limited housing inventory in the Manhattan real estate market over the past five years. It may be easier for a shareholder to fulfill an immediate housing need by purchasing common space to enhance their apartment.

A typical scenario might go like this: A couple is expecting their first child and currently occupy a 1-bedroom coop apartment. They search for 2-bedroom apartment but cannot find any suitable choices in their price range with the level of amenities they currently enjoy. With the time constraints and inconvenience of moving, they approach the owner of the studio apartment across the hall. Since both apartments in this example are situated at the end of the hallway and the layout would be enhanced if the hallway is incorporated into the layout, the coop board was contacted.

The coop corporation would benefit from the capital infusion from the sale. The re-allocation of shares would result in increased revenue from higher maintenance charges paid by the shareholder in perpetuity. Both parties should seek out legal advice for matters such as the potential modification to the certificate of occupancy, zoning considerations, architectural integrity of the project, and approvals needed. Associated costs are usually paid by the purchaser. Our firm has seen include the end of a hallway between two apartments, basement storage room, a small closet adjacent to an apartment, double-height ceiling space over a basement garage, unimproved roof area, former elevator shaft and an unused rooftop water tank. How can market value of so many types of space be estimated?

Market value is defined by the Appraisal Institute as “The most probable price in cash, terms equivalent to cash, or in other precisely revealed terms, for which the appraised property will sell in a competitive market under all conditions requisite to fair sale, with the buyer and seller each acting prudently, knowledgeably, and for self-interest, and assuming that neither is under undue duress.” The sale of common area is not based on its market value, since it is not exposed to the open market and the buyer and seller are captives by its location. It usually has no practical use to any parties but the owner of adjacent apartment and the corporation. The space would not be sold to purchasers that do not own an apartment in the building or to an owner on another floor. Therein lies the problem since there is no “market” for the property. The value of the space is therefore termed “value in use” defined by the Appraisal Institute as “the value a specific property has for a specific use.” It is essentially the establishment of a reasonable relationship between the price and size of the space between the two parties.

The challenge to the board is to be fair to the purchaser yet responsible to the shareholders. The challenge to the apartment owner is to establish whether the finished result will provide additional value to the apartment, both in a financial and functional sense. As is often the case, there are usually no recent sales of common area within the subject building to use as a basis for comparison. Data on common area transactions are often not released because they are not representative of market transactions in a given building, although the release of such information would not impact market values in the building. In addition, these transfers are often combined with the purchase of an adjacent apartment.

A reasonable method of valuing common area is to abstract the relationship between actual common area sales and apartment sales within that same building on a per square foot basis. Although such transactions do not indicate market value on their own, they establish a relationship with the sales in their respective buildings. This ratio can then be applied to a representative price per square foot indicator in the subject building. This value indicator is based on the market segment the newly configured apartment will fall within.

It is important to note that the estimation of the common area value should not be subject to the actual condition of the adjacent shareholder apartment, but rather the typical condition of an apartment in the building. In other words, a shareholder should not pay more or be allocated more shares for adjacent common area based on the condition of their apartment. This is an important point and is consistent with allocation methods at the time of the conversion of the building.

Unlike the estimation of “value in use”, the share allocation should be made as if the space were incorporated into the adjacent apartment. The shareholder benefits from the additional space in perpetuity. Shares per square foot are the determinant factor because the space is usually incorporated into the existing apartment indefinitely and the shareholder enjoys an ongoing benefit. The original share allocation at conversion varies by many factors including floor level, number of bedrooms, square footage, outdoor space and view. The share per square foot ratio of other similar sized apartments on the same or similar floor levels should be analyzed and compared to the subject space.

The sale of common area can be a win-win scenario for both the coop corporation and the individual shareholder. The corporation benefits from a capital windfall and additional revenue in perpetuity. The shareholder benefits from an expanded apartment and additional value. Who says there isn’t value at the end of the hall?