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maintenanceMar 18, 2007

Everyone thinks the mainenance fee he/she pays is far too high. Unfortunately, most everyone bases his/her assumption on subjective feelings, not objective measures.

AdC is correct. You just can't say that $1.50/square foot is the line between a good deal and a bad deal.

In my building, we have 43 units in a 21-year-old coop in a structure that's 100 years old. Our average maintenance fee is about 88 cents per square foot (that includes a range from below 76 cents to just under a dollar).

So it's cheap in comparison to the fee in question, right? Well, yes and no.

Sure, it's low, but until a few years ago we had NO reserves. Our operating budget covered only current expenses -- that is, the corp was living month-to-month. The shareholders valued low maintenance over a financial safety net which is a foolish idea. (A few years ago, we implemented a flip tax, which created a nice reserves cushion and a healthy operating account.)

With that low maintenance, we have only 1 employee -- the super -- in a building that once had three full-time employees. It's not as clean as it was, and even minor repairs have to wait for the daily sweeping/trash/boiler oversite, and renovation monitoring. One person can do only so much.

If we charged $1.50 per square foot, we could afford to hire a handyman and a part-time doorman (we have neither), as well as afford to improve lighting, update the lobby, and start saving to upgrade our decades-old elevator.

I moved here from a co-op where the maintenance was just over $1 per square foot. It has 240 units, so with all those people paying in, the full-time building staff was more than a dozen -- and the interior was spotless. There was always someone on call to fix a problem. Two separate gardens looked immaculate. And so on.

So look at what you're paying for:
-- How many people work for the building (super, porters, handymen, doormen, concierge)?
-- How big are the reserves (higher or lower than the building's annual budget -- at least half the annual budget is a decent ballpark figure)?
-- How much of the maintenance fee is paying the mortgage (that is the tax-deductible percentage; what's left over after that portion pays all the other expenses of the building)?
-- What's the neighborhood like (neighbor buildings may try to outdo each other, which can help attract buyers should you ever sell your apt)?

And the big questions: what is the physical condition?
-- How long before the roof needs to be replaced?
-- How long before the windows need to be replaced?
-- The elevator?
-- What about repointing the bricks?
-- Any money set aside for those, or if the project was recently done, how much of the maint fee is paying for it?

Also remember that some buildings keep their maint fee low by charging an assessment that essentially lasts forever (as opposed to one that lasts two months or two years to pay for something specific). If the maint sounds low, find out if any assessments exist and when they will end (and how much they cost).

In short, no specific maintenance fee is too high or too low -- without knowing how the money is spent. Remember, the maint fee pays for everything in your building, so you should know HOW it is being spent.

If you'd like more information, send me an e-mail.

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