A Step by Step Guide to Selling your New York Home

A client of mine recently asked me to write a blog article article explaining step by step the process of selling your home in New York. This article assumes you’re selling a one family home. These steps may differ if you’re selling a cooperative apartment or condominium unit.

Step One, Putting your home up for sale.

Most people will hire a real estate broker to assist them in finding a purchaser. The broker will ask the seller to sign a listing agreement setting forth the term of the agreement, usually 3 to 6 months, the amount of the commission as a percentage of the sale price and whether the broker may put the listing on the multiple listing service.

Step Two, Hiring an attorney.

The broker has found a buyer who made an offer that you have accepted. Now you need to hire an attorney to represent you in the sale. The broker may recommend an attorney they have dealt with in other transactions but you are free to hire any attorney you feel comfortable with. Most attorneys offer free consultations in which they will describe the services they offer and their fee for representing you as a seller. I typically ask the prospective client to sign a retainer agreement setting forth the scope of my representation and my fee.

Step Three, Going to Contract

Even though you have verbally accepted an offer from the buyer, the transaction isn’t legally enforceable until both you and purchaser have signed a contract of sale. Your attorney will prepare the contract and email a copy to the Purchaser’s attorney to review. Once the Purchaser’s attorney has reviewed the contract and any proposed changes are agreed to, the Purchaser will sign the contract and it will be sent to your attorney with the down payment check. The down payment is customarily ten percent but is negotiable. Most contracts now permit digital signatures and the down payment may be wired to your attorney’s escrow account as well. Once the contract is received by your attorney, you’ll sign as seller and a PDF copy will be emailed to the Purchaser’s attorney together with a cover letter confirming receipt of the down payment which will be held in your attorney’s escrow account.

Step Four, Your Attorney Reviews the Title Report

Upon receipt of the fully signed contract, the Purchaser’s attorney will order a title report, a copy of which will be sent to your attorney. The report will indicate any mortgages you may have as well as the current real estate taxes and any other possible liens. Your attorney will ask you to contact the NYC DEP to arrange for a final water/sewer reading and to contact your bank to obtain a payoff letter for any mortgages you may have. For a discussion of title insurance see http://www.dippellaw.com/wordpress/why-do-i-need-title-insurance-when-i-purchase-my-home-in-new-york/

Step Five, Scheduling the Closing

Once your Purchaser has received their mortgage loan approval your attorney will schedule a closing with the Purchaser’s attorney. The closing is a meeting of the parties and their attorneys at which time the balance of the purchase price is paid to you and you will deliver possession of the home to the Purchaser. Prior to the closing, your attorney will prepare the deed and transfer tax returns which you’ll sign at the Closing. For a discussion of what taxes you’ll pay at the Closing, see http://www.dippellaw.com/wordpress/what-taxes-will-i-have-to-pay-when-i-sell-my-new-york-city-home/

Step Six, The Closing

The Closing will generally take place at the office of the attorneys for the Purchaser’s mortgage lender. You will sign the deed, the transfer tax returns and various title affidavits. You’ll receive the balance of the purchase price in the form of official bank checks from the Purchaser and their lender and the balance of the down payment, after your attorney has paid transfer taxes and other fees from their escrow account.

Step Seven, The Closing Statement

After the Closing your attorney will send you a closing statement summarizing the transaction together with copies of documents you’ve signed at the Closing. You’ll need this when you file your income taxes for the year the Closing took place.

While for the sake of brevity I have simplified the procedure somewhat, this general outline will give you an idea of what to expect when selling your home.

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Does my will have to be notarized to be valid in New York?

This is a common misconception I hear from clients and the answer is no, a will is not signed before a notary public but must be signed before two witnesses. Once the testator (the person signing the will) has signed, the witnesses sign below what is called an “attestation clause” in which they attest to the fact that they witnessed the testator sign the will in their presence. A sample attestation clause is attached below.

The witnesses should then sign what is called a “self-proving affidavit” which is attached to the will in which they state that they witnessed the testator signing the will and that the testator was of sound mind, etc. This affidavit is signed before a notary public. A sample self-proving affidavit is attached below.

A will can still be probated without a self-proving affidavit attached to it however if it is missing, affidavits from the witnesses must then be obtained and submitted with the original will. Often if a substantial period of time has elapsed from when the will was signed and submitted for probate, the witnesses may not be easily located. This may complicate the probate procedure incurring additional legal fees and other expenses.

For a discussion of the probate process in New York please refer to my blog post: http://www.dippellaw.com/wordpress/what-does-it-mean-to-probate-a-will/

To ensure that your will may be probated without unnecessary complications be sure to retain the services of an attorney experienced in wills and probate.

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How do I transfer my New York City house or condo to my living trust?

Revocable trusts, commonly referred to as “Living Trusts” are becoming more popular in New York. If you have a Living Trust or are considering setting up a Living Trust, it is important to make sure that any assets you own are titled in your name as trustee of your Living Trust. Only assets titled in such a manner will be subject to the provisions of your trust. If you are wondering why you may want to set up a Living Trust, please see my blog post How can I avoid probate of a will in New York?.

In the case of a home or condominium unit, the deed needs to recite that you, as trustee of your trust, are the grantee, i.e. new owner. If you are purchasing the property, the contract of sale should set forth that you are purchasing as the trustee of your Living Trust. If you are financing the purchase of your home or condominium unit, you should check with your mortgage lender beforehand to see if they have any special requirements concerning your purchasing the property as a trustee.

If you already own your home, it is important that at the time you sign your trust agreement your house or condominium unit is conveyed to yourself as trustee of your trust. To accomplish this, you will need to sign a deed and related transfer documents conveying the property from yourself individually to yourself as trustee of your Living Trust. The deed is then recorded with the Office of the City Register.

For a discussion of transferring a co-op to a Living Trust please refer to my blog post How do I transfer my cooperative apartment to my living trust?

It’s important to retain the services of an experienced attorney to assist you in making sure your assets are properly titled in your name as trustee of your Living Trust. Failure to do so may result in your assets not passing to those you have designated as beneficiaries in your Living Trust.

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Remote Will Signing and Witnessing in New York During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Please note that since this blog article was published the emergency authorization allowing remote will signing has expired.

Almost everyone in New York State and New York City, the epicenter of the Coronavrus pandemic, has been social distancing resulting in the closing of many businesses, including law firms. While the customary visit to a lawyer’s office to sign a will and other estate planning documents may not be possible, lawyers, working from home offices, can still provide their services in preparing and supervising the signing of such documents.

Governor Cuomo’s executive order 202.14 now permits remote witnessing of wills and health care proxies. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20214-continuing-temporary-suspension-and-modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency

If you have the ability to video conference with your attorney and your witnesses, you can sign your will, health care proxy and power of attorney from the comfort and safety of your home.

Anyone with a webcam or smartphone need not delay signing these important estate planning documents as there is now no need for you, your witnesses and attorney to be in one office.

Please contact the Law Office Of George H. Dippel at (718) 229-1505 for more information and a free consultation.

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Is Estate Planning Remotely With Your NY Attorney Better Than Using Legal Software?

Please note that since this blog article was published the emergency authorization allowing remote will signing has expired.

Many people are considering using legal software to prepare their wills and other legal documents under the mistaken belief that law offices are closed due to the Governor Cuomo’s recent “stay at home” order. In fact, many attorneys are now practicing from home offices and are still able to assist you.

As I explained in my earlier blog post,


by using “do it yourself” software you may be inadvertently causing future problems for your loved ones when they need to probate your will. Fortunately this need not be the case. Modern technology allows you to remotely confer with your attorney. Using your smart phone or a webcam attached to your laptop or PC, your attorney can remotely supervise your will signing before witnesses and can even record the proceedings for future use if the need arises.

Your attorney can also notarize your power of attorney pursuant to the Governor’s recent emergency order permitting remote notarization.


Despite our need to maintain social distancing you can still avail yourself of the services of an experienced attorney in the preparation and supervision of your signing these important estate planning documents.

Please feel free to call us at (718) 229-1505 for a free telephone consultation.

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Estate Planning in New York During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Please note that since this blog article was published the emergency authorization allowing remote will signing has expired.

Many people are probably wondering how they can plan their affairs during the coronavirus pandemic while maintaining social distancing. Can I sign a will, heath care proxy, power of attorney and deed without visiting an attorney’s office?

The answer is yes provided you have a printer/scanner and are able to video conference/chat with a smart phone or laptop/PC.

In New York State a will must be signed by the testator (the person who is making the will) before two witnesses who will sign an acknowledgement clause below the testator’s signature. The witnesses should not be beneficiaries under the will. It is common practice for the witnesses to also sign what is commonly referred to as a “self proving” affidavit which while not absolutely necessary, simplifies the probate process.

After a telephone consultation with your attorney, he/she can prepare your will and email a copy to you. You can then print and sign your will before two witnesses. Your attorney can also notarize the self proving affidavit remotely as set forth in the Governor’s order allowing remote notarization.

Refer to my prior blog post regarding the requirements for remote notarization.

Likewise your health care proxy can be prepared and emailed to you which you can also print and sign before two witnesses. A power of attorney prepared by your attorney can also be signed and remotely notarized.

If you have been considering adding someone to the title of your home, the deed and transfer documents can be emailed to you and remotely notarized. You can scan and email PDFs of the signed and notarized documents to your attorney who can then record your deed electronically with the Office of the City Register provided your property is within the counties of Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn or the Bronx.

Despite our need to maintain social distancing there are ways your attorney can assist you in these matters in a manner that keeps us all safe.

Please feel free to call us at (718) 229-1505 for a free telephone consultation.

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The Law Office of George H. Dippel is Open During the Coronavirus Outbreak

The Law Office of George H. Dippel, in compliance with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s emergency declaration, is now operating from our home office.

While certain activities such as sit down closings, will signings and personal consultations in our office are not possible for the foreseeable future, we are fully prepared to handle many matters remotely by email, fax and teleconferencing. Of course, telephone and email consultations are available as always.

Of special importance to the real estate community is Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.7, temporarily allowing remote notarization of documents.


This order will allow our office to notarize legal documents such as powers of attorneys, deeds and other real estate transfer documents remotely.

Additionally, our office has the capability to file electronically all deeds within the four counties of New York City, i.e, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan.

For your convenience, we accept payment of our fees and prepayment of transfer fees by major credit cards and contract down payments by wire transfer.

The Law Office of George H. Dippel is ready to assist you while at the same time observing the social distancing which is vital to defeating Covid-19.

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How do I transfer my New York co-op apartment to my living trust?

Revocable trusts, often called “living trusts” are an increasingly popular choice for people who wish to avoid probate when planning their estates. For a discussion on “living trusts” refer to my blog post: http://www.dippellaw.com/wordpress/how-can-i-avoid-probate-of-a-will-in-new-york/

As I discussed in my above blog post, your assets must be re-titled in your name as trustee of your living trust. In the case of your cooperative apartment, a new stock certificate and proprietary lease must be issued by the cooperative corporation in your name as trustee of your living trust.

As a first step, you must determine whether the cooperative corporation allows ownership of apartments by trusts by contacting the management office of the co-op. If the co-op permits ownership by trusts, they will most likely require that the trust agreement be reviewed by the co-op’s attorneys. The co-op’s attorneys will, in most cases, require that a co-op lien search be done against all parties. Additional documents, such as personal guarantees of the trustee’s obligations under the proprietary lease may need to be signed by you and transfer tax returns will need to be prepared on New York City’s ACRIS system.

After complying with the co-op’s attorney’s requirements, they will schedule a closing (in some cases this can be done by mail unless there is an outstanding co-op loan as explained below) at their office at which time you will surrender the original stock certificate and proprietary lease and sign the various transfer documents. The new stock certificate and lease will then be issued in your name as trustee of your living trust.

If you have an outstanding co-op loan, your lender will be in possession of your stock certificate and lease. In such a case you will need to obtain the permission of your lender as they will need to bring the original stock certificate and proprietary lease to the closing. Accordingly, your inquiry to your lender should be the first step in starting this process.

As you can see, transferring your interest in your cooperative apartment to your living trust is not a trivial matter. You should retain the services of an attorney experienced in estate planning and cooperative apartment transfers to ensure your estate plan is successfully implemented.

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Why do I need title insurance when I purchase my home in New York?

Even first time home buyers have a general awareness that they will need to pay for something called “title insurance” when they close on the purchase of their home. However, few buyers, I would guess, have an understanding of exactly what they are paying for.

Unlike when you purchase a car, there is no certificate of title issued by a government agency, which serves as proof of your ownership rights. You will receive a deed from the seller at the closing, but this, in and of itself, does not give you what real estate attorneys call “marketable title.” Simply put, marketable title establishes you as the owner of the property with all the rights that such ownership entails.

Obtaining marketable title is an involved process. First, the seller, who signs the deed, must themselves have marketable title. To determine that your seller has marketable title, your title company will search the public records and have their attorneys interpret the results. Second, the deed from the seller must be recorded with the City Register. See my blog post for a discussion of why a deed is recorded.


As you can see, obtaining title to a home is much more complex then acquiring title to a car. Your attorney will employ a title company which will do this work, for a premium of course. They will determine that your seller has marketable title and insure that your deed is recorded. Your title insurance company will then issue a proposed policy of title insurance, called a “title report” that insures that you have marketable title. Lastly, your attorney will review the title report to make sure the coverage complies with the terms of your contract of sale.

When you purchase your home, be sure you retain an attorney who has experience with title insurance so you can have peace of mind that you have marketable title.

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What taxes will I have to pay when I sell my New York City home?

Clients often ask me about the tax consequences they will face when they sell their New York City  home.  Whether you’re selling  a one or two family house, a cooperative apartment or a condominium unit, you will be subject to several taxes.

First, there are transfer taxes that must be paid at the closing of the sale.  New York State imposes a transfer tax of four dollars per thousand or .4% of the sales price of the home.  New York City imposes its own transfer tax, starting at 1% of the sales price for sales under $500,000.00 and increasing to  1.425% for sales above $500,000.00.

Second, there may be capital gains taxes that may be due when you file your Federal and New York State income taxes for the tax year in which your home was sold.  If your home was your principal residence for two of the five years prior to the sale, you are entitled to a credit of $250,000.00 ($500,000.00 if a married couple are joint owners of the home) against any capital gains.

Capital gain is determined by subtracting your cost basis (generally your original purchase price as adjusted, i.e., by adding cost of capital improvements and closing costs) from your sale price.  If you have inherited your home, you will be entitled to a “step up” in cost basis equal to the fair market value of the home at the time of the death of the prior owner from whom you received the home.

There is an exception as to when income taxes (based on any gain from the sale of your home) are due if you are a non-resident of New York State selling a New York home.  In that case you must file a Non-Resident Real Property Estimated Income Tax Payment Form (Form IT-2663) and pay any estimated New York State income tax at the time of closing.

Finally, if your home ceased being your principal residence for 2 of the past 5 years prior to closing, you can defer the payment of gains tax if you purchase replacement property through the use of a 1031 exchange.

Tax laws are complex.  When you sell your home, be sure to employ professionals familiar with the sale of New York City property to avoid being surprised by an unexpected tax bill.

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