Buying an Upper East Side Co-op Without a Green Card

April 23, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2015

NEW YORK—Investment banker Douglas Allison left England in late 2012 to help his company start a new project in the United States.

Being young and single, Allison had little desire to live near his office in Stamford, Conn. So for the last two years, the 34-year-old has commuted from the Upper East Side.

Late last year, he started looking to buy an apartment in Manhattan.

He did most of his apartment hunting on the Upper East Side, and spent a little time looking in Murray Hill. The East Side was preferred, because it is an easier commute to his office.

After months of hunting and piles of paperwork, Allison landed an Upper East Side co-op right by Central Park, where he runs three times a week.


Epoch Times Photo
A photo of the Beatles that hangs on Allison’s living room wall. This was taken in Dublin sometime in the 60s by Allison’s late grandfather, who was a reporter. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

Business-Oriented Family

Allison’s father is a retired toy importer. He imported Italian and Japanese toys. One could say he brought Hello Kitty to Great Britain.

His grandfather on his father’s side was a journalist. He took a lively photograph of the Beatles in Dublin in the ’60s while on assignment. It now hangs on Allison’s living room wall, and gives his home a distinctly British feel.

Allison’s mother and stepfather are property developers. They specialize in developing 15-20 unit buildings in the south of England.

Today, he and most of his other family are spread around the world. His mother is in Africa, his older brother in Brazil.

A lot of the time you walk into a place and you instantly know it’s not for you.
— Douglas Allison, investment banker

On his mother and stepfather’s recommendation, Allison bought an apartment in an area of London called Brixton shortly after the financial crash. Their company developed the building.

During the five years Allison owned the apartment, its value increased significantly. After his tenants moved out, he sold it and decided to use the proceeds to buy a place in Manhattan.

Although foreigners are normally advised to avoid cooperatives, Allison saw that on the Upper East Side buying a cooperative would get him more value for his money than a condo.

Co-ops can be too time consuming to buy and sell for foreigners, because of the invasive board approval process. Co-op boards often forbid or limit subletting, which can be a headache if the owner needs to leave the country quickly for an extended period.

Deadline for House Hunt
Allison and his buyer broker, Nile Lundgren of Dallien Realty, went house hunting every weekend for three months. They visited around 25 homes.

“A lot of the time you walk into a place and you instantly know it’s not for you,” he said, adding that he saw a lot of ’60s tower buildings with depressing long dark hallways that resembled a factory.

Allison wanted to have bought and be settled into a new place before his rental lease expired.

“The longer it went on the more nerve wracking—because I had to be out of my other apartment by Christmas,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in the situation where I was in the process of buying a place, but couldn’t move in.”

The few properties he saw in Murray Hill did not appeal to him, and seemed less spacious compared with the Upper East Side.

Finding Home

When he saw his building, a classic art deco co-op a few blocks from Central Park, the newly renovated lobby impressed him. “This building has a bit more character,” he said.

Preparing the paperwork for the co-op was incredibly time consuming. Allison said while preparing the paperwork, his broker truly earned his commission. When they finally submitted it, it was about 5 inches thick.

“It’s very invasive,” he said. “You have to tell them everything about your finances, your history, you have to provide personal references, bank statements. … But you get much less visibility over their finances, and their history.”

Allison got into investment banking at the age of 26, after he decided it was time for him to get “a proper job.” He had studied what he enjoyed, Spanish and politics, and then went to work for a travel company. He spent much of his spare time exploring the five continents.

Securing the co-cop gave him the security to put down roots, or the flexibility to sublet and continue his travels.

Extraneous Co-op Bills
A month ago, Allison received an additional charge, equivalent of one month’s maintenance, “based on, well I’m still trying to find out basically,” he said.

“You’re somewhat powerless in a co-op. You can get issued bills for operating expenses without any justification and you have to kind of stump up the money,” he said, adding, “But then again, I feel like for the money I paid for a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side I got a lot for my money.”

He is able to sublet his apartment for a maximum of two years, after he has lived there for two years. After that he presumably has to sell the place, or move back in.

He said the Upper East Side is a happy medium between living in Connecticut and living in New York. “I would probably live in a different neighborhood if I could, but this is the closest nice neighborhood I guess.”