Long Island Buyers Guide

You are considering a move to Long Island, but just don't know where to start. With ten townships and over 500 communities, Long Island has the exact neighborhood for everyone. For the inexperienced, some of the differences may be perplexing, however, we can guarantee if you do your homework the process will flow much more smoothly. Our job at Douglas Elliman Real Estate is to help you determine which area and type of residence is suitable for you, to assist in neighborhood selection, to educate you regarding real estate prices and practices, and to pair you with an agent or agents that best matches your style and preferences.

Long Island is comprised of single-family homes, multiple family dwellings, condos, co-op and apartment style living. Most important is to understand what your needs are, the differences between the types of homes you will find on Long Island, and the process to becoming a homeowner.


Today, the American dream involves more than just owning a home; it means owning a home that is right for you. That's a very personal choice. So you will need to make two lists-- first, your "Want List" (i.e. the extras: pool, den, fireplace, plush landscaping) second, your "Needs List" (i.e. spare bedroom, garage, extra bathroom). Items for your list could include such things as privacy, size, architectural features, potential for appreciation in value, and a quiet neighborhood, just to name a few.

Prepare your lists before you start house hunting. Take along with you a copy of the "Master Checklist" provided in this guide to each home you visit, check the appropriate features, and compare the master list to your personal lists. This should give you a more comprehensive view of the home that is best for you.


Some neighborhoods are best for young, growing families, some for retirees and others for two career couples. Here are some clues to finding the neighborhood that's right for you. For many families, one of the most important factors to finding the right place to live is the quality of the local schools. Check with the school's counselor or principal and ask about:

  1. Percentage of students who go on to college and which ones they attend
  2. Student/teacher ratio
  3. Amount spent per student
  4. Availability of extracurricular and athletic programs

To size up the neighborhood for your interests, talk to the people who live there, including those who have recently moved. Make several trips to the neighborhoods you are considering: once each in the morning, afternoon and late at night. Drive into these areas from different directions; visit the local supermarket, post offices and variety stores to get a full perspective.

Telltale signs: stable neighborhoods have well manicured lawns, the houses are well maintained, and appear to be of similar value. Warning signs include: too many "For Sale" signs, poorly maintained yards and homes, and the encroachment of commercial businesses.

Facts You Should Know About Relocating to Long Island:

  1. When purchasing in New York, a binder check is presented with the offer to purchase. You then go to contract within an average of ten days. At contract, the total deposit of the down payment is required.
  2. A minimum payment of 10% is generally required on most home purchases, and can be 20-50% on condos and co-ops.
  3. We recommend that all homebuyers have an engineer's inspection before purchasing.
  4. A paid-in-full homeowner's policy must be presented at closing. We will be happy to assist you in obtaining one.
  5. Veterans can apply for a VA Exemption on their property taxes.
  6. At closing, all funds must be cash or certified checks.
  7. Some water companies on Long Island require that they see a copy of the contract on your new home before setting up service.


Condominium: A form of homeownership that combines individual ownership of one's unit with shared ownership of common facilities. Each owner has a separate mortgage for his/her individual unit and is individually responsible for making the payments on it and real estate taxes. An owner will also pay common charges on a monthly basis. Common charges are similar to maintenance in a cooperative. An elected board of directors is responsible for operation and management of all common facilities.

Condominiums are attractive for a variety of reasons:

Financing the purchase of a condominium is governed by the financial market, and is much more flexible than a cooperative. Generally, a buyer can finance up to 90% of the purchase price.

An approval process is usually required, and most condo boards are requiring application packages with financial disclosure. Generally, however, the requirements are not as rigorous as the co-op boards. A board meeting may or may not be required.

There is a greater flexibility in sub-leasing your unit. This makes a condominium the better choice for an investment property.

They are the ideal choice for non –U.S. citizens with their assets held outside of the United States given that co-ops are unlikely to approve a buyer whose funds are not in the United States.

Cooperative: Any type of organization that is owned and controlled by its member-users for a common purpose and that follows the cooperative principles. A cooperative operates for the benefit of its members on a not-for-profit basis in order to provide the goods and services members need at the lowest practical cost. An apartment corporation owns cooperatives. Members/shareholders own the cooperative and participate equally in the governance of the cooperation.

A co-op's board of directors is elected by the members/shareholders to govern the cooperative including setting policy, making rules and regulations and other decisions, which govern the operations and the welfare of its members/shareholders.

The considerations when buying a cooperative apartment:

The Board of Directors has the right to "approve" or "reject" any potential owner. The board, elected by all of the tenant-owners of the co-op, interviews all prospective owners. It has the responsibility of protecting the interests of all tenant-owners by selecting well-qualified candidates.

The quality of services and the security of the building are kept at high standards.

Portions of the monthly maintenance are tax deductible. Each building has its own tax structure, but all co-ops offer a tax advantage. Shareholders can deduct their portion of the building's real estate taxes, as well as their proportionate share of the interest on the building's mortgage.

The amount of money that may be financed is determined by each cooperative. Some buildings require substantial down payments. Generally speaking, a prospective purchaser should be prepared to "put down" at least 20 to 50% of the purchase price (depending on the building) when purchasing a cooperative apartment.

The Board of Directors of the cooperative must approve subleasing a co-op. Each corporation has its own rules, and they should be examined if a potential owner intends to sublet.

Ranch: Its main characteristic is that all living space is on one level. Entry is directly into the living room, with a separate or wraparound "L" shaped dining room to the rear. The kitchen sits alongside the dining room, also to the rear. A hallway entered from either the living room or the kitchen leads to the other side of the house where three or more bedrooms are located, as well as one or more bathrooms.

Colonial: Typically, this house has two levels and an attic. Most have a center hall entry with a staircase on the right, living room on the left, a dining room behind the living room, and the kitchen next to the dining room, also in the rear. Often, there is a family room on the other side or the kitchen, as well. The second floor has three or more bedrooms off a center hall, and one or more bathrooms.

High Ranch: Typically, this house has an entry of five or six steps leading into a foyer, with steps going up and down from there. Those going up usually lead to a living room and an "L" shaped dining room, adjoining kitchen, three or more bedrooms, and one or more bathrooms. The steps down lead to a den, and additional bedroom, utility room and a garage entrance.

Split Level: Usually, there are three or more levels, with three or four steps up or down to each level. The split can be side-to-side or front to back, but each level always sits over another living area, or a garage. Entry is usually up to three steps into a hallway or foyer, with the living room to the right or left. In back of that is the dining room and adjoining kitchen. The steps lead to a hallway, of which there are three or more bedrooms and one or more bathrooms.

Contemporary: Characterized by their unique, spacious, "one of a kind" designs that often feature "great rooms" with skylights, atriums, etc., these houses are dramatic expressions of the architect or the owner's personal vision.

Cape: A very loose term, used to describe "wide line" (flat across the front), "A-line" (literally shaped like the letter when view from the front), or side hall housing style (with stairs right in front as you enter), which includes living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms on the first floor. Two or more bedrooms and a bathroom are on the second floor.


Long Island is a bi-county island consisting of Nassau County in the west and Suffolk County in the east. Geographically, each county is divided into various towns. Each town has a tax assessor who establishes the assessed value of the respective residential property throughout the town. In establishing the assessed value of a given property the assessor will take into account the square footage of the dwelling located on the premises and the area location of the property within the town.

Thereafter, when a homeowner plans to make any additions to the property, it is required that the homeowner obtains a permit form the town. Upon completion of the addition, the tax assessor will increase the assessed value in accordance with the size and nature of the addition. Each town establishes a tax rate for the respective areas of the town. To arrive at actual annual dollar tax amount for a property, the assessor will multiply the assessed value of the property by the tax rate.

Property taxes, therefore, will increase or decrease in accordance with the tax rate increasing or decreasing each year. Property tax amounts, therefore, have no relationship to the actual market value of the property.


Engineer's Inspection

It is essential homebuyers make a wise, fully informed purchase decision. An objective opinion on the physical condition of the house, as well as all of its systems, should be a part of that process.

An engineer's can provide a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of the physical condition of the house. With this knowledge, the homebuyer is in a position to make sound judgment on the purchase of the home.

It is suggested that the buyer be in direct contact with the person selected to do the inspection and ask that person for an explanation of his/her qualifications, experience, and the number of years that they have been conducting inspections of homes. The purchaser will also benefit by going along with the inspector when he/she is making the inspection, and therefore, being readily available for an on the spot detailed explanation of what is inspected and its relative significance.


Basic Structure: What is the condition of foundations, girders, joists, rafters, etc.?

Roofing: Examine both the soundness and condition of the shingling with emphasis on roof leaks and ventilation.

Drainage: Is the roof and surface water being handled properly (i.e. gutters/leaders, grading), with emphasis on possible wet or damp basements?

Windows and Floors: Determine condition and note any damage areas, especially in the tile work in the bathrooms.

Heating and Air Conditioning: Define the type of system, condition of equipment, type of distribution and system operation (when possible).

Insulation: Determine type and amount, with energy conservation as a key factor.

Plumbing: Define the source of portable water supply, type of piping, waste disposal, condition and operation of fixtures, and method of hot water.

Electrical: Define the type and capacity of the service, method of distribution, type of wiring and operation for receptacles, switches and fixtures.

Miscellaneous: condition and operation of fireplaces, swimming pools, underground sprinkler system, etc. should also be examined (when possible). The inspection report is the result of a visual inspection of the premises. It is not a guarantee or a form of insurance. The inspection cannot include the inspection of framing or piping that is behind walls.

It is recommended that the buyer ask questions during this inspection regarding present plans, concerns and future plans for modifications. At the end of the inspection, the inspector will summarize the building condition for the buyer. A complete report will normally be typed and sent out to the buyer within five working days following the inspection.

Master Checklist

Use this list to check off the appropriate features at each home you visit. Together with your "Want List" and "Need List," you should get a better idea of how each matches up against your ideal.