What is a sponsor unit?
Nov 17, 2023
A special category of apartments in New York City are called “sponsor units.” Basically, a
sponsor unit in a condo building is a residence that has been owned by the developer and it’s
going up for sale for the first time. Or in the case of a co-op, it is owned by the original owner
or the corporation that originally converted rental units into co-ops.
“Sponsor listings” mostly are found in condo buildings, since new development has brought
mostly condos to the market. The real market for sponsor units is in cooperative buildings,
many of which underwent conversion from rentals to co-ops over the conversion boom that
started in the ’80s.
What Are the Benefits of Buying a Sponsor Apartment?
Since most buildings in New York were converted many years ago, the opportunity to buy a
sponsor co-op unit that has never before been privately sold can be a real advantage.
1. No Board Approval: A sponsor unit for sale in a co-op allows a buyer to make the purchase
without approval from the co-op board. This will save you time and the ridicule of the co-op
board, since financials, income and occupation are not subject to the co-op boards approval.
This is a great way for self-employed buyers or those whose financials may have blemishes to
buy into a co-op.
2. 10% Down
Since the down payment is negotiated between the buyer and the sponsor unit owner, there
is the potential for the down payment requirement to be below the 30 percent suggested
figure required by many co-op boards. Also a buyer’s cash reserves often don’t need to meet
the same standards as a buyer for a non-sponsor unit. A 10-20% downpayment could be
3. House Rules & Bylaws
Rules of the co-op conferred on other shareholders in the corporation do not extend to a
sponsor unit. A sponsor unit may be sublet or rented but once transferred to a buyer it is no
longer a sponsor unit.
Since many of these units were occupied for a long time by rent- controlled tenants, they may
often be in “estate condition” — a plus for some buyers who appreciate the details and
materials used in prewar buildings. Sponsor units appeal to buyers who want to completely
remake the apartment according to their taste.
What Are the Drawbacks of Buying a Sponsor Apartment?
1. Deal or no deal?
While many sponsor units are in need of major and costly renovation, they may not come at a
discount. The premium that many sponsor unit seekers are willing to pay to get into one of
these units has to do with wanting to sidestep the co-op board or to not have their financials
scrutinized or wait a long time for board approval. There’s nothing worse than sitting through
weeks or months waiting for a co-op board to approve your construction plans only to have
them reject them.
Sponsor units can often be the same square-foot price as renovated units, or more expensive.
An owner may understand that a sponsor unit is a special class that attracts a certain kind of
buyer that is often willing to pay a premium. Over the past 15 years, the city’s co-ops have undergone a 110.8% price increase on average while condos have undergone a 138.2% price
increase. Of course, depending on the neighborhood, the performance of co-ops versus
condos does vary. In downtown neighborhoods, co-ops experienced a 126.9% price increase
over the past 15 years while the value of condos has soared by 179%.
3. Closing Costs
The closing costs are steep for a sponsor unit in a co-op. This can add about 1.825 percent of
the purchase price to a buyer’s closing costs in transfer taxes if the apartment is over $500K.
Making the co-op closing cost closer to that of a condo. Additionally, a seller will try and
negotiate to have all closing costs associated with the unit paid for by the buyer.
Legal issues need to be sorted out if a sponsor unit has been a long-term rental. This is
especially true for controlled or stabilized apartments, where there are no leases. In all cases
buyers should make sure the lease was terminated legally and with the consent of all named
You must also have a real estate lawyer look into the terms of any proprietary lease associated
with the unit. A buyer must get a clear read on obligations when it comes to the unsold
shares in a sponsor unit so make sure to do your due diligence. This is true for anyone who
aims to occupy the unit. It is more imperative for an investor who wants to buy a sponsor
unit(s) in a co-op and then rent the unit(s) out.
5. The hunt
The demand is high and inventory low for this type of apartment. Anyone looking specifically
for a sponsor unit apartment must be willing to stick it out for the long haul.
Despite not having to pass the co-op board’s approval process to buy a sponsor unit, any
renovation plans will probably need approval by the board. If possible, use someone who has
worked in the building before. As for what kind of work needs to be disclosed what doesn’t, it
will depend on your building. You may not need permission for cosmetic work that doesn’t
involve major systems like electrical or plumbing, but some co-ops have more regulations, or
what’s known as a “decoration agreement.”
Buying a co-op apartment from the sponsor will cost a little more but it can pay off
A sponsor co-op apartment is one that is owned by a building’s original owner or the
corporation responsible for converting the building from a rental into a co-op.
The big advantage of a sponsor co-op–and the reason they are so sought-after–is that buyers
do not have to be approved by the co-op board. You may even get to bypass the building’s
normal down payment and reserve requirements, and be grandfathered in on certain perks
held by the sponsor such as rights to a storage unit or to install a washer-dryer.
Sponsor apartments tend to cost about 5-10% more than comparable non-sponsor units, but
for many people who might not be approved by a co-op board (such as freelancers, foreign
citizens, and the unemployed or retired) the alternative is buying a condo, which is much
more expensive on average than a co-op.
Closing costs are higher for sponsor units, as transfer taxes (1.825% of purchase price for
properties over $500,000, and 1.425% for properties under $500,000) are paid by buyers.
Also beware of the “sponsor renovation” — often a low-cost quickie renovation meant to spur
a quick, high sale and emphasizing surface appeal over quality and longevity.