Two weeks ago The New York Observer, once a scrappy ankle-biter of gentrified Manhattan, published an utterly unaware column by 22-year-old New School grad Polly Mosendz about how she bought a $250,000 Manhattan apartment all by herself (and a parental nest egg of $50,000). The message was: you can do this, too! Mosendz even described herself as “normal.”
However, two very important details in the column appear to be factually untrue. The apartment, located in Greenwich Village, did not cost $250,000. According to city property records, Mosendz paid $345,000 for the apartment. The same records indicate that Mosendz did not buy the property all by herself. Her grandmother, Ludmila Lapchyk, served as a co-signer — though its unclear whether Lapchyk herself contributed the $95,000 difference.
When made aware of these discrepancies, Observer editor Ken Kurson told Gawker that Mosendz claims to have received a “refund”—he did not know for how much—from her building’s co-op board, due to the building being land-leased. Regarding the unmentioned second buyer, Kurson added: “I do not think the author was trying to deceive her readers.”
Kurson’s first response:
Thank you for your intense interest in this story.
First, the article does not state that she paid $250k. It reads, “I settled on a budget of approximately $250,000” and the loose language is intentional — the author's intent was not to reveal the precise specifics of her personal finances but to provide a general roadmap to how this can be done. Later, the piece reads “I had an accepted offer—just over a quarter million” — again, the language is intentionally vague and even nods toward a higher than $250k price.
I would agree that “approximately $250,000"”and your assertion of $345,000 are meaningfully different amounts, but as I understand it, that’s mostly because the $345k number reported in records does not reflect the refund that buyers receive after closing because the building is a land lease.
As for the person you mention (who is the author's grandmother): as I understand it, she is simply a co-signer. I re-read the story (again) and my sense of fairness was not offended by this. Had I known that this was the case before we ran the article, I would have urged the author to include this information. Not because I think she was being sneaky in not mentioning it — I don’t. But because I favor transparency and in reading the reactions to the story, both on your site and ours, I think it’s fair to conclude that knowing that the author had a willing co-signer would have been helpful to the exact young aspiring homebuyers for whom this story was intended. In fact, I think I’ll add that now. But I do not think the author was trying to deceive her readers.
We asked Kurson about the precise refund amount, and whether “approximately $250,000” or “just over a quarter-million” would suggest $345,000 to a reasonable person. He wrote back:
1) I do not know the amount. I believe it was in the 5 figures, but I am not sure. I THINK the way it works (I am not an expert on this) is let’s say there’s a co-op with 10 identical units that sits on a lend lease. Meaning the coop does not own the land, it simply has a long term lease on it. The lease expires in 2050. Jane buys Unit A in 1990. That means the value of her unit includes 60 years of using it in peace. John buys Unit B in 2010. That means the value of his unit includes 40 years of using it in peace. The board somehow refunds John some of the money he has “lost” by enjoying full use of his apt for 20 years less than Jane. The reason for this is that if they didn't do that, as 2050 nears, they’d never be able to get anyone to buy an apt and everyone's investment would go to zero. Again, I’m not an expert.
2) I’m arguing the exact opposite, and you asking me this question makes me wonder if you're really attempting to be fair. Note that I wrote “I would agree that ‘approximately $250,000’ and your assertion of $345,000 are meaningfully different amounts.” If I say that 250 and 345 are meaningfully different,” how can you you conclude that I think a “reasonable person” would think they’re the same? But what IS close enough, in my view, is the amount that she netted out at after the refund and the high end of “just over 250.”
Today’s lesson: You are never going to own in Manhattan. (Or Brooklyn.)
Update: As promised, Kurson appended the following paragraph to Mosendz’s original column:
Many readers have inquired about the exact details surrounding the author’s purchase of her co-op apartment. The purchase price listed in city records is higher than the amount budgeted by the author because the city records do not reflect the value of the refund that is common when buying a co-op that sits on leased land. Furthermore, the buyer had the benefit of a co-signer — a relative who agreed to be on the deed.
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