Friday, February 21, 2014

The co-op board interview: Think of it as a small social gathering at, say, Buckingham Palace.

Part 7 of a series

Remember, if only for those 45 minutes to an hour, the board members have a great deal of power over your future.   

They can reject you for any legal* reason they want, and they don't have to tell you what that reason is.  So be very, very respectful.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of co-op board members are decent, sane, reasonable people whose primary motive in their capacity as board members is to preserve their investments and to live in their homes in peace and quiet.  

So the best course is to smile and be pleasant, but leave your sparkling, witty side at home.  Being the life of the party may not endear you to the board members.  They are considering you as a potential co-resident of the building, not as a friend or party guest. 

And nobody has ever been rejected for being boring.

Do not bring along anyone who is not invited—definitely not your broker or attorney.  If they have asked for your children or your dog or anyone else who will live in the apartment to attend, bring them, but ONLY if they’ve been asked.

Dress in business clothes; for men, a jacket and tie, if not a suit, are a good idea.  If it’s on the weekend, wear what you would wear for casual Friday in the office.

When you walk in, wait to be invited to sit down.  If nobody remembers to invite you, pick out a spot and say, “May I sit here?”

If offered coffee or tea, accept only if others are having some.  If offered a glass of wine, smile and decline, unless everyone else in the room is drinking.  Then have one glass.  Sip it slowly.

While for some co-ops, the board interview is simply a chance to welcome the new resident to the building, tell him what days the trash is picked up, etc., for others it’s a chance to ask a lot of questions**.  

Answer them honestly, but don’t say more than you have to, and don’t answer any questions you haven’t been asked. 

In the unlikely event that a board member asks an offensive question, answer calmly, as best you can.  

If you’re asked a question you're willing to risk losing the apartment over in order not to answer, just say politely, “I’m sorry, that’s something I’d rather not discuss.”  It’s entirely possible that at least some of the other board members will also consider the question inappropriate

Under no circumstances should you take anything personally, or get defensive.  Just stay serene and pleasant, no matter what.

If you’re asked about renovations, it’s best to say you want to live in the apartment for a while before making any changes other than redoing the floors and painting, assuming this is true. (It’s an excellent idea, in any case, and I recommend it strongly.) 

On the other hand, if the apartment is currently uninhabitable, of course your architect is, or will be, working on plans which you will be submitting to the board as soon as they’re ready.  

If you ever plan to sublet your apartment, this is NOT the time to mention it.  If asked, you have no plans to do so (which should be the truth anyway, at this point, or you wouldn't be buying a co-op).

Avoid asking questions yourself. “When are you going to redo the lobby?” carries the implication that you don’t like the lobby.  If asked, the safest response is to say you don't have any questions.  

If  given the opportunity, talk about how much you love the apartment and how you have always wanted to live in the building, but do not assume you will be living there. 

At the end of the interview, you can say something like, “It’s been a real pleasure meeting you.  I hope we’ll be neighbors.”  Do not ask how soon you can move in.

What happens now?

As soon as your broker hears from the managing agent that you are approved (usually within the next day or so), your attorney and the seller’s attorney will set up a closing time, date and place with the managing agent. 

24 hours or fewer before the closing, you will walk through the apartment with your broker and the seller’s broker and make sure everything is as it’s supposed to be.  

You’ll turn on all the appliances and make sure they work, check all the closets and the refrigerator, and make sure they’re all empty.  

If anything is amiss, the seller and/or the seller’s broker must take care of it before the closing (you’d be surprised how many refrigerators I’ve had to empty out!) 

Your attorney will explain to you exactly what happens at the closing, but briefly, a lot of checks will cross the table, documents will be signed, and at the end you will be given the keys to your new home.  

Take your keys and your partner, pick up a bottle of Champagne and a couple of glasses, and go sit on the floor and celebrate.

And if I’m your broker, we will pick a date for me to take you out for a lovely celebratory dinner.

On the other hand, if somehow you have been rejected, it’s okay for the brokers to ask the managing agent if there’s any more information you could provide that might help.  It’s also okay for the seller to talk to somebody on the board and try to get a fix on the problem.  These tactics may or may not work.

If they don’t, you get your 10% of the purchase price back.  

And look at it this way: you didn’t want to live with those nasty people anyway.  You and your broker will now proceed to find something just as good, maybe better.  

And you will.  You have my word. 

Any questions?  E-mail me at or call 917-991-9549 for answers or just to talk real estate.

*The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, family/marital status and occupation, among other things.  Find a complete list here: New York State Division of Human Rights Fair Housing Guide or ask your attorney. 

** An article in Brick Underground gives you an idea of the possibilities:  9 curveball co-op board interview questions and how to answer them.

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