The Real.Est List
My Big Fat Board Interview: They didn't understand why a farmer was getting an apartment in NYC
When my husband and I got married seven years ago, I was renting a place on West 72nd Street. We decided that we wanted to buy an apartment because we realized that the maintenance and mortgage would come to the same amount we were spending on rent anyway. It was a better business decision. We knew that a studio was all we could afford, because a one-bedroom would cost another $250,000.
I loved West 72nd and wanted to stay in the area, so I looked at tons of places nearby—at least 25. But each time I thought I’d found a place, I’d call my real estate agent, and she’d say, “I’m not wasting my time or yours. You’d never be accepted in that building.” We did put in a couple of bids, but they weren’t accepted, because our combined income was too low.
I looked for a place from June till November—five months of active looking. Finally I found a 15th-floor studio in an elevator doorman building on the Upper West Side. My agent looked into it and told us it was the only building we would be accepted into, because our combined income was so low.
The entire process took about six months, starting from the time we put in the offer (November) to the day we moved in (April). The board interview took six weeks to set up, I think.
Before you go in front of the board, you have to prepare a lot of paperwork. The management company in my building...their attitude about marriage was from the ’50s. Since I didn’t take my husband’s last name, we each had to get three personal and three work references—a total of 12 written references! We also had to show three years of individual taxes and three years of married taxes—nine years’ worth of taxes. If our last names had been the same, they would have just asked for the three years of married taxes. Our building only makes you put down 10 percent cash, but we put down 20 percent because our agent told us that would help us get in.
Anyway, after these people know every single thing about your finances and your bills and everything, they schedule an interview. I was really nervous about it. I felt so vulnerable. It was like standing naked on Broadway, as one of my friends put it. Complete strangers know every bit of information about your finances and where you work and what your friends are like. I had nightmares of not being accepted, because I knew this was our only chance. They don’t have to give a reason why you’re not accepted, either.
The agent came with us to the interview and waited outside the building manager’s office where it was held. My husband said, “Everything will be fine, blah blah blah.” But I felt terrified when I walked in. Four board members were sitting there. The only one I remember was this funny lady of about 80 who brought in a stuffed bird because I had said on my application that bird-watching is one of my hobbies. She told me, “We all love birds here!”
The interview only lasted about half an hour. Apparently, if you have any kind of unconventional job, co-op boards get very confused. At the time, I was an educational consultant and my husband was a Christmas-tree farmer. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand why a farmer was getting an apartment in New York City.
I remember they asked how we were going to improve the building and all this kind of stuff. At one point, they asked my farmer husband if he could help with the plants in the lobby. He said, “We’ll see.” In fact, they kept asking him all the questions—to the point where I finally said, “Hey, what about me?! I’m here for the interview, too!” To which they replied, “Oh! Oh!”
After the interview was done, the interviewers made us sit in the lobby to await their decision. Twenty minutes later, one of the men came out and said, “Welcome to the building!”
Would I buy in a co-op again? Oh yeah—but I wouldn’t be nearly so scared, because I know it’s all bullshit. They make it seem scarier than it actually is, because they want it to be all authoritarian; they like being the boss.
Now that I know more about buying and selling things, I agree with my agent that this was probably the only building I could get into. I love my apartment! I wouldn’t be able to afford it now, so I feel very fortunate to have it.
My advice for first-time co-op buyers? It’s probably good to be over-organized and a little scared, because you don’t know what they’re going to ask you. But the interview will definitely be easier than you think it’s going to be.