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How do I compile an impressive-looking co-op board package?

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Q: I have to make six copies of a board package. I want to impress! Are three-hole binders okay? Plastic sleeves? Binder clips? Stapled? Should I include tabs for sections? Any other advice for making a great impression? Or what to avoid?

A. The co-op board package is a crucial component of getting the apartment you want, so it’s important to make sure your package is professional-looking, well-organized and easy to read, our experts say.

In one neat bundle, it details your finances, employment background, personal qualifications, plans for the apartment, and other information to convince board members that you’re not only a qualified buyer but also a welcome addition to the building.

It pays to think of the package as more than just a pile of paper; in fact, it’s a reflection of who you are, says Neil Garfinkel, an attorney with Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP and broker counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). “Boards can’t discriminate, but it’s so subjective in terms of making a decision to reject someone,” he says. “You can never minimize the importance of making a good first impression.”

Co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus agrees: “Nonconforming or sloppy applications make it more difficult for people reviewing the package to complete their work and clearly do not benefit the applicant.”

To start, assemble the contents of your package thoughtfully, carefully and deliberately. (For this story, we’re focusing on the actual presentation, but be sure to check out our article on what goes into a stellar board package so it will impress.)

Read on for more ways to compile the perfect board package:

  • Include a table of contents or a cover letter that lists the different sections.
  • Numbered subdividers are necessary to orient your readers and make it easy for them to refer back to particular sections. 
  • Clips to fasten the different sections are a good idea, but steer clear of binding the copies: managing agents or board members may need to remove, reorder or copy pages. “Three-ring binders are sometimes a good [idea] if you have a lot of bulk that needs to be kept in order, but they themselves are bulky, so oftentimes paper clips harnessed by binder clips do the job just fine,” notes real estate broker Gordon Roberts of Warburg Realty.
  • Some managing agents want stapled pages with sections clipped together and labeled color dividers; others will clarify that they don’t want packages stapled or bound. If you're not sure, ask the managing agent if they have a preference.
  • When you make your copies, double check that all the pages are in order in each copy and that the copier hasn’t inadvertently added blank pages, Warburg’s Roberts notes. 
  • Make sure even a non-financial person can understand your financial statement, as it's one of the most important documents in your package. Important numbers should catch the readers’ attention; real estate broker Shirley Hackel of Warburg Realty circles key figures on the financial statement to make them easier to spot.  
  • Double check that the numbers on your financial statement match up exactly with the backup documents, and arrange the supplemental information in the same order as the financial statement. It’s also a good idea to include some clarification of the more complex aspects of your portfolio. Attorney Steve Wagner of Wagner Berkow, LLP (a Brick sponsor) says, “If you have a complicated tax return or your assets consist of shares in limited partnerships, for example, an explanation and/or valuation of the interest, and the future prospects for increase in valuation and/or income will add meaning and help the interviewer.”
  • Hackel also recommends providing a separate summary page for each asset class, such as cash, equities, bonds and real estate. If your finances are more complex, suggests Deanna Kory, a real estate broker at the Corcoran Group, include a “detailed but easy-to-read” spreadsheet that shows your balances in each asset category from each account.  Then have someone you trust look everything over to see if they can clearly understand them on the first review. 
  • One potential party you might consider letting review your package is the person you’re buying the apartment from. Since it’s in their best interest to make sure the transaction goes smoothly, the seller (and their broker) will want to make sure you have everything in order. For this reason, Garfinkel says, “REBNY recommends that the broker representing the seller be shown the package,” though he adds that as the buyer, you have no obligation to share it if you prefer not to.
  • From the point of view of a seller, though, “I would want to make sure that both my broker and the buyer are well-versed in co-op board packages,” Garfinkel says. “An important thing that a seller’s broker can do is make sure the buyer is being vigilant about what they’re doing, and make suggestions.”
  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread again, "because no amount of elegant presentation will make up for a financial statement that doesn’t jive with your verification of assets, misspellings, transposed numbers, missing pages, and other sloppy gaffes," says Warburg's Roberts.
  • Wagner agrees that you should be very familiar with the contents of the package: “If the package is put together by a broker or someone other than you, the prospective purchaser, make sure you know what is in the package and be ready to answer questions,” he says. “This will help you avoid the embarrassing million mile stare or the unpleasant angry reaction during the interview.”

Wagner he cautions that while a neat appearance goes a long way toward convincing a co-op board that you’ll be a great tenant, at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. “Neat is great, but a well organized, complete application will win over a deficient application even if the latter is nicely presented,” Wagner says.

That said, don’t get bogged down debating paper clips versus binder clips and which color of section divider will make those bank statements pop. “Above all, board packages should be clear and easy to understand,” says Hackel.

Adds Kory, “What is far more important, is that the information is extremely clear and easy-to-read and makes sense and tells the story. That is the true art of doing a board application and also the way to impress a board. Whatever is unclear, write a quick note or an explanation to clarify."

***Updated July 2016 with additional reporting from Alanna Schubach. This article was first published on April 7, 2014


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