I’m a mortgage banker, so I work all day helping people buy apartments in the city, and I’ve heard the horror stories about board interviews.
Like the guy who was informed that he was going to be assessed $10,000 for a lawsuit the building had lost against a shareholder. He got in a dispute about it at the interview because he didn’t think he should pay. He didn’t get the apartment.
And I’ve seen turndowns I could not explain—like a guy who worked in finance with a great salary who was buying a modest midtown studio. He said the interview went fine, and I couldn't think of any conceivable reason for his turndown.
So even though 95% of the time the interviews go well, I was pretty anxious.
For instance, I work on commission and I had only been at my job for 8 months, so I thought there would be questions about the stability of my job.
On the other hand, it wasn't like we were buying into some strict Upper East Side building. Ours was a modest prewar in a middle-income West Side neighborhood—nothing fancy, no doorman, just a live-in super. And the requirements weren’t that strict—we didn’t need a 30% debt-to-income ratio or two years' worth of reserves.
The interview took place in a one-bedroom apartment belonging to one of the board members. There were three of them there, and we all sat in the living room.
I was expecting a pretty thorough screening. Instead, the board president put his hand on our board package and said, “You have excellent financial qualifications." I got the idea they had already made up their minds.
Then they talked about what it means to buy into a co-op—did we understand we’re buying shares, and the shareholders elect the board and stuff like that. There was nothing raised that was meant to be challenging—they were all very nice, talking about plans to improve the building.
It was actually almost like we were interviewing them. I almost felt obligated to ask them stuff –but knowing I could be turned down for any reason I didn’t give myself the latitude to ask anything really piercing. I asked about the school district, services for kids, stuff like that.
And then there were the things I didn’t know I should be asking, things that didn’t come to light until after we found out (the next day) that we’d been approved.
For instance, the maintenance had gone up the previous year for the first time in nine years, and the board told us at the interview that they didn’t expect they would need to raise it again for a long time.
But then—boom, the next year there was a 10 percent increase in maintenance. It turned out the building had just begun a 5-year real estate tax assessment phase-in, so I don’t see how they couldn’t have known that maintenance would need to go up.
I immediately ran for board. So now, besides being involved in the pretty intense maintenance of a prewar building, I do the interviewing.
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