My Big Fat Board Interview story is a tale of personal morality and concealing one’s true self to get what money alone can’t buy in New York.
After 25 years in a minuscule rent stabilized one-bed room, it was time to buy a grown-up home. An extended hunt netted a 950-sq-ft 2 bedroom/1 bath renovated apartment in a Gramercy Park building that is both my personal vintage (postwar but hardly new construction) and preferred style: Full-service but totally non-pretentious, a mix of ages and incomes and importantly, not just pet “friendly,” but pet embracing.
After my application package was submitted, there ensued much back and forth between my broker and the sellers about whether I was likely to pass muster. I had a good job but my income could not support the apartment purchase with a typical 25% downpayment. I was, however, putting down more than 50% using the proceeds from the sale of an investment property which was delayed due to city permitting issues. The co-op decided that they would not move forward with my interview until after that sale had closed.
Not surprisingly, by the time the big day was scheduled, I hardly viewed board approval as an “open and shut” case; it seemed more like a cross between an IRS audit and a proctology exam.
I dressed conservatively, the full-on “CEO Presentation” look: Dark pants suit with low heels and pearls, somewhere between job interview and funeral (not my style but always the right side to err on). I rehearsed my answers to any and all likely questions about my finances and most importantly (according to my broker) an impassioned soliloquy on why I very much want to live in the building.
I would talk about being born a half block away, visiting the neighborhood on a weekly basis as a child and especially how I really had the sense that the building and I were compatible, down to the fact that the board had chosen photos of old New York to decorate the halls and New York City history is my avocation. (None of this would be difficult to recite since I really DO love the neighborhood, building and apartment.) I also planned to praise the most unusual feature of the apartment--four exposures including two in the living room--and explain how incredibly lucky I felt to find that in an apartment within my price range.
Three of the board members met me at a coffee house near what I hoped would become my new home. They were casually dressed and seemed to be generally unstuffy. One gentleman appeared to be in his early 60s; the other two were considerably younger. None exhibited overt signs of barbarism.
Once we sat down, it was not at all the expected inquisition about finances and what “social organizations” I belonged to. (That had been a particularly intimidating question on the application form). They wanted to know about my “born a half block away” story, and WHY I wanted to live in the building. They asked me how I felt about the application process and how it compared to the one in my investment building where I served on the board.
I answered politely, telling the absolute truth where possible and the politic “truth” when necessary, such as saying that my previous building had been equally “easy” on applicants. (If you had a pulse and could pay your mortgage/maintenance, you were in.) They asked me if I had any questions about living in the building. This took me totally aback as I had nothing prepared. Fortunately, I was able to come up with something innocuous enough: “Is the water pressure sufficient for a rain showerhead?”
Then I noticed that one of the board members—the only woman besides myself, who I had therefore classified as an ally--was carrying a RED SOX BINDER.
I should mention here that I am a Yankee fan. A fervent, lifelong Yankee fan. The kind of Yankee fan who proudly sits in Fenway Park with her Yankee hat and doesn’t flinch in the face of curses and beer showers. One who would never be silent or deny her allegiance. At any price, or so I thought.
My natural reaction toward Red Sox woman was, “Attack!” On the tip of my tongue was some snarky reference to the current standings, or the number of World Series won since 1915 (27 vs 2) or any other of the voluminous statistics that prove the Yankees superiority over the pretenders of the AL East. And then I realized that it was more important to me to pass the interview.
It was the first and last time I let a Red Sox fan slide.
Following some small talk, they thanked me and I left feeling cautiously optimistic with emphasis on “cautious”. The whole thing did not take more than a half hour even if it seemed to last for days. It did however take longer than it did to drink a really yummy martini on my way home.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. By 9:45 the following morning my broker called and said I had been approved.
It made me wonder…. Perhaps in some buildings how you hold your tea cup is critical (not that I would want to live there) but I really got the idea I was approved before I walked into that coffee house, and the interview was just a disaster check to make sure I wasn’t totally offensive.…or stupid enough to argue baseball with a board member.
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