After a four-year love affair with our Greenwich Village rental, my husband and I decided it was time for a change, time to stop paying "the man," time, maybe, to grow up a little bit.
Eight months before our lease was set to expire on our one-bedroom with views of the Empire State Building, we began trekking out to Brooklyn on Sundays to attend open houses on our own, and to get the lay of the land. With our sights set on an upgrade to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, we knew Manhattan was out of reach. Also, one of us (me) was eager to make the jump across the river to a slightly less intense, lower-scale neighborhood where the trees would outnumber the bodegas.
About four months and 100 or so apartments after our hunt began, we fell in love with a two-bedroom, two-bathroom beauty that had almost everything we wanted.
That our apartment of choice wound up being a co-op instead of a condo was not of great consequence to either of us, even though we knew that some weeks down the line we’d be submitting way too much information about ourselves to a bunch of strangers with the hope that they would permit us to live alongside them.
If we thought we were stressed out before the buyer finally accepted our offer, it multiplied by about 1,000 percent afterward. We got the ball rolling with the bank, and though the ball stopped a few times because of rampant ineptitude at every turn, we were (slowly) making progress in that department. At the same time, we began preparing our board package, a ten-pound pile of paper comprised mostly of sensitive financial data that I wouldn’t share with some of my closest friends.
The process of acquiring the necessary information—everything from bank statements and pay stubs to proof of employment letters and recommendations from friends and former landlords—was tedious, and I could hardly believe it when I finally left the land of collation and handed the cumbersome package off to my broker for delivery to the board. Phew.
Then, we waited. And waited. And watched the deadline for our locked-in mortgage interest rate come and go, with no word from the board on when we would meet. After about six weeks of review, and with our rental lease expiration date rapidly approaching, I finally received word that our interview would take place in two weeks.
My husband and I began scouring the Internet for information on what to say (or not) and how to act during the interview. Some of the information online was helpful, like “couples should decide in advance who will answer which questions,” while other points, like “dress up, and be prompt” seemed fairly obvious. We turned to our broker, a New York City real estate veteran and spitfire, who gave us pointers about renovations (don’t ask about them) and specifics (don’t get into them).
In the best case scenario, I imagined, the board would fall in love with my husband and me on the spot. They’d laugh at all my jokes and we’d be planning dinner parties in one another’s apartments by night’s end. Needless to say, it didn’t go quite that route.
Following a full day at work, we arrived early in the new neighborhood (see: “be prompt”), dilly-dallied in a local coffee shop (it is Brooklyn, after all), and then made our way over to the building to submit ourselves for judgment by a New York City co-op board.
At the board president’s apartment, I shook several hands and tried oh-so-hard to commit to memory the names of the board members introducing themselves to me. We awkwardly took seats in the sort-of circle of chairs that had formed in the living room, as more people arrived. Perched there in my uncomfortable black heels and business-casual clothing, I had never felt so desperate, but I continued telling myself this was a normal everyday occurrence in this town, and that it would all be over soon.
Once everybody had arrived, the board got down to business. They started with some basic biographical questions about ourselves, like “Where are you from?,” “How did you meet?” and “Why do you want to live in this neighborhood?”
Then they moved on to the real meat and potatoes, also known as, “Do you really think you have enough money to buy this place and make the designated payments every month?”
We answered accordingly, promising the board we were capable of doing both, and that our loving, supportive parents would have our backs if ever an emergency loan was required. I also noted that the amount of rent we currently paid was only slightly less than what our new payments would be, and that we had never even come close to missing a rent payment, not once.
They seemed satisfied. Afterward, the president waxed poetic for a few minutes about the building, its age, and therefore its tendency to require unexpected repairs every now and then. Several references were made to the “house rules” we would later receive, a clue that we had at least been approved in the president’s mind.
The meeting was fairly straightforward, and, at under an hour, relatively brief. Though we did not conclude the night by joining hands and singing “Kumbaya,” we all got along well enough, and I managed not to say anything inappropriate. At one point, I even made them laugh. The board president returned the favor by describing the building’s inhabitants, a bunch of upper-middle class white people, as “a reflection of the world outside.”
I left with mostly good feelings toward the board members, but with little feeling in my shoulder: At the end of our board interview, each member happily dumped the ten-pound pile of paper known as our board package onto our laps with the instruction to “break your own shredder.” (In a related story, we do not own a shredder. Months later, all nine copies of our board package still reside in our foyer closet.)
Overall, I had expected the meeting to feel slightly less sterile, even though the board members were all cordial enough, and seemed happy to make our acquaintance. They didn’t get into any real specifics about any of the information we provided, save for the question about our ability to make payments, which seemed predicated more on our being in our late 20s than on our financial records.
In the end, the interview was but a blip on the radar of our lives, a 45-minute interlude of hand-shaking, awkward joke-cracking, and, to be honest, ass-kissing that we will probably endure, yet again, some years down the line when we decide to move elsewhere. For now, we’re going nowhere fast.
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