When I finished up graduate school in Boston, I set about moving to New York City. My sister lived there, and she suggested two areas for me to look to buy an apartment: The Upper West Side and the Village, east of Christopher Street.
Coming from Boston and having never purchased an apartment before I had no idea about the real estate market in NYC and absolutely nothing about co-ops. I found a broker and was unhappy with all I saw so I switched brokers a few times.
The tenth apartment I saw was it! That broker showed me a great top-floor alcove studio with amazing arching windows located between University and Broadway that fit my budget. The eight-story building was a former factory of some sort and had a doorman and roof deck; I was immediately sold.
When my broker showed me the huge file—with dividers—she prepared for the co-op, I was astounded. I had had no idea why that was needed.
Likewise, a month later, when she informed me they’d want to meet with me, I didn’t really understand why but assumed they just wanted to see me in person and make sure I wasn’t a freak.
I knew I had the financials to manage the place, was educated and a generally nice person so I wasn’t worried. My broker didn’t seem to know much about the building and its board, so she basically just told me to dress nice and be myself.
On the day of the interview I was ushered into a basement room in the building that looked like where the super or maintenance workers would have lunch. I was seated at a long pop-up table on a small basic chair and observed that the cinderblock room that felt like a prison or dungeon. In front of me sat five board members—male and female—that were all older than I was and seemed to be seasoned New Yorkers. I began to fear this was not going to be a warm and fuzzy welcome-to-our-building meeting.
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The situation I found myself in immediately reminded me of how when I was applying to grad school I desperately wanted to be accepted by Boston University’s program. All my other applications had been accepted but Boston University wasn’t convinced of my eligibility and requested an in-person interview. It was a tough interview, but as I had made it through that, I felt up to the challenge with this very similar board interview.
When the questions came, however, they were simple and easy to answer: Do you have a pet? No. Are you planning on working from home? No.
As a psychologist I had learned very quickly to listen and try to figure out what they were really asking. But their questions were so basic I felt like they were just trying to make sure I would be a respectful, upstanding owner.
After 20 minutes they thanked me and asked me if I had any questions for them.
Now, I had always been taught it was bad to not ask questions. I was conditioned to show interest so I asked what I was pondering throughout the whole interview.
I began, “As you know, I’m coming from Boston where we don’t have these co-op board interviews and I would like to ask if you know why co-ops were created? What is the genesis of the co-op?”
With absolutely no pause, one of my male interviewers answered, “To keep the Jews out.”
At the time, I didn’t realize that this was a historically accurate answer rather than an admission of anti-Semitism. I did, after all, have a Jewish last name, so if the board was anti-Semitic, they would have turned me down long before the interview.
Lacking historical context at that moment, my initial thought as a psychologist was that perhaps the older man had a frontal lobe issue. My second thought was that if they turned me down now, there would be a lawsuit, so I was home free. My other thought was that the board member was also Jewish and this was a bizarre form of bonding.
Relatively soon I found out I was approved and had no other odd incidents in the building with board members except when shortly after moving in a female board member tried to set me up with a man thinking I was gay. (I am not.)