Co-op board interviews are the stuff anxiety dreams are made of if you're a New York City buyer. And yet, the vast majority of co-op rejections are based on application packages, with the bad news delivered before a co-op board interview is even scheduled.
"The buyer is about 95 percent there by the time they get to the board interview," says Douglas Elliman broker Rachel Altschuler. "So the interview is really more of a meet-and-greet." (When he was on his board, real estate attorney Steve Wagner of Wagner Berkow says he wasn't passing judgments at the co-op board interview. "I mostly wanted to see if they were foaming from the mouth or psychotic. I didn't necessary have to like them.") But it's an important meet-and-greet: Your chances of approval at that point are excellent—provided you don't screw it up.
We've already walked you through some questions that co-op boards should ask, as well as what they should not. BrickUnderground's Big Fat Board Interview series, a collection of firsthand accounts of real-life board interviews, provides an even fuller sense of the predictably unpredicable terrain you may encounter.
Still, we've asked real estate brokers and lawyers—former board members among them—for some potential stumpers you might find lobbed your way during the interview, and their suggestions for acing them. And remember, says Altschuler: "Keep answers simple and short. Less is more."
1. Why are you downsizing?
A common question, though not one that applicants necessarily expect. While the typical reason may be due to a change in family size—or to trim expenses—you should keep the latter to yourself, says real estate broker Michael Signet of Douglas Elliman. Focus on space, not money. “Co-op [board members] don’t want to hear you say that you want to move to save money. It's better to say that you’re empty nesters," says Signet.
2. How do you like your job?
While this may just be an innocuous part of your conversation, board members may be trying to get a sense of your overall job security. “This is not the time to have a candid discussion about any existential crisis you might be experiencing at work,” says Therese Bateman of Brown Harris Stevens, “so no need to cause unnecessary alarm with throwaway lines.” Instead she recommends being upbeat and not disclosing any details.
3. Are you interested in serving on the board?
“I recommend neutrality in your response, should you be asked if you’re interested in serving,” says real estate agent Mindy Diane Feldman of Halstead Property. "For example, say, ‘If the board or the building thought that I could make an important contribution, I would certainly be open to discussing it.’ You never want the board to think that you are aiming for a position."
In a relatively recent phenomenon, some application packages even ask applicants directly if they have any background or skills that may be useful to the board, in which case, Feldman says, it's fine to list expertise that might not be readily apparent from other parts of your board package.
4. Are you planning a renovation?
Revealing the details of any renovation plans can be potentially concerning to board members. For one thing, you never know who may live adjacent to your apartment and dread the disturbance of a renovation. “It is best to omit details of your proposed renovation until after closing,” says Bateman.
While you want to be truthful—obviously an estate purchase will require upgrading—it is best to instead say, "We are taking one step at a time and have no immediate renovation plans."
5. What are your political beliefs or with which political party are you affiliated?
While this question is completely legal, it might be unexpected and throw you off your game. "Just be honest," suggests Wagner. And keep things simple.
Feldman says she specifically recommends buyers preparing reference letters "not to get anything that has a political bent to it,” says Feldman, so as much as you can steer away from the subject in an interview, you probably should.
6. Do you have parties or entertain often?
This question is quite common—and it's not a popularity test. It's a disturbance of the peace predictor. Tom Stuart of Bond New York suggests saying, “We enjoy having occasional dinners with close friends” and leaving it at that.
7. What do you do in your spare time?
While it seems innocent enough, this question can trip you up if some of your extra-curriculars are questionable. Bateman has three easy suggestions when fielding this one: “Keep it clean, keep it simple, and keep it quiet,” meaning now is not the time to tell the board about your plans for learning the clarinet or the yearly rager you throw in honor of Halloween.
8. Why did you choose this apartment/neighborhood?
“This is an opportunity to be complimentary,” offers Bateman. “Don’t bog down your response with a blow-by-blow description of the 30 apartments that you saw before this one, or that it is the only one you could afford.”
Generally speaking, Feldman agrees. "Don’t let this one encourage you to overshare. In fact, there are times when boards don’t phrase a question as a question, and that can take people off guard. That’s why we always advise clients to be cordial and not chatty,” she explains.
9. What was your last interaction with an attorney?
"The best answer is, of course, 'My lawyer brother-in-law and I had Thanksgiving dinner together,' but if you do have something behind you, be honest," says Dean Roberts, an attorney with Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. "Temper your answer, though," he says. "Go with something like, 'I was unjustly sued by someone, we were able to resolve it quickly and cleanly and fortunately I've never had any legal involvement since."
(This is one of the reasons you should Google yourself before an interview and see what information is out there about you.)
You want to give a clean, simple explanation that proves you are reasonable and weren't the source of the problem. But remember, "Litigation is not a scarlet letter, especially for certain businesses," says Roberts.
10. Why are there some inconsistencies in your application?
Wagner says oftentimes when someone's applying for an apartment they'll have an assistant fill out their application. "It's a good idea to read through the application before you come to the interview to make sure that everything looks legit and be prepared to answer any questions you think it may have elicited."
Usually some financials questions arise, like how much money a person has, especially if their assets are a combination of several business and maybe even a trust.
"If, say, you receive $60,000 a year from a trust, be sure to explain that that trust allows you to invade the principal if that's how you're planning on paying for the apartment."
And if you don't know the answer to a question, try not to seem flustered. Just say you don't know the answer, and that you'll get back to them as soon as you've spoken to your accountant, Wagner says.
11. Do you have any questions?
While in other forums it is often useful to have questions at the ready as a demonstration of your interest, you really shouldn’t raise them during a co-op interview.
“Boring is good,” says Feldman. “A co-op interview is not a job interview—people do not have to fall in love with you. For instance, when the board asks you if you have any questions, say, ‘None that I can think of right now, but I’ll be sure to get back to you if any should occur.’ It is never about keeping the conversation going, as it often is at a job interview.”
Finally, never ask about the board’s decision at the time of your interview. Instead say something like "We look forward to hearing from you."
(This article was updated and republished in January 2016.)
5 questions the co-op board shouldn't ask you (sponsored)