Just moved in? Here's how to succeed as a first-time owner

By Roland Li  | June 25, 2013 - 9:28AM

So you’ve gone through the long and grueling apartment search process, passed through the dreaded board interview (if you bought a co-op), and now you own your very own New York City apartment, pulling off of StreetEasy right onto easy street...right?

Well, not quite.  There's still a little game of internal politics to understand and master. To live reasonably happily ever after, you need to start off on the right foot with your neighbors, your board, the staff and the management company. 

Here's how:

1. Get to know your board

You never know when it will come in handy for the board to have a positive impression of you (think long term -- refinancing, renovations and complaints from the downstairs neighbors about your daughter's piano lessons).

“It’s your apartment. It’s your biggest investment,” says real estate agent Abra Nicolle Nowitz of Corcoran. “Develop these relationships now, because you don’t know when you’ll need them in the future.”

If you don't already know the names and faces of your board members, find out. Your goal is to establish a cordial relationship in the elevator and lobby.

Attend meetings, volunteer to serve on subcommittees, and as much as you can, attempt to be a source of assistance and positive change rather than a squeaky, unhappy wheel.

Get involved by offering your professional knowledge without serving on the board (i.e., without having to run for the board or having the full commitment of being a board member). Attorneys, for example, can act as legal advisors to the board and save it from hiring outside lawyers.

It’s especially important to attend the building’s annual meetings, where issues like maintenance fee increases and property taxes can be discussed. It’s also when the board typically holds elections.

2. Staff relations

If you really want to start off on the right foot, consider a move-in tip to anyone in the building who helps you at all during the process, whether it’s the superintendent, the doorman or a porter. (For more on getting on staff members' good sides, including tipping during the holidays and all year long, check out Brick's Tipping Survival Kit).

Of course it's not all about money. “I don’t think you have to be best friends with your doorman, but definitely engage and be polite and be respectful,” says Nowitz.

Remember that doormen and supers can also be an important source of knowledge of what’s going on in the building, including construction, renovations and soon-to-open apartments.

3. Neighbor relations

In the age of email and social media, leaving a handwritten note to introduce yourself to a neighbor can lead to a better, more personal relationship. 

“I think it goes a long way,” says Michael Wolfe of property management company Midboro Management.

When it comes to complaining about issues like noise, pick your battles wisely. Nowitz recommends turning a blind eye (or ear as it may be) if the disturbances are happening infrequently--no more than once a month.

“If they’re doing something egregious, I would say something,” she says. But instead of confronting them directly, she says, notify the managing agent to send the neighbors a letter, as a way to preserve a relationship.

If you're the one potentially making all the noise, that's another story. While owners aren’t required to notify neighbors of renovations in advance, it’s a good idea to prevent confusion, potential complaints, and play nice so that “when people hear the noise, they don't freak out,” says real estate agent Tonya Canady of Corcoran.

In addition to writing a polite note warning neighbors of the upcoming noise/construction, take steps to make it all less noisy/disturbing (your contractor can help there) and, if you're feeling particularly charitable (or worried about the nuisance you're causing), offer a renovation gift.

Having a close relationship with neighbors is not just nice, it can help prevent disasters when you go on vacation.

If you are comfortable giving a neighbor a key, says Canady, they can, for example, switch off a fire alarm if it goes off, when the alternative could be the fire department breaking down the door to access the unit. Or they could simply let you into your apartment when you're locked out, sparing you the lockout fee charged by some buildings. 

4. Your property manager

Over the years, you will probably find that your relationship with your property manager is nearly as important as the one with your super or board. For instance, although your board has the final say on your renovation, it may simply take your property manager's recommendations at face value.  

Depending on the size of your building (large ones have an on-site resident manager, for instance), the property manager may also be your first stop when anything goes wrong in your apartment--from a sudden infestation of roaches (or worse) to traveling cigarette smoke from the apartment downstairs.  He or she also makes the call on whether certain gray-area repairs are the building's financial responsibility or yours.

Be respectful and courteous even in situations of urgency (that means calling or emailing twice a day not every half an hour) and understand that yours isn't the only building under your managing agent's care.  

Related posts:

Better shape up before you get booted from your co-op

Top 10 neighbors we'd like to have

10 first-time renovator mistakes

Want to renovate? Here's how to get the money

Ask an Expert: Co-op consequences for a teen's wild party

Board life, after the interview

How to get your managing agent's attention

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