Diary of a First-Time Buyer

My co-op board interview: Sometimes you need to leave the Marc Jacobs bag at home

By Elle Bee  | June 17, 2013 - 10:22AM

Once I received notice of the loan approval from my lender, my life went into warp speed—a head-spinning ride after months of plodding along the co-op trail.  

The elation of financing approval had barely died down when the co-op’s management company called to arrange an interview with the board.  We scheduled a date that gave me five days to practice my elevator pitch and worry about my wardrobe.

When the day came, I put on a simple black dress and coral-colored cardigan sweater that I hoped conveyed a bevy of desirable traits: responsibility, practicality, down-to-earthiness, friendliness and a style that said “I care how I look, but will never put Marc Jacobs before my mortgage payment.” And, I left the Marc Jacobs bag at home.

When I arrived at 8 p.m. on Tuesday evening, I was met in the lobby by Jane, one of the board members, who ushered me to a basement-level meeting room. I had flashbacks of the basement board meeting at Kingsview seven months ago: 11 grim faces around a table and illuminated by a flickering fluorescent light. I took a deep breath.

“Normally, we’d meet in our apartment, but my husband is playing the piano, so it’s too loud,” she said apologetically. My ears perked up: an artistic soul!  And, selfishly, I felt a wave of relief that my own piano wouldn’t be a deterrent.

Downstairs we met Carla, another board member. And that was it. The women explained that although eight members comprise the board, these two alone conducted the interviews and would make a recommendation via email to the others.

“We’re basically meeting to make sure you’re not a chainsaw murderer,” Carla said. We all laughed.

It was a good start to an interview that included talking about evolving neighborhoods, old Polish china, Greek food and mom and pop stores. I learned that another news reporter lived in the building. They told me where to eat and shop.

At some point it occurred to me to ask a financial question or two. Both women had long histories in the building and could recite every capital improvement from the past 20 years. It was so different from my interview at Kingsview, where every question revealed a new financial surprise.

After an hour, they showed me the new laundry room, we shook hands, and I hopped on the subway. No need to drink a bottle out of a bag this time. Though I dared not think it, I did: I was in.

Two days later I had the email from the management company: “Approved!”

I called my best friend, Chris, who had so patiently seen nearly 60 apartments with me.  Even she let out a sigh of relief: her Sundays would remain free. At least until I plunged into renovations. 

Next calls were to my attorney, broker and lender, who started the flurry of paperwork—final employment verifications, management agreements, and decisions about a closing date.

I needed to give my landlord 30 days, I needed time to finish my assignments for the month and, then there was the matter of packing eight years of accumulation: press kits, outdated clothes, unread magazines, tattered books, unwanted swag. The new apartment would be about 250 square feet smaller than what I had been living in for the past eight years: I had significant culling to do.  

I also wanted as much lead time as possible to minimize the overlap between paying a mortgage and rent. My attorney doubted he could hold the seller until June 30. I counted backwards from July 1 and landed on June 24 as the earliest possible closing date. I would do the walk-through with the agents on June 21.

The reality hit when I walked my final check over to my landlord’s office. He and his daughter told me how much they’d miss me—apparently the dispute over my beau’s weekend dog visits were forgiven or forgotten.  

Then, when I told her how much apartments in Astoria were going for—places far less desirable than those they owned—her eyes widened. “We always think we might convert to co-op, but it’s such a hassle,” she said. She told me to stay in touch in the event they decided to cash out and become gad-zillionaires: they’d give me an insider’s price. Right.

As I walked the route from my landlord to my apartment for the last time, I thought about my previous experience attempting to buy a co-op, in Brooklyn, and did a mental calculation. In half the time it took for me to see an apartment at Kingsview and get loan approval, I was already practically a homeowner—and with less stress, no home detective visits, no broker histrionics, no last-minute title search drama, no protracted and painful financial examinations.

I was home-free.

Next: Lessons learned from the trenches

Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment, recounted in her bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-Time Buyer.

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