Last week we covered what NYC co-op boards look for in a buyer's application. Today, we turn to the dreaded co-op board interview.
We asked nine current and former board members, one co-op lawyer and one property manager what matters most and some tips for navigating the process successfully.
1. Be confident, you’re 99% of the way there.
The vast majority of interviews are really a formality.
“By the time someone gets to the interview process, they have cleared the basics," says one current board treasurer. "During the application there is often a back and forth process and there are answers in writing. So by the time they come in, there are very few questions remaining other than seeing whether this is a quality person."
“Unless you show up with three heads or insult someone," says a former admissions committee member from an Upper West Side building, "you won’t be rejected. I’ve honestly never seen anyone turned anyone down by the time they get to the interview.”
In fact, most interviews are more nervewracking in anticipation than reality.
"Contrary to the popular perception, most board interviews are fairly straightforward and the boards more or less reasonable," says co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus. "In addition, the growing trend in the law to apply discrimination rules to the co-op interview process has certainly had a chilling effect on strenuous board interviewing."
2. That being said, don’t be overconfident, or say something you don’t mean.
This can take form in a couple of ways, starting with misplaced humor.
“We’ve never turned down a purchaser due to their interview, but there was an unfortunate situation when a sublet applicant actually asked who she had to sleep with to get into the building," says a board member of a downtown co-op. Her lack of maturity and respect for the board made her seem like the wrong fit for the building, the board member says. "Needless to say, we didn’t accept her."
Another noted an incident where the interviewee, a celebrity, had been turned down because they insisted on riding the elevator alone. The request was considered rude and unreasonable.
Indeed, Ken Jablon, a co-op board treasurer, encourages modesty: “Overblown egos are not welcome. Being unreasonable, making unreasonable requests or indicating plans to change the culture or style of the building once you get there are not a good idea.”
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Gerry Picaso, a managing agent, adds that both halves of a couple should chime in.
“There have been interviews where the husband prevented the wife from speaking, and this is not good," he says. Generally speaking, a board wants happy couples/families/individuals who wan speak for themselves to move into the buildings. Controlling behavior can be a serious red flag.
3. Know and communicate your "Whys"
Jablon says you should have answers to these questions down pat:
Why do you want to live in the neighborhood?
Why do you want to live in this building?
Why do you want to live in this apartment?
“It might seem obvious to the interviewee why they are moving into the area, but boards like to get a sense of who this person is and why they are committing to our community,” says Jablon.
Study up on the neighborhood, the history of the building and the rules when it comes to apartment renovation, etc. Make it clear that this where you want to live because it suits your family's personality and style and that you don't want to "change" the building, you just want to join it.
4. Be truthful and open. This is hopefully going to be a long-term relationship
“Be very truthful,” says Picaso. “Anyone who is going to occupy the apartment must be at the interview. Any plans to do alterations should be brought up at the interview. Not that there is anything wrong with doing construction, but if you don’t let them know upfront than you come across as a liar later.”
Some people are more different from their application than expected, says a co-op board member: "They're more colorful , or personality-wise there have been surprises. In our board's case, we like colorful people who add to the texture of the building so that ‘s a good thing. Be yourself.”
5. Communicate your board experience--but not too often
Several board members say they like to know that you’ve been a board member before.
“We want to know that you’ve served on a board and you’re interested in doing so again. It’s a lot of work so it demonstrates your commitment to the building and community," says one.
"If you’ve been on a board of a co-op, you should reference it but not reference it repeatedly as it can come across as having an agenda when moving into a building," says Picaso, the managing agent.
6. Demonstrate that you have read and know the rules
“You must read the house rules before coming to the interview,” says one board member from a post-war building in the West Village.
Think of it as a litmus test.
"Oftentimes board members tell me that they get the best read on prospective shareholders when discussing rules and regulations," says co-op and condo attorney Roberts.
One board that he represents rejected a buyer--an attorney--who "made a number of extreme legal arguments about why the rules were unfair to him while okay for everyone else and emphasizing that he knew his way around a courtroom," recalls Roberts.
"There's nothing like telling the people you want to go into joint ownership of property with that you like to litigate," he says, who notes that the attorney was turned down by the board.
Bottom line: Read the cooperative's rules and regulations and have a prepared question to ask about one of the rules and how it is enforced.
"Doing this shows the board that you have read their documents, understand rules and regulations and are concerned about quality of life in the building, which are all things that will help you," says Roberts.
If you plan to renovate, says Picaso, “get ahold of any building restrictions when it comes to renovations, like jacuzzis, central air, or certain showers that are not permitted. You should know all restrictions in advance so that you don’t look like a fool at the interview.”
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