Co-op board interviews are harrowing enough--something like a Julliard audition that also tests your financial aptitude--without the board demanding an application for your dog or investigating the state of your current home.
But sometimes special circumstances or scheduling conflicts necessitate these unconventional interviews. Herewith, tips on how to hit it out of the park when your board throws you a curveball.
The home visit
Some boards want to know what your present abode looks like (and confirm that you're not a hoarder, chainsmoker and/or playing Mother Theresa to 92 adopted felines) and may hire an inspector to take a look and write a report.
According to broker Jay Molishever of Citi Habitats, one co-op board in Clinton Hill required a home visit of his client, a young woman, before the interview. That was in addition to the usual employment, asset, credit, reference and background checks.
“My buyer was working and had lived in Brooklyn but was living with her parents at the time of the purchase,” Molishever says. Undaunted, the inspector went out to Long Island and checked out her room.
Molishever’s advice to anyone having a home inspection: "Don’t jump through hoops and make yourself crazy to create the impression that you are a prize-winning housekeeper. Instead, be yourself, but do put your best foot forward. Present a home that is neat and tidy, within reason. You want to minimize the disorganization and chaos of life, and look organized--but open.”
The phone interview
“A couple that I was working with was buying a pied-a-terre on the Upper West Side. They lived out of the city and had an incredibly tight schedule,” explains Kimberly Jay, a real estate agent with Douglas Elliman. “The board suggested a phone interview instead. Only one of the buyers had to be available and the board was flexible about times and dates. People often think of co-op boards as being so tough; in this case they were both accommodating and welcoming.”
Despite the flexibility, a phone interview is just as important as meeting in-person, and you should "put your best foot forward,” advises Jay. Behave the same way you would for a job interview. Here are her tips for how it should be done.
- Speak on a landline if possible to ensure that service is not interrupted. And make sure to turn your cell phone off.
- Take the call in a quiet room--no TV, radio, computer or other people. Don't take the call in a public place or in the car, since it's easy to get distracted that way. You want to be 100 percent present. Outside noise is distracting both to you and the interviewer.
- Don’t eat or drink during the interview.
- Don’t answer call waiting during the interview.
- If more than one person is being interviewed, everyone should be on the line, but one person should be designated as the lead. You don't want people talking over one another, and you want each question to have one answer. Also, if a question is asked to a specific buyer, they should be on the phone ready to answer.
- Be available at least ten minutes before the scheduled time of the interview. If anyone is going to be late, it should be the board.
- Be familiar with your complete board package and have it in front of you in case you are asked specific questions.
- When the interview is over, just like in a face-to-face meeting, do not ask whether you’ve been approved. It appears too aggressive (You wouldn't ask someone whether you got the job in a board interview would you?) Also, the board may want to discuss it amongst themselves before they can even give you an answer.
The Skype interview
“Some boards are more progressive than others,” explains Victoria Vinokur, an agent with Halstead Property. She said she once worked with an out-of-state surgeon buying a pied-a-terre and a video interview was the only way to go. "We let the board know in advance that his schedule was very unpredictable and they agreed to interview him via Skype.”
Vinokur suggests treating this interview the same way you would an interview in-person.
“Dress professionally and have an office or other professional setting as the background,” says Vinokur.
Tracie Hamersley of Elliman handled a deal with a London-based couple buying a 2,300-square-foot loft. Rather than asking the wife, who was pregnant, to fly to New York with her husband, the board conducted a 30-minute Skype interview, resulting in an official acceptance the next day.
“If you’re not familiar with Skyping, practice first,” advises Hamersley. You don’t want to have to keep calling again, or futzing with the camera or volume. "Speak slowly and clearly and don’t make many, if any, hand movements while you are speaking as that can be really distracting over Skype,” she says.
The Skype interview can be used as a supplement too, as in the case of a couple buying on Sutton Place. The board wanted to interview their son, who was at college in California, says their broker, Peter Cohen of Halstead. The couple suggested a Skype interview with him, which they did. Cohen doesn't think they asked him any pointed questions. They just wanted to speak to him to get a general sense of his personality.
As with a phone interview, make sure you're in a quiet environment. And, of course, make sure your laptop has enough battery power that it won't shut off mid-interview. And if you're opening a Skype account, stay away from names like sexygirl1975. Stick to your first and last name. It's always about being professional.
The doggie interview
Boards want to know all about prospective neighbors and some ask for extensive details about any dog that is part of the family.
Some ask for "a doggie packet," says Elana Gretch, founder of itsadogslifeny.com, who advises buyers on the best way to present their pooch to a board. She puts together dog applications with veterinarian reference letters, a reference from Gretch, photos and the dog's official certification as a "good citizen" according to the American Kennel Club's criteria.
Expect questions like, "How often do you walk the dog, or, is someone home with the dog during the day?" Some of what Gretch calls “the tougher boards, usually in the higher-end co-ops” want to meet the dog and ask the potential buyer to bring Fido along to the interview.
Remember that if you are feeling stressed by the interview, the dog is going to sense your stress.
“Do not plan to have your dog at the entire interview; 10 minutes is the optimum time -- enough to establish that you have a friendly, obedient dog," she says.
For more tips, check out How to Get Your Dog Past A Co-op Board.
The restaurant interview
For a co-op he was buying in SoHo a few years ago, Halstead's Cohen had an interview with one of the board members at the Waverly Diner.
“We both ordered cheeseburgers and chatted for about 15 minutes. He said I seemed okay and that was that."
In general, to be safe, treat this like a job interview over lunch. Don't order food that's difficult/messy to eat. And don't order booze.
When the check come, it's nice to offer to pay. But don't be too pushy if the board member insists. It's like a date: you don't want to seem cheap, but you don't want to be uncomfortably forceful either.