Buying a New York City co-op is like the job application process—on steroids. Not only do you have to qualify with a pile of financial documents but you also have to convince a co-op board you will be a good neighbor and an asset to the community.
This is where references come in, which are letters from close friends and business colleagues that attest to your personal character and financial responsibility.
To help you with your application we’ve collected some reference letters from buyers who successfully landed their desired co-ops. We've redacted contact information and any identifying details to protect everyone's privacy.
Most board packages ask for four to six letters. You will want to ask for three from professional contacts, three from personal contacts, a letter from your landlord or property manager, and one from your employer. This way, you’ll have a good number to choose from when it comes time to submit the application.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article ran in April 2017. We are presenting it again with updated information for January 2022.]
The letters below are a good guide for what needs to be included. We’ve also identified some of the key characteristics that made each one successful.
1. Begin and end the letter correctly
The letter should be addressed to “Members of the Board,” says Kim Blades, board package specialist at BOND New York. Blades helped to submit about 130 packages last year and says this opening address is crucial. Signatures in these letters have been redacted and she says letters should be signed digitally or in pen.
2. Use letterhead
Letters should be on letterhead, Blades says. This might be easier for a professional reference like the one below but Blades points out letterhead can be professionally designed or something simple created on a computer.
“The letterhead should have a full name, address, phone number, and email address,” she says. This is so board members can reach out to the reference if they have further questions. If the contact information isn’t in the letterhead or below the signature it can be included within the body of the letter as in the sample below.
3. Establish the connection
Like the previous letters, this one below describes in detail who the author of the letter is, how they know the buyer as well as mentioning positive examples of who they are.
“Skip embarrassing college stories at all costs,” Blades says.
Another important requirement, says Kobi Lahav, director of sales at Living New York, is that the person writing the letter is not a family member. A letter from your mom isn’t going to cut it, you need a more objective reference.
4. Use someone who owns in New York
Someone who owns in NYC—or even better—someone who owns in a co-op, or is on a co-op board, will make a perfect reference, Lahav says.
“It conveys to the board that the person who is writing the reference understands the complexities of owning in the city and believes that the applicant is able to coexist in a New York City building community,” he says. The writer of the personal reference letter below even lives in the building where the buyer is applying.
5. Keep it to one page
Not all the reference letters adhere to this rule but Rochelle Bass, a broker at BOND New York, says a letter should be just one page. Keeping it to one page, or a page and a half max, can help keep the letter succinct while also allowing the writer to add specific details to paint a picture of a buyer’s character. You also want to make sure the letter is typed and free from any grammatical mistakes or spelling errors.
6. Find someone in an executive position
The letter below is written from the chief financial officer of a company. That is a major plus, Lahav says.
“If the person writing the letter has an executive position that allows him to interview people, then the board will give more weight to the letter,” he says.
Got a famous friend who can endorse you? Lahav says that might backfire if they have controversial views.
“If the person recommending you is a known figure who has opinions that might not be well liked by certain parts of the public—either direction of the political map—then you might want to avoid using that person,” he says.
7. Include references to community involvement
Nicole Gary, a broker at Keller Williams New York City, provides her clients with a sample letter that they can edit to suit their needs. In her view, another priority for the letter writer is to include what the prospective buyer has done to assist the community—and give examples of what would make them an excellent neighbor.
“Have they volunteered or been on any boards together? What makes the buyer fiscally responsible? I always suggest giving as many real life examples as possible to show this person is a person of integrity,” she says.
So it’s less about personal accomplishments and more about serving the community at large. Lucy Wu, a broker at BOND New York, says the letter should describe how you’ve impacted the lives of your friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
She asks: “What are some examples that your reference can place in the letter showing your impact on the community, your ability to collaborate with the community in problem solving, your ability to handle conflict and resolve it to improve the situation of others?”
8. Try to create a low-key image
You don’t want the letter to imply you’re overly social and will be entertaining all the time.
“Talking about how someone has many friends and likes to travel and socialize might suggest to the board [the buyer] is some kind of a party animal and they could face noise issues,” Lahav says. Instead, emphasize dedication to work and good work ethics.
“In essence the board is looking to keep a quiet community. A board letter should emphasize the professional side and less the socializing side,” he says.
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