Q: I know co-ops are more budget-friendly than condos, but the interview process is intimidating. What can I expect from a board interview, and how do I prepare? Are there any hidden minefields I should know about?
"The good news is if you've gotten this far in the process, you're very unlikely to flunk the board interview," says Philip Lang, co-founder of The Agency, a tech-savvy real estate brokerage that gives buyers and renters access to the same database of listings as the city's real estate agents and pays its agents bonuses for client satisfaction. "That's because the vast majority of rejections occur before the board ever lays eyes on you, based solely on the comprehensive board application package prepared by you and your real estate agent."
That said, to reduce your odds of being bounced by a co-op board from slim to (nearly) none, spend some time preparing, Lang offers these tried-and-true tips for presenting yourself as the ideal future neighbor and co-op owner:
- DO think of the board interview as you would a job interview: dress appropriately, have positive answers for their questions, and tell them things they want to hear, like how excited you are to potentially live there or how stable your career is.
- DO expect board members to have carefully review the application you've submitted: "Expect them to go through this in detail and ask about any irregularities or major changes in your financial situation," says The Agency's Lang. "They are looking to make sure that you are financially stable and able to keep up on your monthly charges and contribute to any assessments that may come along in the building. A co-operative is shared ownership, so they will also want to make sure that you are going to be a good neighbor."
- DO think carefully about how you are answering each question. If you're asked about your hobbies, try to avoid mentioning your recent affinity for learning to play the saxophone, and maybe stick to your enjoyment of hitting the ski slopes in the winter. Your social life? Yes, you have one (don't make them wonder why literally no one wants to be friends with you), but outside of the occasional small dinner party, that social life is conducted outside of your home.
- DON'T immediately suggest your plans for how the board or the building could improve. Though you may have ideas that could be a huge help to the building, wait to bring these up until after you've closed on the apartment. If the board has any inclination that you may be difficult to please in the future, they will see it as a red flag.
- DO avoid the same type of hot button topics that you would avoid in a job interview or on a first date. Unless you absolutely have to discuss politics, religion, or your thoughts on the ugly statue ("artwork") outside of the building next door, don't. Co-op boards can deny you for any reason that they want, even if it's just based off of a bad feeling. Avoid giving them any opportunity to disagree with your opinions by not letting them know what your opinions are in the first place.
- Even if you have a huge, burning desire to serve on the co-op board one day, DON'T tell them about it. You may come off as a threat to the members of the board who don't want to lose their positions. If asked if you would like to be on the board, this is a great time to tell them that if the board ever needed any help, you would consider it, but at the current time you hadn't thought about serving. (Maybe throw in that from what you have seen in the building, it seems like they are doing a great job already.)
- DON'T mention your plans for renovation inside your apartment once you move in, unless it's absolutely necessary. Though most boards would assume that you'll plan on making some sort of improvements to your new home, they don't need your details in the interview. If asked, tell them you are taking this one step at a time, and have not thought about any renovations at this point. If you want to be sure the board won't block your eventual work, look over the minutes from recent meetings to see how they've handled other renovations.
- DON'T ask too many questions. Unlike a job interview, when the boards ask you if you have any questions, you don't. They are interviewing you, not the other way around. Save any questions you may have until after you've been approved.
- DO practice with your broker beforehand. It is your broker's responsibility to know as much as possible about the board interview process, and coach you into being an expert. Every co-op board is different, and your agent should know the small intricacies of the board you are interviewing with to make sure your efforts are focused in the right areas.
The Agency is a technology-enabled real estate brokerage that is the refreshingly simple way for New Yorkers to buy, sell and rent apartments.