A board interview is the final step to approval when buying a co-op unit in New York City. In this series, New Yorkers tell Brick Underground about their experience with the interview process, what worked and what didn’t—and what others can learn. This week, Monte Givhan shares his experience of buying a co-op in Jackson Heights. Givhan, a director of training for a city agency and a first-time buyer, did lots of research and received plenty of advice on how to approach the interview—then he lost his voice. In the end, the meeting was over before he even realized it had begun.
How did you feel about the interview process?
It was definitely something I was anxious about. I had heard so much and lots of people were warning me about it, making it seem very daunting, saying on the one hand, by the time you get to the interview, the place is yours to lose. On the other end of the spectrum, you hear about people being the perfect buyer with funds, financing, a history of being a good tenant, doing a good interview and then being knocked out for no reason at all. I felt confident about who I am as a neighbor and a tenant and as a potential member of a cooperative. I did try to anticipate things they might ask and my agent was really warning me about not being too talkative and, 'don’t get into areas they don’t want to talk about,' saying 'nothing good can really come of that.'
Was the advice helpful?
I like warm people who talk a lot, that’s just how I communicate, so I tried to listen to all the advice but I tried not to let any one piece of advice dictate how I would be. I thought, shoot for the middle, be myself but also have these other things in mind so I have a sense of what to look for and if things are going really off track I could steer it back.
So when the day of the interview arrived, how did it go?
The weird thing was that about a week before the interview I got really sick. Long after I started feeling better, my voice was gone, so I had virtually no voice. I didn’t want to postpone my interview, especially not last minute, because I was hopeful right up until the last minute that my voice would come back. One thing, I wish I would have had more information. My agent tells me they are going to meet me at a particular time but she didn’t give me a unit to go to, or a particular room, so I’m just standing out in front of the building waiting for someone. Like, who are these people? What do they look like? What are their names?
The interview was on a very warm day and it was at 6:30 p.m., so it was still daylight. I really felt weird. I don’t want to turn up to an important meeting right at the time it's going to happen, so I get there five or ten minutes early. I really felt like I was lurking in front of the building. People are coming in and out. They don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I’m looking for. It was very strange. After I’m there about 10 minutes I go in and sit down and try not to look weird and out of place, looking at everyone, trying to make eye contact, hoping that somebody will ask, 'Are you the guy I’m supposed to meet?' There’s this guy who walks past a few times and he finally approaches me and asks if I am Monte. I said, 'Yes,' but I squeaked it because I didn’t have a voice.
Did you then go to a meeting room?
He takes me downstairs and it’s just me and him. A few minutes later a few more people show up. I’m doing my best to chat and apologize for not having a voice and telling him, 'I don’t think I’m contagious but I don’t want to shake your hand but don’t think I’m weird.' I’m there for about 10 or 15 minutes, waiting for more people to show, at which point they said, 'Well, thank you so much for coming in, it was great to meet you. We’ll let the management company know first thing in the morning.' So my interview was over before I even realized it had started.
Were you able to ask questions of the board?
I did have some genuine questions. I lived in my old apartment in Jamaica, Queens for 20 years. I had tried to find out a little bit more about Jackson Heights. I wanted to know a bit more history of the neighborhood and the building. The New York City Public Library has a whole archive online where you can find original blueprints, pictures of the building when it was first built, pictures of the land track before it was built. So I’m looking at this stuff, not figuring I’ll be asked any questions, but to try to have some base of knowledge and preparation going in.
They had recently replaced the elevator and I wanted to know whether they were expecting any increases in maintenance any time soon. But it really wasn’t a Q&A, it was a conversation. From my perspective, we were just making conversation, waiting for the interview to begin. Then it was done. It was on the extreme side of laid back and cool.
What originally attracted you to the co-op?
I’m a first-time buyer, and there’s a lot I didn’t know. I work in Lower Manhattan and knew I wanted to get closer to the city. As much as I love my old neighborhood, the commute was killing me and the further you go out to the outer boroughs, the more you get in terms of delays and problems with the trains, so what should have been a 45-minute commute was regularly an hour and a half. The place at 3520 73rd Street had been on the market for a year and I put in an offer but they wanted more. Originally I stood firm and lost the place. Not only did I lose the place but I wasn’t even the immediate backup offer. So I had second thoughts about how I went about the process and I kept looking for places in Jackson Heights.
Somewhere deep in my soul, I never gave up hope that I’m going to get this place. It’s hard to explain. Every place I see I am comparing to it. There’s something about the building, it’s a different colored brick so it visually stands out. I’m just building up this place and romanticizing it in my mind. Months are going by and I’m noticing the status of the co-op isn’t changing. Then suddenly my agent calls me and tells me it's back on the market. They accepted a figure close to my second offer the first time around. I think I had to go through the process to know it was a fair deal. I felt good about it.
What would your advice be to others going through the process?
Talking to people who have been through the process is important, but don’t be freaked out by other people’s bad experiences. Know yourself, be confident, and I think people can take some comfort that if you’re dealing with the type of board that is going to reject you for no reason at all, are those the type of people you want for neighbors anyway?
How do you like the place now you're in?
I’m looking forward to the first shareholders meeting. I’ve heard that when things are going well in a building, you don’t tend to hear from people so maybe they don’t have high participation rates. I’m looking forward to finding that out.