Navigating The Co-op Board

New York City real estate is unlike any market in the world, for many reasons, including price, inventory and competition, but in terms of stability, another major factor keeps the market healthy: co-ops, where you’re actually buying shares in a corporation. Think of them as private investment clubs where the members set their own house rules—and the members are trying to determine whether or not you make a good financial partner, since you’d be owning the building along with them. Tricky, yes, since each building has its own priorities and rarely are they published. And worse, they’re not required to offer an explanation if they reject you.

Here’s where a good broker can help: we’ll either know what the board is looking for from an applicant in terms of their financial profile or we’ll be able to find out through our connections. If you do get approval on paper, then there’s the co-op board interview, a sometimes mystifying process.

Here’s how to make it a less painful one.

Remember, co-op boards are made up of people—people who are vetting you as not only a new neighbor but as a business partner. And, like most people, they respond to stories.

So, first, I’d say be prepared to tell your story. If you’ve had a bump in salary recently, they’ll want an explanation: had you been a paralegal and now you’re an attorney? Are you writing a pilot for a sitcom that has no guarantee of being picked up? That would be a risk, and they’re looking for stability.

And don’t take that personally. In 2009, after the crash, co-op boards viewed people in the financial industry as risky. They knew the industry was shedding jobs, and bonuses were no longer as robust as they once were. To this day, co-op boards don’t weigh bonuses as heavily as they used to. They want to see the past two years, and they’ll take the lower of the two into consideration.

You also don’t want to volunteer information that doesn’t work in the co-op board’s interest. There was a father who was buying into a co-op for his son, and he volunteered the information that his son was going to have a roommate—essentially, his son and his son’s college roommate were moving from their dorm—and the father inquired that since the roommates were musicians, he wanted to know the building’s policy on playing guitars. Few co-op boards like to hear that.

Of course, you don’t want to be misleading, but you don’t want to hinder yourself. Co-op boards do one thing very well: they protect their interests.

So you want to find out what is the co-op board looking for, and highlight those attributes. It’ll go a long way with the building.

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