A Lawyer’s Guide to Preparing For a Board Interview
So you have gotten this far. Congratulations. Made it through the search for an apartment, the contract negotiations, the shockingly complex financing application with your bank, gotten reference letters from your third grade teacher and the person who sat next to you on the subway for years when you were an intern on Wall Street to complete the coop board application, and now you’re ready for the big day of the board interview.
In the land of the bizarre (also known as New York City real estate), the board interview hovers near the top of the list as among the strangest things we put people through in this city who are trying to find a roof over their head. Simply having enough money to buy the apartment is, well, frankly, just not enough. You need to pass an interview. And the purpose of the interview runs from routine (‘we just wanted to meet you and introduce you to the building”) to the extreme (“we are trying to figure out just who exactly in your lineage was on the Mayflower and what room they occupied on that ship”).
I generally don’t get too involved in preparing clients for the board interview, leaving that to the brokers, but I have lived through enough board rejections over the years to know some of the mistakes people make that torpedo their candidacy at the 11th hour of the interview process. So here is some advice.
Don’t Lie: I know, it’s tempting, but it won’t help in the long run and chances are the truth is less damaging than the fact of the lie. I had a client who was arrested in college for disorderly conduct after a night of being consistently overserved (that’s what they call it in Greenwich) at a local country club. Now she with her husband was set to interview for one of the most prestigious buildings on Park Avenue and called me to confess her fear. “What does your husband think,” I asked. “He doesn’t know either.” Not having taken marital counseling in law school, I tried for common sense. The reality is that as bad as what you think happened is, chances are everyone in the room has had some sort of youthful dalliance that they are not particularly proud of. “Don’t make more of this than it is,” I explained. “If asked if you have ever been arrested, tell the truth. If they are asking that question, chances are they have already uncovered this in their background check and want to know if you’ll fess up.” Start with a little giggle and brush it off as something you never repeated, are not proud of, but it made you part of the responsible person you are today.
Explain Renovation Plans In The Right Context: Many people think if they go into an interview and tell the board they want to renovate, it will reduce their chances of approval. Not really. Chances are if the apartment is in desperate need of renovation, the members interviewing know it and are looking forward to someone bringing that unit up to date to increase it’s market value. Individual units who increase market value are good comps for other units, so it will indirectly help the members of the board doing the interview if the apartment you want to buy goes up in value as a result of your renovation. The key is, to present the plans in the correct light. You want to update the apartment, and have carefully reviewed the alteration policies of the board and plan to follow them to the letter. Explaining that you know the rules, will abide by them, will only proceed on approval of management, and will do everything possible to finish on time with minimal disruption to neighbors is what they want to hear.
Be Candid About Your Plans On Using The Apartment: Most boards are not fond of absentee owners, as they tend to have lots of guest staying in the apartment and generally do not spend as much money on keeping up the apartment as those who make the apartment their primary residence. If you plan to use the apartment as a secondary residence, be honest about it, but address that you recognize that this apartment will only have guests when you are in attendance, and only in accordance with board rules.
Remember The Pets: If you have a pet, be truthful about it and stress that yours is obedient and not a nuisance. Explain you have read the house rules and understand whether pets are allowed on passenger elevators and in the lobby. Emphasize that your animal has been trained, and enjoys people but is not a pest. Most importantly, reassure them that the animal will not be a danger to anyone in the building. If your breed is one that has a bad reputation in the press, like a pit bull, explain that yours is sweet and trained, and that it is unfortunate that the breed has a bad reputation due to bad owners, but you have had yours since a puppy and it has only ever been gentle.
Finally, and most importantly, be yourself and try to be at ease. And if for some reason the board rejects you, remember what Groucho Marx said: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me!”
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