Decking your hallways with boughs of holly is a nice way to remind shareholders that quality of life is the cornerstone of a good building, but there are other gifts you can give this holiday season that will linger long after the pine needles have gone brittle.
With tips phoned in from managing agents, board members, energy conservationists, retired engineers, and real estate attorneys, the holiday team at Habitat has gone shopping for deals that will not only perk up your building, but also reduce the demands on your shareholders' wallets. From basements to rooftops, we've uncovered some hidden and not-so-hidden ways to stretch your building's dollars, and bring a smile back to shareholders' faces just in time for the annual meeting.
So, go ahead! Dig into the basket of goodies we've compiled below and start dressing up your building and saving money on your bills as your co-op and condo celebrates this holiday season.
(1) It's tree-mendous. Want to spruce up your sidewalk landscape? Plant a tree. Need help deciding which will look best with your building? Honeysuckle, crab apple, or pear? The parks department will help you decide. Buildings interested in planting trees should contact their local community board for a "Street Tree Request Form." If you don't know which local community board is yours, go to the website, www.treesny.com/tny_howto.htm, and click on the link to community boards.
(2) Keen for greening. Got an itchy green thumb and no place to scratch it? Check out the website of the Council on the Environment of New York City: http://www.cenyc.org. There you'll find information on all the community gardens in the city, the ones closest to your neighborhood, and how to join. For more information, call the council at 212-788-7923 and ask for Lenny Librizzi or Meredith Olson.
(3) Class acts for running a better building. Board members or any interested shareholder can learn how to manage budgets, lower maintenance costs, spot structural defects, and save on heating and gas bills through free courses sponsored by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Some of the courses include a fee for materials. For more information on the classes, call the housing education program at 212-863-8830 or check out the website, http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/home.html and click on the "free housing education courses" link.
(4) Free cable, almost. For buildings that sign up a minimum of 50 percent of their shareholders, Time Warner will offer discounts on its basic and standard cable package - which does not include HBO - starting at 30 percent (off the retail rate, which starts at $40.95 a month) for the entire building. The more shareholders signed up, the more savings the building enjoys. To get a reduction on the cable package that includes HBO, the whole property has to sign up, according to Victor Cruz, director of sales and special markets for Time Warner.
(5) Submetering for dollars! Co-ops that buy their electricity in bulk from a utility and sell it individually to shareholders, a process known as submetering, can shave dollars from their electricity bills, garner "good income," and avoid 80/20 tax headaches.
The way it works is this: buildings buy in bulk from a utility - such as Con Ed, Con Edison Solutions, AES, Strategic Solutions - and individual meters are installed to monitor each tenant's usage. Shareholders remit their electricity bills in their maintenance payments each month to the corporation - money that is considered good income in the 80/20 tax equation.
"If you go to submetering, the shareholders pay the corporation directly for their share of the electricity. And because unit-owners are paying their electricity right in their maintenance, buildings with 80/20 problems can use the extra income as good income," observes James Carey, president of Bay City Metering, which installs meters and tracks bills for co-ops that have signed on for submetering. Depending on the number of units in the building, shareholders can realize savings starting at roughly 13 percent for a building with 40 units, to upwards of 18 percent in buildings with 100 units. To sign up, the Public Service Commission requires that 70 percent of shareholders agree in writing to a submetering program if the building is already metered, and 51 percent if the building is not metered.
(6) Save in heating bills, and save the city, too. Say what? According to Richard Cherry, president of the nonprofit Community Environmental Center (CEC), installing a computerized heat timer on your gas or oil furnace can save between 12 and 15 percent on your building's heating bills. That, in turn, reduces by 12 to 15 percent the amount of pollution going into the environment.
"Most buildings have a heating system controlled by a clock set by the superintendent. The heating timer works like a thermostat. It controls the temperature through indoor heat temperature sensors," explains Cherry.
When the building's temperature starts to fall, the sensors send a message to a central computer that prompts the furnace or heating system to kick in. Installation costs between $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the building. "You save on maintenance, too," says Cherry, because the computer system sends out alerts if there is a problem with the boiler or if there is unaccounted for water or smoke in the pipes.
For more information about heat timers, contact CEC at 718-784-1444 or go to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority website, at http://www.nyserda.org.
(7) Sign on for laundry service savings. Get your laundry contract signing bonus. But remember, this is a one-time-only offer. When it comes time to renegotiate a contract with the company that handles your building's laundry room, ask the company for a signing bonus when the negotiations are just about ended, suggests Robert Grant, director of management at Midboro Management. Laundry service companies "do give signing bonuses, but people don't know to ask for them," says Grant. The bonus runs relative to the size of the property: a small structure can get $2,500 as a signing bonus, "but a large building can get $15,000." He warns that the bonus shouldn't be brought up until the managing agent has already finished negotiating for other necessities, such as new equipment, painting the laundry room, putting in a new sitting area, new carts, and so on. "After you have negotiated all of the above, you say, 'I need a signing bonus.' And you get it," Grant notes.
(8) Seal the deal on extra space. Is there space in your building that could be developed for residential space, but isn't? It's worth it to do a soup-to-nuts check of your building. Is it possible to convert the basement space below the first floor co-ops into a library or rec room, or, if the basement has windows, another bedroom? A board could amend its articles of incorporation to issue more shares on such a renovated space, thus giving the owner more space and the co-op more maintenance income from said space. And what about finding more residential space on your roof? That metal shed on your roof which houses your water system could be renovated into additional space for the penthouse co-op owner. And the co-op would not be exceeding its zoning requirements with the conversion, because mechanical spaces are not included in zoning formulas. A penthouse occupant would get more residential space and the co-op more income. Oh, and you could put in a really cool water tank instead.
(9) Everything you wanted to know about your building but were afraid to ask. Learn more about the architectural diversity of the city you live in, and about your own building, by joining the Municipal Arts Society. The society offers exhibits, walking tours, and lectures about New York, with topics ranging from how zoning affects development in New York to how you can research the history of your own building. For more information, contact the Municipal Arts Society at 212-935-3960 or go to its website at www.mas.org.
(10) Free ferries between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Did you know that there was a free ferry service running between Wall Street and Brooklyn? From now until the end of January 2003, and probably longer, New York State is underwriting the cost of maintaining a free ferry service during rush hours for Brooklynites and Manhattanites who commute between Wall Street and Brooklyn Heights and Bay Ridge. Just go down to Pier 11 at the end of Wall Street and climb aboard one of the ferries heading for Brooklyn. It's a great way to commute between the two boroughs, and, along with enjoying a wonderful view of New York's shoreline, you can also pick up complimentary copies of the New York Post and Newsday. And you thought only the Staten Island Ferry was free!