Vice President, Abby Court Condominium, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Looking back, I did not appreciate the gravity of the decision to buy a home. My husband and I did not go through the rigorous planning process that most home buyers attempt. We loved a neighborhood, we saw a “for sale” sign, we couldn’t believe our good luck at finding a home in our price range (almost), and we signed a contract. We had been living in a leaky basement apartment in Queens – our first home in New York – so the contrast between our old and new apartments could not have been greater. Sure, the bills were higher, but we waved that away with the idea that we were investing in our future.
Within months of moving into the newly renovated building, I joined our new board of managers. The building was rapidly filling up with other first-time home buyers like myself, and with them came a surprising misunderstanding. The residents saw the board as the landlord. For instance, when winter came and the heat didn’t work properly, I soon found myself getting frustrated calls almost daily. All the first-time homeowners did not know who to turn to: the board, the super, the sponsor, or maybe the guy next door? One step at a time, the board worked out procedures to handle heating problems and to educate owners about their roles.
In the spring, I heaved a sigh of relief. No more heating to worry about. Then, one Saturday night, my husband and I came home to find a waterfall in our bedroom. I trudged upstairs to knock on my neighbor’s door. As I was talking to the very sleepy upstairs resident, another neighbor called out, “Is it leaking in your apartment too?” In a few minutes, everyone from the top floor down to the bottom was awake and in my apartment. As the only board member present, I was responsible for fixing the problem. I tried to reach the sponsor’s emergency line. I tried to reach the managing agent’s emergency line. Eventually, I called a plumber. I muddled through that night as I and the other board members have muddled through many of our other challenges since then: I knew a little, I improvised a little, and I figured out how to handle yet another task.
In the beginning of our life as a condominium board of managers, we soaked up information from the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums conferences and from on-the-job training. We poured through the offering plan and the condominium’s finances. We fired the old team and brought in a new team. Though we are a very hands-on board and probably will be for some time, we now have a managing agent in place who knows the building and our needs. We have a superintendent who takes care of our building. We have a helpful lawyer and solid insurance. There are still unresolved issues with our new building, and we have yet to find a good accountant, but we’re functioning more and more as an accomplished and savvy board of managers.
The shock of going from tenant to “landlord” has now worn off, and I’ve become a seasoned board member. As such, I know intimately what concerns my neighbors. Some owners insist on fluorescent light bulbs in the hallways to save energy. Others argue that the light bulbs must fit in the socket a certain way even if that means that we can’t use more environmentally friendly light bulbs. If I were a renter, these issues would not come up, but these neighbors are also willing to pitch in when necessary. My neighbors who complain about light bulbs also pick up the stray fliers in the hallway. When a mess was made on the front stoop, an owner who was not on the board quickly went outside with a bucket to scrub up. While the responsibilities of homeownership, multiplied by the responsibilities of being on the board, are many, there are also rewards. Unlike a rental building in which people move in and out frequently, my neighbors and I share a sense of responsibility for our residence. But I think that all of us, whether members of the board or not, invest in each other – and in the building. That’s the way it should be.