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Lessons From a Lifer

Nathan Sudakoff
Board President, 333 Central Park West

 

I moved to New York from Boston in 1975. While in Boston, I lived in seven different apartments in seven years. When I moved to New York, I decided I wanted a place I could grow into. Eventually, I ended up – and realized that I belonged – on the Upper West Side. Now this was 1977, I was 29, and I was the “new hip kid” in town.

A broker was to show me mucho apartments that Saturday but she only had 333 Central Park West. There were no singles in the building and not that many young families either. Just some book publishers, a few music people including famous voice teachers, a couple of artists, very few lawyers, no financial whiz kids, and no young single women over 20 and under 50.

But I knew that the place would be my home forever. It was a big apartment with high ceilings and one day it would go co-op, and I would sell and move to Florida. Just as the co-opping craze was happening, I got married, learned to hate Florida (which I still do) and decided to stay at 333 CPW.

When the building converted to co-op, I volunteered for the negotiating committee; did a good job of getting prices down enough to make the conversion successful; got elected to the first board; and was then elected president. l have been on the board ever since the 1986 conversion, always been the treasurer, and have been the president for at least 12 of those years.

The lesson here is continuity. Other lessons come to mind. Know how much money the co-op has in reserve funds. Make sure operating income and operating expenses balance from year to year. Don’t spend reserve fund capital unless something is broken or a hazard. Install a flip tax for non-operating expenses and no other usage. Do not operate the building based on flip tax income. Always practice austerity.

The building built a playroom when my kid was two years old, and everyone has enjoyed it since (total investment: $3,000). When everyone wanted a gym, we built that as well ($175,000).

Years ago, when we found exterior damage inclusive of deteriorated steel and we needed a major overhaul, we assessed the shareholders $25,000 per month over four years (my share was $345 per month) and included the second million bucks in the new mortgage. When it was over, an architect hired to review the project said that we should not need to spend more than $50,000 per year on the exterior. So far, we are averaging about $35,000.

I will not deal with issues between tenants. I tell them to call our management firm, Midboro. “If your problem is not getting fixed, send me an e-mail,” I tell them. I will not take what are usually called “verbal” (they really mean oral) complaints. “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” Louis B. Mayer, the late MGM film mogul, supposedly said. Neither is a complaint.

Recently, I have taken abuse regarding the termination of a long-term employee. I have been asked why he was fired and on whose authority? The board discussed this dismissal for five months this year and at several board meetings over previous years. One shareholder said they might be asked to give testimony for the dismissed doorman. I asked, “Will you be testifying as his friend or as his employer?” I might add: “We are the same board that has kept your building beautiful and the maintenance down. The same board that changes only when someone has to move on.”

Finally, I always try to pick my own board members and work them through the democratic process. It isn’t always easy, and I prefer people who don’t agree with me because no board needs duplicates. It just needs honest people with open minds. I like to think we’ve got them.

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