New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Diamonds Are Forever

Little did I know what was awaiting me when my wife and I first laid eyes on our prospective building. I knew that this was a “diamond in the rough.” Rough, I found out, would be an understatement. We loved the layout, mindful of the fact that there was ongoing construction in many apartments and common areas. However, that was not enough to sway us from plunking down much of our life savings and signing on the so-called dotted line. Before we knew it, we were moving into our first home with a two -year-old and another baby on the way. From the get-go, I had an interest in serving on the condominium’s board of managers, as this was going to be mine and my family’s community and I wanted to be involved in helping to create a positive, friendly environment for us and for all of the building’s occupants. I also welcomed the challenge of making this craggy gem reach its potential.

My first dose of reality came when I learned that I, or for that matter any other purchasers, were not allowed to have representatives on the board until the first anniversary of the first closing or upon the sponsor’s sale of 50 percent of the common interest. Although I wasn’t really sure what that meant, I knew that given the economic climate, units would not be selling like hotcakes. Rather, the board would continue to be controlled by representatives of the developer who did not necessarily share the same ideas as to how the building should be completed and operated.

I had no choice but to patiently wait for the magical date of the first “election” to arrive. When it did, I was fortunate enough to be one of two residential unit-owners elected to the board by my neighbors. Although we still did not control the board, we were cautiously optimistic that we would be able to make slow but steady progress in having the building at least resemble a residential condominium, and not a construction zone.

However, being a novice board member, I did not realize what lay ahead. It wasn’t but a few days before the floodgates opened and I found myself as the “go to person” for myriad issues and problems which, prior to the election, I was not even aware existed. Unhappy owners, disgruntled renters, poor management and what seemed to be countless physical building issues were just the beginning.

So, there I was, my wife and two kids left for hours on end while I struggled to keep up on the building-related phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and what appeared to be a unit-owner-with-a-query ambush every time I stepped out of the elevator into the lobby.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years to 2010. I am now in my third term as president of the board. Earlier this year, the unit-owners obtained a majority of seats on the board; we have seen much of the interior finishing work completed; the building obtained its permanent certificate of occupancy and a long-awaited application for a J-51 tax abatement was filed by the developer.

Yet, I am ever too cognizant that there is still much work to do and potentially rough seas ahead for our community.

My most important “pearl of wisdom” for my fellow board presidents out there: you must surround yourself with a talented and dedicated support system. For us, that started with bringing in a new superintendent and managing agent. With their help and with the assistance of our legal counsel, we were able to make a significant positive impact on the overall management and operation of the property within a year of the first election even though we did not control the board.

Although there are days and moments when I question how I ever got myself into this, I must say that overall my tenure on the board has been a positive and rewarding experience from which I have taken away many valuable learning experiences and developed lasting relationships. It is also tremendously rewarding to witness the progress we have made and how my “jewel in the rough” is evolving, slowly but surely, into a sparkling diamond.

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