When the residents of Hyde Park Owners Corporation in Kew Gardens began to agitate for a website several years ago, the board members didn’t respond right away. It was not from a lack of interest; it was just that, with more than 700 units to manage and 11 boilers and 26 acres of grounds to maintain, designing and maintaining a website wasn’t at the top of the board’s list of things to do.
But the fact that the board members weren’t responding didn’t discourage the residents. Far from it. It was “something that kept coming up time and time again,” recalls Theresa Vodopia, the property manager, with Metro Management Development. Finally, says Vodopia, she took matters into her own hands and began to research how to build and maintain a website.
Her initial searching left her more than a little dismayed. Most of the website developers she talked with charged too much, and the co-op websites that were on the internet seemed dated almost as soon as they were put online.
After looking at “build your own website” options at Google, Go Daddy, Yahoo, and Homestead, Vodopia settled on Homestead as the best option. The software package was straightforward, the cost was reasonable – $330 for maintaining the site for each two-year period – and uploading the documents was easy. Facts in hand, Vodopia pitched the board president, Carol Sorensen. If the board members gave the property manager their blessing, she would be happy to take responsibility for all matters concerning the website.
Pleased and relieved, Sorensen gave Vodopia the green light. That was two years ago. Today, the Hyde Park Owners Corporation has a tidy, timely presence on the web. Anyone typing in www.hydeparkownerscorp.com can find out just about everything one needs to know about the co-op. The site contains the house rules, shareholder responsibilities, floor plans, service notices, sublet policy, alteration agreements, and move in/move out regulations, and perhaps most popular, the monthly newsletter.
The board members considered and ultimately rejected several other options – being able to contact the board members by e-mail, putting up the co-op’s financials, and using the website to allow residents to pay their maintenance online. “We tried to figure out what people would need to see [if they were residents of Hyde Park Gardens co-op] and what people would need to see if they were looking to buy,” explains Sorensen. “What would be the most helpful? And that’s how we came up” with the list of documents online. Sorensen and Vodopia jointly update the monthly newsletter.
“We would love to be interactive,” Sorensen observes, “but with 746 residents, 11 boilers,” and countless other challenges, the board had to place some limits. For now, she says, what they have is enough. “For years, the board members wanted a website. Our only hesitation was, if the co-op doesn’t keep up with them, then they are out of date [pretty quickly].”
Once Vodopia volunteered to take charge of the site’s maintenance, Sorensen said the pieces all began to fall into place pretty quickly. Primarily, the website “is a means of communicating with the shareholders.” As time goes on, it may be expanded, but for now, it’s just the right size for Hyde Park Owners Corporation.
152 West 58th Street
The board members of 152 West 58th Street feel that less information is more, at least online. Since 2003, when the co-op’s website first went up, the idea was to give residents a place to go if they had questions about the building but not give out too much information that the board could become liable for, explains the board president, Carl Tait.
“There’s no financial information – we discussed this at some length. There are floor plans, but no dimensions. We have a lawyer on the board, and he said you really don’t want to be in a position of claiming a room is at a certain size unless you measure it yourself.”
Tait, who designed the website, acknowledges that it has a very “nuts and bolts” aspect, but that the board simply initially wanted a web presence and he was happy to comply. With his Verizon service, he had 10 megabytes of free server space to use, so he bought the building’s domain name – www.152west58.com – at Go Daddy, and went from there. The website includes a history of the building, some past notable residents (including Sherman Billingsley, the owner of the legendary Stork Club), the proprietary lease, bylaws and house rules, hours of the laundry room, and the refinancing information. In the future, he hopes to put up the alteration and decorating agreements, as well as the purchase application. No annual meeting minutes will go up on the website, though any shareholder who wants a copy can get one from the management company, Matthew Adam Management.
The website has been a lower priority item, admits Tait, who says that the board members of the 33-unit building pride themselves on being accessible, even if the website itself doesn’t have that much information. “It’s not intended to be a mission critical site,” says Tait. “At the time that we did it, there was very little that existed” in the way of building websites, and Tait said he created what he thought people would be interested in, and wouldn’t get the board into hot water. “I’m not a web programmer at all. It doesn’t look screamingly hideous, but you can tell it was done by someone who wasn’t a website designer.”
When Nagle Apartment Corporation in north Washington Heights went online six years ago, the goal was transparency, says Steve Vernon, the current board president of the 111-unit co-op. “I think a lot of distrust happens between boards and shareholders due to inexperience – not having served on the board before [or] not knowing what’s going on.” To that end, the board members of Nagle Apartment Corp. have tried to make things as easy as possible for the shareholders. On the co-op’s website – www.naborsapts.org – shareholders can find copies of key documents, including the proprietary lease, the building’s budget from the past three years, lists of apartments for sale (with the sales price), as well as links to local news media, information about the neighborhood, and a Washington Heights events calendar.
Built and maintained by shareholder Eduardo Gomez, the website includes a history of the building, a co-op handbook, and just about any factual piece of information a resident or would-be shareholder might need, says Vernon. And the site is extremely user-friendly, something on which the board insisted to help drum up sales. It took several years of legal wrangling before the shareholders were finally able to buy out the sponsor in 1997. (For more coverage about Nagle’s legal battle with its sponsor, see “Stepping Up to the Plate,” Habitat, January 2002.)
Soon after that, Gomez began working on the website, in part to make sure that no one was in the dark ever again about the building’s financials. Along with containing the price data for apartments on the market, he includes the floor plans and the building’s documents. Gomez also added as much information about the surrounding neighborhoods – Inwood and Washington Heights – as possible, to drum up interest in the units.
Now in its third incarnation, the site has definitely improved over the years, says Gomez. “In the beginning, it was a very simple website that I coded manually. Then I upgraded it by using Dreamweaver, which is a web development tool. The most current [site] is done with the application WordPress,” a very simple website and blog content application. The site is hosted for less than $100 a year on PowWeb (www.powweb.com), a website hosting platform.
The website is really very comprehensive, says Vernon. Whenever a resident needs a document from the management office, it is probably there. “I think it saves a lot of time,” says Vernon. “It builds trust and transparency. Everyone knows what’s going on.”