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“It Was Pretty Daunting”

There is a silver lining in any cloud. For all the heartbreak and devastation that Hurricane Sandy caused to buildings in its path, one co-op found a positive among all the negatives: the rundown, old-fashioned lobby had been flooded with about two feet of water, necessitating an extensive repair and renovation project. The lobby, long a sore spot that the board had talked about upgrading, now had to be replaced – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Before its board could turn to that, however, the 179-unit property, called the Waters Edge, at 700 Shore Road in Long Beach, had other concerns: the boiler needed to be replaced; there was over $1 million of electrical work required; the garage was filled with sand; the elevators were out; and most of the shareholders were living off-site (they were out for the first six weeks after Sandy). “We only had one elevator working, and we had a mobile boiler on the street until April [2013],” says Coleen McKeon, who works for Douglas Elliman as the property’s manager. “At that point, we were finally able to start actually thinking about aesthetics – about making the place look attractive.”

And at the center of it all was a newly minted board member (soon to be president) named Rebecca Kooper, an audiologist by day who admits that she had no experience in real estate before being thrust into the limelight.

 

You had been on the board how long when Sandy struck?

Only since May. So it was May, June, July, August, September – five months. I was only on the board for five months, so I didn’t have longtime experience with anything involved with the building.

When did you become president?

Our vice president [at the time] was having surgery and was staying in New York. The storm happened in October; by November I had become the vice president. And then the president had to step down for personal reasons. So I went from nothing to board member to vice president to president, all within a ridiculously short period of time.

 

It was sort of on-the-job training?

Yeah, I guess you would say that. And then when Sandy happened, I was the only board member that stayed – admittedly stupidly – in the building. The last time everyone left, for [Hurricane] Irene, nothing happened in our building, and people had more trouble getting back than those of us who had stayed. So more people stayed for Sandy than for Irene because our building wasn’t touched by Irene. When I got a knock on the door the next morning telling me not to go walk down the steps to the first floor because the water was thigh high, I knew we had a huge problem on our hands. Because I was the only board member still there in the storm’s aftermath, I was the one who naturally started making the decisions.

That morning after the storm, when people were saying, “You have got to get the water out of the building,” I am like, “Wait a second. I have only been on the board for a few months. I don’t even know who our insurance company is.” It was pretty daunting when all of a sudden I realized I have got to help get the water out of the building and that we couldn’t communicate with anyone since all the lines were down. It was baptism by fire. I learned a lot very quickly.

We had so many decisions to make. People could not move back into the building until we had at least water – that was the minimum – and we couldn’t turn on the gas until we had running water, and we couldn’t get that until we had electricity because you need the electricity for the water pumps.

 

Had you ever done anything like this before?

No. I am an audiologist by trade. I work with children who are hearing impaired.

 

Do you bring any skills from your job to the board?

I always have dealt with people, I have worked in groups, I have been on boards before, not necessarily on co-ops but with professional boards. So I knew how to work with people, and I knew how to get people to be happy and agreeable and to get through tough disagreements. I let people disagree – we just had to come up with something that we could all live with and respect each other’s differences.

 

That works?

Yeah. I had a gym committee, and I said to the members, “We have a 70-year-old guy in the committee and a twentysomething guy, and you guys are both going to have to use the gym. I don’t know what you need to do, but I justwould like to make sure that everyone is happy with the result.” They worked out their differences, and we ended up with a fabulous gym that everyone loves. Being president is about setting the mood, being respectful, and dealing with problems.

 

Were there unexpected problems that came up during the course of the post-Sandy repairs?

Everything came up. It was always a nightmare whenever we opened up another wall. Along the way, there were changes and issues that had to be dealt with, but we dealt with them because we didn’t have any choice. It was such a nightmarish period – you can’t imagine. I don’t know if you saw any pictures of what the building looked like, but to go from, “Where am I going to go live?” to “Oh my God, I am here and have to take care of this building, this building is wrecked, and I don’t know what we can do, and I have to figure it out really fast.” I can’t even call it a nightmare; I am just forever grateful that I had good advice and that it turned out so well.

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