Board President Alex Schtakleff
White Oak West
White Oak West sounds like it should be a tavern in New England, but it’s actually a multi-family condominium complex in Jackson Heights, Queens. Built in 1980 near LaGuardia airport and the landmarked Bulova Building, the six rows of buildings contain two- and three-family condominiums; 51 units altogether. Alex Schtakleff, a former computer programmer who became a realtor, has lived there since the property opened – “about 60 percent of our residents are originals,” Schtakleff says – and he has served as president for the past 25 years. Downplaying any difficulties, Schtakleff makes it sound relatively easy to run a condo. “People pay on time,” he says when questioned about arrears. Which is even more impressive when you realize that White Oak West has no staff beyond an independent bookkeeper, and is entirely managed by the board.
Why do you self-manage?
We’ve been doing it since 1980. We find that it’s more effective than paying a management company to do the work for us. We feel that if a management company had to do procedures for us, we would still have to vote on everything, tell them how to do it, and what to do. So we do it ourselves.
You don’t have a super?
No, we don’t need a super because the homeowners take care of their own buildings. Each unit has its own heating system – gas heaters – and its own electrical meters. We take care of the water charges. Also we take care of the insurance for the condominium, which covers the outside of the premises and the building.
What appealed to you when you moved into White Oak West?
I liked the location, number one. Number two, they were brand-new buildings; they were built as condominiums, not a conversion.
Why did you get on the board?
They asked me to join because I was one of the better homeowners in taking care of their house, and I was always interested in the community.
What do you do when you’re not running the condo?
I’m a realtor. I have experience in real estate. I have a license for property management. Since we are self-managed, I figured I might as well take a course in management. It gives you insight as to the rules, and what’s involved in the legal aspects of running a condominium.
What are the major issues you’ve faced in your condo?
We have to make sure that we have the right budget and that we have enough in the reserves for any projects that might come in the future. We have to make sure that the water charges are kept to a minimum, because we all pay for the water charges. We monitor usage remotely. We do spot checks for each house to see if there are any leaks. If you have a toilet leaking, that could run quite a big bill. If that happens, we send out letters for homeowners to check their apartments to make sure they don’t have any water leaks.
What advice do you offer other buildings that are thinking of self-managing?
I would say it depends on how many units they have. We’re only 51 units. Although we’re multi-family, we’re still only dealing with 51 homeowners, not 125 tenants. I don’t know what the threshold would be for deciding whether you want to give it to a management company.
What advice would you give to board presidents?
Be active. Be frugal. Try to shy away from doing assessments, because most people don’t like to pay extra money over and above their maintenance charges. Always try to have a reserve on hand rather than [tackling] a project, then charging an assessment, and then collecting on those assessments. We avoid that problem. From 1980 until now, we’ve never had an assessment.
What is the most rewarding thing about being on the board?
I don’t know if there’s a reward, but it’s satisfying making sure that it’s maintained properly, that we don’t have any arrears as far as common charges are concerned, that we have enough in the budget for future maintenance, and that the values are increased. We made a sale for over $900,000 about a week ago. That’s pretty satisfying.