Board President Luis Ramos
Luis M. Ramos doesn’t mince words.“Things were not being done smartly and to the best benefit of the co-op,” he says about his home, a 76-unit co-op in Woodside, Queens. He moved into the co-op in 2000, and became a member of the board in 2007. At the time, there were nine members, including a president who had been serving for many years. “Decisions were not made with a good business head,” Ramos, a 70-year-old retired accountant, says bluntly. He has spent the last nine years setting things straight, employing his many years of experience in accounting with large companies and hotels. Ramos was the chief accountant at Windows on the World and the Vista Hotel, where he dealt with, as he puts it, “millions of dollars of accounting business. I was very familiar with RFPs, and bidding of contracts, and bidding of maintenance, of repairs – everything material to the condition of the buildings.”
What did you have to correct when you came in?
We were still paying water bills in frontage. Because I have always worked in real estate, either with developers or with the management of properties, I have a good sense of what it should be. I realized that the water bill was extremely high for a building of our size. I was new to the board, but I told them that it would be a good idea to move from frontage to water-metering. They weren’t very receptive to my recommendations.
They also wanted to change the windows. The windows were only, maybe, 25 years old. This type of window lasts between 25 to 40 years, so I was surprised that they wanted to replace them so fast. They also had an estimate that I thought was too low for what they were going to do, unless the quality of the windows was bad. I told them it was not a good idea to change the windows. I went through a few apartments and found that the windows were not as bad as they were saying. I recommended we go with the repair of some of the bad ones. That’s what we did. We would have paid $250,000 replacing all the windows. We only spent around $50,000.
What was your opinion of that board?
I realized that not many of them had common sense. They did not know much about real estate or maintenance of a building. And they did not have a clue as to what their expenses should be. The board was not very experienced, and they were unwilling to change their ways, or to listen to someone new telling them things were not A-OK.
So that led you to seek the presidency?
In 2008, I talked to many people in the building, and I actually wrote [about] what was wrong with our building, and where we were overspending, and that the board was very reluctant to act on it. On election day in 2008, I had gathered enough proxy ballots to overthrow the board. It was hard to get people to run, so I had to bring a few people onto the board that were also unwilling to go with some of the changes I proposed. That made it a battle in the first few months. So a year after I was elected president, I went around the building and got enough proxies to get rid of some of the members that had gotten onto the board that I knew were unwilling to help. I was very successful after that.
I lowered the water bill from $62,000 to $29,000, and savings up to now are $240,000. We reduced the landscaping bill from around $14,000 a year to maybe $3,000 a year. We went with a new insurance company [and] reduced that bill by almost $6,000 on the first year. One of the things that we also did that saved us almost $200,000 was on the remaining term of the mortgage. We still had four and a half years left, and we paid off the mortgage, with money made from selling the super’s apartment. We had enough money in our funds to pay off the mortgage.
What do you think is the most challenging thing about being on the board?
In today’s environment, the most challenging thing on the board is knowledge. Most boards are comprised of people who have very little idea about what it takes to do repairs, maintenance, and evaluate new employees. Many contractors give you one amount on the bill, and you don’t know whether you’re paying right, wrong, or otherwise. They don’t detail an invoice. They don’t tell you how much is labor, how much is parts, how long it’s going to take. Most of the time they don’t even tell you what they’re going to do. You have to be extremely vigilant.