Clementine Carbo, Board President, Homestead Owners Corporation
Joined Board: 1999
Since her retirement two years ago, Clementine Carbo, 72, hasn’t slowed down. Besides being president of her Westchester County co-op board for the past 19 years, she is also a member of the Cooperative and Condominium Council, a local lobbying group, and over the last eight years she has twice been an owner/negotiator in contract talks with the building staffs’ union. Carbo’s professional career was just as full. Not long after graduating from Walton High School in the Bronx, where she was born and raised, she took a job as a secretary at the investment company Smith Barney and held many titles during her 45 years there, from administrative assistant and stockbroker to portfolio manager and assistant branch office manager. She lived in the Bronx and Manhattan before buying into the eight-story, 163-unit co-op in Westchester. Carbo took night classes at the College of New Rochelle, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she believes board members should take classes to improve their performance. Carbo never married. “But,” she says with a laugh, “I’m still available.”
Habitat: Why did you join the board?
Carbo: The board was just letting things go. The big issue at the time was asbestos, which had to be remediated. That was the first of many projects. We had many leaks in the garage.
Habitat: What is the best way to run a successful capital project?
Carbo: You’ve got to educate yourself. Whenever we get new board members, I insist that everybody do a walk-through of the building with us, so they know what we are talking about. They actually see the areas that need repair, such as an area on the roof that was a soft spot. The walk-throughs really open everybody’s eyes.
You’ve got to know who you’re hiring. I used to get annoyed that Brian [Scally, the building manager from Garthchester Realty] would recommend these same two contractors. I used to say, “Is there collusion here? Shouldn’t we have different people?” And he’d say, “I depend on them. I know their work. They never disappoint.” Finally, after a few years, I realized he’s absolutely right, and when we need them, they come.
Habitat: What changed your mind?
Carbo: A number of things. We had a problem [on a job] with the contractor who was recommended to us by the decorator. We had to terminate his services and pay him for what he had done. It was just a mess, and he kept saying, “I’m going to take care of it, I’m going to take care of it.” But, finally, enough was enough.
More recently, we replaced the windows – but the contractors took forever to finish. In the bidding process, we had looked at three [companies]. One was too small [to handle such a big job]. And we had doubts about the second [company]. I had been impressed by [the owner’s] follow-through. I had met him eight years ago at one of those building expos, and he would call every year to find out if we were ready to do the replacement. But when he met the board, they didn’t like him. We got a feeling that he might cut corners. So we hired the third company, run by two brothers. And, as I mentioned, we had problems with them.
Habitat: Did you learn anything from those experiences?
Carbo: Yes. From now on, I will make sure that we actually talk to the board presidents cited as references, which we did not do on the windows job.
Habitat: Have you had any prior experience in construction work?
Carbo: In 1980, I bought a sixfamily building in Yonkers, in which I housed my parents, my aunt and uncle, and myself, and then I rented out the other three units. I sold it in 1995. I think owning the building was the best background because it gave me a little working knowledge of what goes on with the boiler and a burner and landscaping and plumbing.
Habitat: Another component in a successful capital job is dealing with the residents, isn’t it? How do you do that?
Carbo: I like to manage expectations, which is what I was taught when I was in the brokerage business. You don’t wait for your client to call you and say, “What happened here?” You let them know. With this new elevator project we’re just starting, I’m trying to put up informative bulletins saying this is what’s going on and this why the water will be shut off. Then people understand. It’s very important, managing expectations.