When Laura Denise Milkowski was attending the Fashion Institute of Technology some years ago, she never dreamed she would wind up in real estate. But in 2000, she started buying and selling properties, and now she’s both a landlord and an associate broker. She’s also president of the board at her 31-unit condo in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood, where she and her husband moved shortly after the building opened in 2007.
Habitat: What drew you to DUMBO?
Milkowski: The area was booming with new construction, and it was going to be the new hot area. So we looked at all the available properties, and this one was a little bit quieter, a little bit off the beaten path, which is nice.
Habitat: Tell me about this project of yours.
Milkowski: The developer put in a PTAC [Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner, a gas-powered heating, and air-conditioning system], and the machines are loud and inefficient. Imagine watching TV and the PTAC kicks on and you have to increase the volume! They needed to be replaced. The board tried several solutions that would allow all units to upgrade. It took years. Either the solutions cost too much, or we couldn’t find what we needed.
Habitat: What was the main problem?
Milkowski: When you have a system already in place, changing it is a big deal, like changing plumbing. It’s very complicated because the people are living there. It wasn’t an easy job since we had to figure out the placement of the condenser units, applicable power, and we had to run condensate lines throughout the building.
Habitat: What was going on with the unit-owners?
Milkowski: We needed a majority vote of unit-owners to put in the new air-conditioning units. Because the PTACs were constantly breaking and were noisy, inefficient, and outdated, the vote to approve the plan was easy.
Habitat: How did you finance it?
Milkowski: It was a decent expense, and the treasurer suggested that we take out a loan, so we obtained a loan. Each unit could either pay in full or pay in installments.
Habitat: What was the hardest part of the job?
Milkowski: The biggest challenge was finding a contractor. I mean, we actually found a company where the owner is very familiar with the system we bought. The contractor we worked with gave us a great price and was capable of thinking outside the box as he had a lot of experience as well as a deep understanding of what the DOB [the Department of Buildings] would and would not permit. There were many steps to the process, and we needed access to all 31 units a minimum of seven times over the course of a year.
Habitat: Were you very involved?
Milkowski: Well, it’s just my personality. I’m very logistical like this is Step 1 and this is Step 2. I also know the nature of people in the buildings as far as who’s going to cooperate and who’s not. Finally, I didn’t think it was fair to people in the building to have a contractor knocking on their door, cold. I kind of gave myself the role of project manager and kept everyone informed. You really have to have someone there trying to make the whole experience as pleasant as possible.
Habitat: What lessons did you learn?