Jim Quaranto, a native of White Plains, attended the Hartt School, a performing arts conservatory at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. A music teacher at Fieldstone Middle School in Montvale, N.J., he moved into Dove Court Owners, a 130-unit, six-building garden-style complex in Croton-on-Hudson in 1987. Quaranto, who has been board president for more than 20 years, spoke with Habitat about how Dove Court has evolved, his co-op duties and his hands-on style.
Scaling up. Seven years after I moved to Dove Court, I was approached by a board member who was leaving and was invited to join. At the time I was told, “Oh, the job is as little or as much as you make of it,” and that I could just get involved to whatever degree I wanted. Then a project would come up, and I’d volunteer for this committee or that. I was always the one who raised my hand and said, “Sure, I can look into it.” When the board president stepped down in 1999, no one else on the board really wanted to replace her, so I volunteered. That was how it started. Little did I know that “as little as I want” would become a lot. But I like it that way.
Odd jobs. Back then we didn’t have a super. Another board member and I were responsible for doing a lot of little things on the property, like changing doorknobs, replacing light bulbs or fixing a locked mailbox. I would also collect the quarters from the washers and dryers — we have 44 of them total — and then count up the coins and take them to the bank.
About 20 years ago, we decided to hire a super. There was a handyman who was working for our management company, the Ferrara Management Group, at other buildings who we liked a lot, so we asked him to come work for us exclusively, and he’s been with us ever since. Around the same time, the board made the decision to bring in a laundry company. We interviewed three companies and narrowed it down to one, which is now called CSC Service Works. But before we signed a contract, I kept saying, “Wait a minute, we don’t know how good their service or their machines are.” I asked the owner so many questions that he said he could tell me what other buildings used their machines and that I was welcome to go try them out. I got my bag of laundry and went to this co-op in Mount Kisco and did just that.
Passing muster. The machines were quiet, had big tubs and did a great job. We worked out a deal where the company took out our old machines, which were in various stages of repair and disrepair, and put in new ones as well as all new vents. It also paid a $10,000 signing bonus to come onto our property because, you know, we’re so large. The company pays us a monthly fee and has a bottom line of how much they need to earn from the machines. Anything above that threshold is remunerated back to the co-op.
Repeat performance. I also got pretty involved when we needed to replace all our windows and the sliding glass doors on the apartment balconies. We brought in a number of vendors, but most of them had vinyl products, which I don’t like because over the years they fade, yellow and start to sag. There was one company that used aluminum, and again I asked so many questions that the owner invited me to visit the factory in Long Island. Everything there is custom made, and they took me through the whole manufacturing process and answered all my questions. I was more than satisfied, and we went with them. The whole project cost about $500,000. We had enough money in our reserves that we took out $250,000 to pay for half, and the other half was passed along as an assessment to shareholders, who had the option of paying it all up front or a monthly fee over a two-year period.
Timing is everything. We also recently replaced all six of our gas boilers at about $75,000 each, and as well as the roofs on all six buildings, which cost about $500,000. Both jobs were done over a four-year period. We brought in an engineer who inspected each roof to determine its remaining lifespan, and then we prioritized which buildings needed to be done right away and which ones could hold off for a few years. That way we could pay for it in stages as the work was needed. We just finished our last roof in the summer of 2021.
Money matters. Aside from the window and sliding glass door projects, we haven’t had to impose assessments. That’s because our accountant goes over our income and expenses, gives us a projected budget for the upcoming year, and we decide what capital projects we are going to tackle. So a few years before we knew we had to start doing the roofs, we built the costs into our maintenance increases. Our maintenance isn’t high to begin with, but even so we try to stick to increases between 1.5% to 2%. We also refinanced our mortgage, which had a very high interest of 8% or 9%, and we put the money we saved into the reserves for capital projects and routine repairs.
Vested interest. If you ask me what’s the secret to a successful board, I’d say there are two. The first is surrounding yourself with good people, whether it’s your accountant or attorney, your management company or super, and especially your contractors. It’s all about having a good rapport.
Second, your goal should be to help make shareholders happy where they live. I interview all potential buyers, and I always ask, “What made you choose Dove Court?” And they always say, “Oh, we looked at a lot of co-ops and liked you because the grounds are so beautiful and the buildings are so well maintained.” We’re thrifty and careful about spending, but we don’t buy cheap. If we have a choice between faux brass doorknobs and the real thing, we get brass because it’s beautiful and will last forever. We splurge on little things, like planting flowers in the spring, which may seem small but are important because people want to see where their money is going.
Putting in the hours. We have seven members on our board, and I certainly delegate, but I honestly don’t mind shouldering the lion’s share. As a teacher, I have my vacations, and I have free time. And to be honest, it gives me something to do during the summer.