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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



Tracking Alterations

It’s complicated. Apartment alterations are a staple of life, and most boards have implemented alteration agreements designed to get the work done as quickly and painlessly as possible. But with so many moving parts — the board, shareholder or unit-owner, neighbors, contractors, city agencies — snags have become a staple of apartment alterations. 


New Bedford Management set about to build a better process for tracking alterations. “In the past, agreements involved an overwhelming amount of information moving between all the parties, and communication wasn’t smooth,” says Andras Joo, head of the owner’s representation and alterations department. “We needed a system that would feed information to one main database where each party can see what everybody else is doing. We needed to get rid of the possibility of things getting overlooked — and get rid of hundreds of emails going back and forth.”


Software solution. Joo and his team turned to Six Sigma, a data-driven process designed to eliminate mistakes and improve systems that was developed by a scientist working for Motorola in the 1980s. Entities ranging from Microsoft to county governments have used Six Sigma, which involves five steps: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. New Bedford developed a web portal that centralized and streamlined the unruly tentacles of the apartment alteration process. A staffer in the company operates the dashboard for the 150 co-ops and condos in New Bedford’s portfolio. The proprietary software is available to all clients at no extra charge. 


One of the earliest adopters was the Dearborn, a 101-unit prewar co-op in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where two shareholders used the portal earlier this year when they set out to renovate their kitchens and bathrooms. “It really expedites the application process for shareholders,” says Yolande Balgobin, the president of the co-op board. “The portal puts everything in one spot and tells them exactly what’s needed — fees, deposits, permits, insurance, information on the contractors who are working for them. There’s a list of Frequently Asked Questions and a checklist at the end of the agreement. It makes the process less challenging.”


When Carrie Tahler and Noah Samton bought a condo apartment on the Upper West Side, they made the mistake of moving out of their old apartment before closing on their new one. “Once we closed, we were desperate to get the place in shape by sanding and staining the floors and painting the entire apartment, but we realized we didn’t have an approved alteration agreement,” Samton says. “We did the initial input into the software, and New Bedford got everything approved. Everything came together really fast.”


Mission accomplished. Such stories are music to Joo’s ears. “As of today,” he says, “the turnaround times of approvals have been reduced to one-fourth of what they were before, and delays and backlogs of long-pending applications have almost completely disappeared.”

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