Paula Chin in Board Operations on April 20, 2018
The Murray Hill Crescent co-op, a 21-story, 280-unit post-war building with a distinctive curved facade, is doubly blessed – with active committees and a dogged treasurer, Scott Rifkin, an accountant with the Citco Group.
The current common-area renovation, for instance, was tackled by a seven-member committee. After narrowing its choices to three design firms, the committee conducted multiple interviews with each, then displayed the presentation boards of the winning firm on easels in the lobby to gauge the reaction from shareholders.
“Somehow, we were the last man standing,” says Joel Ergas, president of Forbes Ergas Design Associates. “This group was very into detail, very patient, and wanted to understand everything before committing to the job, rather than just buzzing through things quickly.”
Once the aesthetics were nailed down, the job was bid on by contractors. “We had the two finalists bid against each other to get the price down,” says Rifkin, the treasurer. “And even after we chose one, I spoke to them again to get their absolute best price, which turned out to be lower than what they originally offered.”
It wasn’t the first time Rifkin gave contractors an extra push. He used the same competitive bidding system to cut costs when the co-op had to do $1 million in repointing and other brickwork in 2014 and when it expanded the package room the following year. Since 2013, it has been replacing its riser lines, a $1 million project that was interrupted by the facade repairs and by the current project. “Each time we started up again, I rebid the project,” Rifkin says, “so we’ve been able to avoid any price increases in labor or materials.”
For Rifkin, no savings are too small. Mindful that water and sewer bills exceed $100,000 a year, Rifkin distributed handouts showing the cost of a slow faucet drip to encourage shareholders to speak up any time they spotted a leak. He even handed out strainers from a 99-cent store to prevent clogged drains that might gum up the building’s plumbing.
And he’s not content to place the co-op’s surplus funds into money market accounts or CDs; he always pushes to get better rates, even if it’s just a fraction. “I’ve never had a bank say no,” he says. “It’s the difference between earning a couple of thousand and tens of thousands. You’ve got to be diligent moving the money around to get the best deal.”
Rifkin’s already doing the math to pare down future spending. The co-op refinanced its underlying mortgage in 2012, taking out a $9 million, 10-year loan that slashed its interest rate from 8.75 to 3.42 percent.
“When the mortgage balloon payment is due in 2022, we will have paid nearly $5 million in principal and owe only $4 million,” Rifkin explains. “Assuming rates continue in a slow upward fashion and don’t completely skyrocket, we’ll be able to refinance, take out a few million more for our reserves and reduce our monthly payments even further.”
At a party on the roof deck recently, Rifkin received a lot of praise from shareholders. That’s great, he says, but adds: “You don’t do this job for the thanks. The combination of seeing these great projects get done and seeing the value of our apartments go up without maintenance hikes – it’s very satisfying. And it can all be done in just an hour a day. Anyone can do it.”
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