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The First Baby Steps of a 40-Year-Old Co-op

Bill Morris and Kaya Laterman in Board Operations on May 7, 2019

Upper East Side, Manhattan

Perks of Continuity II

Forty years ago, this building made a smooth transition from rental to co-op (image via Google Maps).

May 7, 2019

New York City co-ops have come a long way since the wave of conversions began to crest four decades ago. Back then, the conversions were often combative affairs. But not always. After cordial negotiations with the sponsor and its management company, Buchbinder & Warren, many of the renters in the pre-war brick building at 230 East 71st Street formed a fledgling co-op under a non-eviction plan in late 1979

Then the learning began. The board’s first task was to hire a management company, and given the tenor of the conversion process, there was little debate. “There was never any doubt we wanted to continue being managed by Buchbinder & Warren,” says Bob Booher, who served on the tenant’s negotiating committee and still sits on the co-op board 40 years later. “Some management companies had slick marketing, and I talked to boards all over the neighborhood.” 

His research revealed that self-managed buildings tended to be disasters, that big management companies often neglected smaller properties, and that many of the new management companies then popping up were staffed by inexperienced people. Buchbinder & Warren presented none of those liabilities, and since the sponsor retained ownership of 10 apartments, it was in Buchbinder & Warren’s interest to make the building run well. 

But there was another reason for keeping the marriage intact. “Our manager, Rosemary Paparo, was very competent,” says Eileen Russell, who, like Booher, served on the negotiating committee and still serves on the co-op board. “She knew what to do, and she responded to your calls. She’s very smart, she knows what’s going on, and you can’t put anything over on her. Which is what we wanted.” 

After two years on the job managing the building before the conversion, Booher adds, “Rosemary knew the mechanics of the building, and she had a positive relationship with the super. She attended every board meeting. She was always available. And she grew with us.” 

Paparo would manage the building until 1984, when she left on a 10-year stint as a consultant before returning to the company, where she’s now director of management. She also eventually resumed her position as the sponsor’s rep on the seven-member co-op board, which she holds to this day. Such continuity is rare in this city of rapid flux and constant churn.

Paparo remembers those early years as a time of navigating without a lot of maps. “We were all young, and we had to educate ourselves,” she says. She attended classes and seminars put on by law firms, she developed a network of lawyers and accountants she could turn to for advice, she pored over offering plans, and she became an early reader of Habitat magazine, which debuted in May 1982, 37 years ago this month.

Co-ops were so new in the city’s real estate world that Paparo got calls from more than a few lawyers who had a question: “Are these co-op conversions a scam?” And whenever Russell’s fellow shareholders wondered if they should call the super or the landlord about a problem, she recalls, “I had to explain to many of my neighbors that we were the landlords now.” 

That may seem like a given today, but 40 years ago it was a difficult concept for a lot of people to grasp. We have, indeed, come a long way.

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