Bill Morris and Kaya Laterman in Board Operations on May 31, 2019
The pre-war brick building at at 230 East 71st Street was converted from a rental to a co-op in 1979. Forty years later, astonishingly, it still has two of its original board members as well as its original management company, Buchbinder & Warren. One of the most telling accomplishments of this long marriage may be the institution of a 1 percent flip tax in the late 1980s.
With the city stabilizing after some rough years and with real estate values rising, Eileen Russell, one of the original board members and now its vice president, began promoting a flip tax as a way to operate without raising monthly maintenance or levying assessments. “The board asked Buchbinder & Warren to send around a flier,” Russell says, “and take a poll and see if people wanted a flip tax. People who were planning to move didn’t go for it.”
Undaunted, Russell made a list of all the people who voted no, then she went to work. “I knocked on every door,” she says. “Most of us are working professional people, and most of the people stayed for 20, 30 years, or more. All I had to do was talk to them one-on-one and explain that if we had a flip tax, we won’t have to raise maintenance. They could see the value of guarding against an increase. It was for the health of the co-op.” The second time around, the flip tax passed. It has since been doubled to 2 percent.
One key to the success of this 40-year marriage, all parties agree, is that size matters – and this co-op and its managing company are a good fit. “A big management company isn’t necessarily best for a co-op like ours, with talented people on the board who are willing to do some of the legwork,” says Bob Booher, another original board member and the current president. “A big company is not going to put a senior person on a building like ours.” He adds that he knows everyone on the staff at Buchbinder & Warren, and the co-op’s current manager, Dawn Harris, is just the third in the co-op’s history. That’s a good definition of continuity.
Despite the good fit, there has been occasional talk over the years about ending the marriage. “People on the board have talked about looking at a different management company and maybe saving some money,” Russell says. “But when I looked around, I heard horror stories. We knew we were lucky, so we decided to stay with Buchbinder & Warren.”
Booher adds: “We’ve had overtures from other managing agents. But when you look at Buchbinder & Warren’s depth of experience taking care of an older Upper East Side building that is not considered luxury, they stand out.”
Rosemary Paparo, the co-op’s first manager and now the director of management at Buchbinder & Warren, understands that the urge to stray is part of many marriages. “There’s always the reality that no matter how long your relationship is with a building, there’s a chance people will want to change,” she says. “We do the same thing with our preferred vendors and contractors. You have to keep your eyes open.”
And so, with eyes wide open, this marriage marches toward its golden anniversary. It’s a natural time for both parties to reflect on what has kept them together so long – and what might be missing from relationships between other boards and management companies.
“A board works best when power doesn’t sit with one or two people but is shared among many,” Paparo says. “I’ve worked with a lot of boards where people have their own agendas, promoting this cause or that cause. Eileen and Bob look at the big picture of what’s best for the building. Beyond that, we’ve always tried to be a good source of information for them. We say: ‘This is the problem as we see it. This is the option we recommend, and why. But it’s up to you to decide.’ We put in the grunt work, and we try to guide them.”
Russell adds: “It’s all about listening to the other person. We listen to them, and they listen to us. And we respect one another.”
And Booher has his own theory about the secret to the success of this 40-year marriage: “It’s a couple of things. We got married young. And No. 2, we endured some of the roughest times in the history of this city together. We’ve grown together over the years. It’s not a complacent relationship. What’s remarkable is that both sides have mutual respect.”
The last time the co-op’s management contract came up for renewal, Booher asked his fellow board members if anyone had a problem with Buchbinder & Warren. “The answer,” he reports, “was no.”
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