New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Running an Art Deco Co-op Isn't All Glamor

Paula Chin in Board Operations on January 24, 2020

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Art Deco buildings, co-op board, assessments, capital projects.
Jan. 24, 2020

Monty Freeman, an architect and member of the co-op board at the Master Apartments on Riverside Drive at 103rd Street, knows that caring for a 1929 Art Deco masterpiece is a balancing act. “We have to prioritize what would be nice architecture-wise, and what’s urgent and essential,” Freeman explains. 

Most recently, prosaic plumbing problems have been at the top of the must-do list. “It’s the bane of our existence,” says Wendy Balter, the board president. While the Master has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars replacing pipes and installing flow-control valves, it’s still an ongoing process. In addition, the two boilers had to be replaced, as did the building’s four elevators, at a combined $1 million-plus price tag.

Facade work and weatherproofing are other constant issues, since the building, which is perched above the Hudson, is blasted by rain and river winds, making it vulnerable to water penetration. Repairing the exterior, which has elaborate brickwork in six varying colors, requires finding the right shades that are up to the standards of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The building was designated a city landmark in 1969 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fortunately, the board has done its math when it comes to financing. A total of $300,000 a year is set aside for capital improvements, money that is generated by an extra fee tacked onto maintenance charges. In addition, the building, which was converted to a co-op in 1988, took out a large mortgage when interest rates were low, which has helped keep reserves healthy.

Smart spending is also part of the  plan. “We’re very careful with expenditures,” explains Balter, a Columbia University business school graduate who is now president of a pharmaceutical company. “We always get triple bids on any project over $5,000, and if it still costs more than we thought, we will try another approach. It takes time and effort, but with more information, you get better value.” 

As a result, there have been no assessments, and only modest maintenance hikes of no more than 5 percent. “Like most older Upper West Side conversions, a lot of people who bought in are now on fixed incomes,” says Balter. “We’re always trying not to spring any financial surprises that would be a hardship for them and instead do predictable, steady increases, which we explain to shareholders at annual meetings and through our newsletter. I think people appreciate it.” 

Don Skupinsky, vice president at Orsid Realty, who manages the property, certainly does. “The board members are really good listeners, and residents know they share their concerns,” he says. “At the same time, they’re always looking to rectify issues. What can be done today make the building better tomorrow, they do, especially when it comes to preventive maintenance. That’s worth its weight in gold.”

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