New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community
Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on April 14, 2021
Diane Drey was among the first residents at 353 Central Park West when the 21-story condominium opened in the mid-1990s. But it wasn’t until she became president of the condo board in 2018 that she began to realize how much board members need to know – and, too often, how much they don’t know. As her self-education evolved during the building’s mandated Facade Inspection and Safety Program (FISP) repair cycle, Drey hit on an idea: she would write a book about the experience and try to share her knowledge with boards and landlords at the other 16,000 buildings in the city that must undergo this complex and costly ordeal every five years.
Think of the result as “FISP for Dummies,” though that title is off-limits due to copyright law. Besides, Drey, 64, a retired businesswoman, would never accuse her board colleagues across the city of being dumb. In need of guidance, maybe, but not dumb.
“What’s phenomenal is that facade repair is a multi-million-dollar industry, but there’s virtually no guidance for the people on boards,” she says, “They rely on their engineers and contractors. But when you know stuff on your own and you know which questions to ask, that gives you the power to negotiate better and to make much wiser decisions.”
The book covers everything from negotiating access agreements with neighboring buildings to preparing Requests for Proposals, interviewing bidders, managing projects, paying for them and dealing with residents, workers, property managers and fellow board members.
Drey (pronounced dry) started learning as soon as her condo board tackled its latest FISP project. For instance, when half a dozen contractors returned bids, there was a staggering range – from $450,000 to $750,000. So the board rebid the contract and got three more bids before settling on Castcapa Construction. Lesson learned: “Rebidding is very important because it often lowers the price,” Drey says. “We did not go with the lowest bidder. We investigated everyone’s insurance, their track records, their staffing. It’s also important to talk to each contractor to find out how they’re going to gain access to the work areas. Outrigger? Pipe scaffolding? Access can be a big part of your cost.” Other lessons:
Budgets: “Budget more money than you need – from about 15% to 20% – so you don’t have to scramble for more money later in the project.”
Access agreements: “Make sure you have access agreements worked out with all neighbors long before you start the project.”
Contractor interviews: “At least one board member should take part in the interviews with the contractors who are finalists.”
Project management: “The initial inspection is a small part of the project. What’s called contract administration – oversight of the job from beginning to end – can be significant, depending on the size of the project. So a board member or the property manager should attend every construction meeting.”
Response time: “Surprises happen, and when a board gets a change order, it needs to act. If the board sits on a change order, they’ve extended the duration of the project and the cost of overseeing the project.”
Communication: “It’s very important to communicate with the residents constantly about disruptions to life in the building.”
The latest FISP project at Drey’s condominium is now complete – it wound up costing about $525,000, which the board paid through an assessment. And the first draft of her book is nearly complete – at 120 pages that feature more than 100 photographs and 50 cartoons. Along the way she has received helpful input from the Department of Buildings, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, numerous architects, engineers, contractors, construction attorneys, project managers and other board members. As she prepares to wrap up the writing, she welcomes anecdotes, insight and advice from anyone who has been involved in FISP projects. You can reach her via email at email@example.com.
“Either I have a bestseller on my hands or the world’s greatest sleep medication,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not ‘FISP for Dummies.’ It’s the map. And I’m hoping it will be a service to the co-op and condo community.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – PROPERTY MANAGER: R.E.M. Residential. ENGINEER: Lawless + Mangione Architects/Engineers. CONTRACTOR: Castcapa Construction.
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