Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on October 5, 2022
Apartment alterations and combinations have become a staple of life in most New York City co-ops and condos, and most boards have implemented alteration agreements designed to get the work done as quickly and painlessly as possible. But all alteration agreements were not created equal. And with so many moving parts — the board, the unit-owner, neighbors, contractors, city permits — snags have become a staple of apartment alterations. Andras Joo decided to do something about those snags.
Last fall, Joo, head of the owner’s representation and alterations department at New Bedford Management, set about to build a better alteration agreement. He consulted with colleagues, board clients, shareholders and unit-owners, contractors, architects and the company’s web designer, Chrein.com.
“In the past,” Joo says, “alteration agreements involved an overwhelming amount of information moving between unit-owners, the board, management, engineers, plumbers, city agencies. It wasn’t very streamlined. It was a major challenge for management companies to keep that communication smooth because individual parties were not communicating with each other. We needed a system that would feed information to one main database where each party can see what everybody else is doing. We needed to get rid of the possibility that things get overlooked. And we needed to get rid of hundreds of emails going back and forth.”
Joo and his team turned to Six Sigma, a data-driven process that eliminates mistakes and improves systems that was developed by a scientist working for Motorola in the 1980s. Entities ranging from Microsoft to county governments have used Six Sigma, which involves five steps: define, measure, analyze, improve and control.
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By springtime of this year, New Bedford had developed a web portal that centralized and streamlined the unruly tentacles of the apartment alteration process. A staffer in the company operates the dashboard for the 150 co-ops and condos in New Bedford’s portfolio. The proprietary software is available to all clients at no extra charge.
One of the earliest adopters was the Dearborn, a 101-unit prewar co-op in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where two shareholders used the portal earlier this year when they set out to renovate their kitchens and bathrooms.
“This new portal really expedites the application process for shareholders,” says Yolande Balgobin, president of the co-op board. “They used to apply to the board, and sometimes they missed important things. This portal puts everything in one spot and tells them exactly what’s needed — fees, deposits, permits, insurance, information on the contractors who are working for them. There’s a list of Frequently Asked Questions and a checklist at the end of the agreement. I found it to be a very well thought out document. It makes the process less challenging.”
When Carrie Tahler and Noah Samton bought a condo apartment on the Upper West Side, they found themselves in a severe time squeeze. “We made the mistake of moving out of our old apartment before we closed on this condo,” Samton says. “Once we closed, we were desperate to get the apartment in shape before we moved in — we wanted to sand and stain the floors and paint the entire apartment. We realized we didn’t have an approved alteration agreement. We did the initial input into the software, and New Bedford got everything approved. It was unexpectedly smooth. Everything came together really fast.”
Such stories are music to Joo’s ears. “As of today,” he says, “the turnaround times of approvals have been reduced to one-fourth of what they were before, and delays and backlogs of long-pending applications have almost completely disappeared.”
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