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Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Savvy Manager Cuts Cost of Elevator Job in Half

Adam Janos in Bricks & Bucks on October 4, 2017

Chelsea, Manhattan

Elevator Job

This self-managed Chelsea co-op saved half on a major elevator job (image via Google Maps)

Oct. 4, 2017

In self-managed co-ops and condos, it’s a fact of life that residents have to pitch in to keep the building running smoothly. Everything from preparing budgets to overseeing capital projects and collecting arrears – all management duties fall on the shareholders or unit-owners. Participation is a must; slackers need not apply.

Bob Waisman moved into his eight-unit Chelsea co-op in 1981, shortly after it was converted from a single-room-occupancy building. Today he’s the board’s treasurer as well as the building’s managing agent, earning a small annual salary for taking on a large workload. When the mom-and-pop diner on the building’s ground floor sprang a gas leak, Waisman was there. When the 1910 building’s wood-paneled elevator began to show its age after more than three decades of service, Waisman went to work. 

Schindler Elevator Corp., the co-op’s elevator maintenance company, advised Waisman that during an annual mandated inspection, the mechanic had discovered that the sheave – a large wheel that tightens and slackens the hoist rope – had worn down and would need to be re-grooved. As per municipal Department of Building regulations, that inspection was also attended to by a third-party witness – just one more example of the unfunded mandates driving up co-op expenses these days. After the inspection, Schindler quoted Waisman a price of $62,500 for the re-grooving – but added that they would cut 25 percent if the board signed up for a longer-term maintenance contract.

“To me,” says Waisman, “that was an outrageous price.” 

Kim Hoskins, a spokeswoman for Schindler, refuted that accusation, saying in a written statement that the price they quoted Waisman was “fair-market cost,” adding that “to describe these contract negotiations as anything other than good faith is entirely inaccurate.” 

Unswayed, Waisman pressed on. He contacted four other elevator repair companies to explore his options, leading him to TEI Group – a Long Island City-based company. With TEI’s guidance, Waisman decided to forego regrooving the wheel and instead buy a new sheave. Choosing to install a new sheave over repairing the old one reduced the project from ten days to four; the savings in labor costs brought the final price of the job down to $35,000. The money came from the co-op’s capital-improvement fund, which is fed by a flip tax of 2 percent of apartment sale prices. 

Robert Bagatta, a maintenance mechanic with TEI who serviced the elevator, says that his company’s small size makes it an asset for customers. “We have 24-hour service,” Bagatta says. “We answer calls within an hour and a half. Other companies take two or three days. We’re based in New York, so we’re right here. All my bosses are out on the street every day.” 

Bagatta estimates that TEI currently serves 2,600 buildings in the city, and that he’s personally responsible for 65 elevators cars. “That’s very small in the industry,” he says, noting that most repairmen work on 100 to 200 cars. 

Waisman sings TEI’s praises, acknowledging that fixing the co-op’s rickety old elevator, installed shortly after the 1979 conversion, can be a headache for repairmen. “There are no schematics,” Waisman says. “With new elevators, there’s hardware and software. Here it’s mostly hardware, and people who don’t have a mechanical sense have a hard time figuring out what’s wrong with it.” 

Waisman is happy with the price he got, and he offers advice for boards and property managers who might be intimidated by seemingly arbitrary pricing and solutions on offer in the world of New York building repair. 

“The key to running a good building is a good lawyer, a good accountant, knowing your vendors, and knowing who to call when you need them,” he says, adding that for any repair that costs more than $10,000, he always seeks two or three options before making a choice. “It’s not about the highest bid or the lowest bid or the intermediate bid. It’s the one I feel would do the best service. I want the best price, the best product, and the right product for the building.” 


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