Jonathan Leaf in Bricks & Bucks
A decade ago, paperless applications for prospective buyers of co-op and condo apartments seemed like a futuristic fantasy. Today, they’re an increasingly common reality, one that’s saving boards money, time, trouble – and a few forests worth of paper.
Many of the newest products are being introduced through property management companies. Mark Levine, a partner at EBMG, provides online application apps on a separate website. “It's a way to improve service,” Levine says. "Brokers like it and applicants do, too. And it saves time. Typically we had to take things from an application and then re-enter [the information]." Now applicants can go to the website and get the forms on which they provide their buyer information, including their financial statements; they can also download the proprietary lease, the house rules, the bylaws, two years of audited financial statements, and the most recent tax deductions. And not a single tree has to die.
This is not completely new. Back in 2008, OnlineBuildings offered a simple software product that allowed customers to download pdfs of application forms. Today, by comparison, the company’s integrated application is entirely electronic, and Peter Friebe, OnlineBuildings' president, notes that the firm's app is handling applications for more than 800 buildings in the New York area.
And that appears to be just the beginning. The company started out developing its software for one client, Cooper Square, and then expanded from that to Cooper's purchaser, FirstService Residential. OnlineBuildings has signed up several new customers for its proprietary system this year, including Rose Associates, Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property.
That isn't to say that they will lack for competitors. Indeed, new entrants, like the Brooklyn-based BoardPackager, which plans an October release for a finished version of its product, are already trying to muscle in.
While many co-op and condo boards were initially uneasy about the shift to online applications, they appear to be increasingly gratified now that they see what the products can do. Matt Ferraro, a board member at a co-op in Forest Hills, Queens, explains that their new app "streamline[s] the process of viewing incoming sales and leasing applications while also ensuring that all personal information is kept private and secure, due to their encrypted download areas."
That last advantage is a particular selling point. Jim Brune, the founder of BoardPackager, says that these apps are "absolutely" more secure than the present process in which large amounts of data are sent via unsecured emails, or in easy-to-copy paper versions.
In fact, Brune's interest in the business was piqued by his experience of applying for a co-op in Brooklyn three years ago. "I was trying to put together a board package," he says, "and I was faxing documents, FedEx'ing stuff, getting notarizations, scanning and couriering papers. I knew there was a better way."
The cost of the apps varies. OnlineBuildings says it's charging a $50 per application fee, while BoardPackager says it's using a "firm-specific" fee structure. Both are customizable and designed for use on phones as well as PCs and tablets.
Friebe says that he was approached about building his first paperless application system by Cooper Square's David Kuperberg about a decade ago. Kuperberg told Friebe that when he’d run the idea by Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran, her response was: "That's the future."
Well, welcome to the future.
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