Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on May 23, 2018
When Eileen Falk decided to stop renting and buy a home back in 2004, her accountant and attorney advised her to steer clear of Fairfield House, a 49-unit co-op in Great Neck. “They said it wasn’t financially sound,” recalls Falk, a veteran real-estate broker. “But I’d been involved in a lot of conversions, and I told them I would make it sound.”
So she purchased an apartment and promptly discovered that her accountant and attorney knew what they were talking about. “The board hadn’t done any maintenance increases, and the reserve fund was very low,” Falk says. “It wasn’t an active board, but the building needed work.” To finance the overdue work, the board was forced to raise maintenance by a stiff 24 percent in the year and a half after Falk arrived. Something had to change. Falk ran for the board and got elected.
“One of the first things we decided to do was stop the maintenance increases,” Falk recalls. “And all seven board members agreed that we were not going to let our reserve fund go below $350,000.”
But first they had to get the reserve fund up to that figure – which they did by refinancing the underlying mortgage, then converting a vacant commercial space into an apartment and selling it for more than $200,000. The board also let the super go and promoted the porter, Fahri Azemi, to the job.
In the dozen years she has served on the board – she’s now president – Falk has overseen replacement of the four-story building’s lone elevator, its gas boiler’s burner, and the windows. When the board decided to redo the hallways earlier this year, the benefits of a healthy reserve fund became apparent. So did the board’s decisiveness.
“We’ve tried forming design committees in the past,” says Falk, “but people would rather complain than do. We decided to redo the hallways without getting too many people involved. All seven board members agreed on the wallpaper and carpets – with the help of our designer. It gets to be too much when everybody gets a say.”
The designer is Tina Tilzer, owner of Art & Interiors in Syosset. While the hallway renovation was in progress, some shareholders expressed a desire for more colorful details, possibly works of art. “It wasn’t in the budget because they still want to redo the lobby,” Tilzer says. “So we did a patterned wall covering as you exit the elevator that looks like a piece of art. It gave residents a feeling of pop.” As for dealing with the board, Tilzer adds, “This was a great board. I like a board that’s excited and doesn’t dwell on things. They were very easy to work with.”
The co-op’s property manager, Don Einsidler, president of Einsidler Management, agrees. “Redoing hallways and lobbies can be daunting,” he says, “and committees tend to get hung up on their own personal taste. Sometimes less is more. Going with a good designer – with board input – is a way to reach a consensus without too much dissension.”
The project is nearing completion and will come in close to its $250,000 budget, which was paid out of that healthy reserve fund. The board recently refinanced the mortgage it had refinanced back in 2005, again with National Cooperative Bank. In addition to the $2,050,000 mortgage, the board took out a $250,000 line of credit, which will be used only for emergencies. The mortgage comes with reduced monthly payments and a $400,000 infusion to the reserve fund. “It’s a beautiful thing,” says Einsidler.
Back in 2004, Eileen Falk told her accountant and her attorney that she would make Fairfield House sound. She has proven true to her word.
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – DESIGNER: Art & Interiors. PROPERTY MANAGER: Einsidler Management. CONTRACTOR: Tovmode Painting and Wall Covering. LENDER: National Cooperative Bank.
Co-op and condo board business broken down into bite-sized bits - 2 stories each week. Read now on all digital devices.
A free digital resource for co-op/condo board directors. Published twice a month. Read now on all digital devices.