Bill Morris and Kaya Laterman in Co-op/Condo Buyers on May 6, 2019
The pre-war brick building at at 230 East 71st Street was converted from a rental to a co-op in 1979, and it still has two of its original board members as well as its original management company, Buchbinder & Warren. Like any long and successful marriage, this one has experienced bumps over the years, and there have been occasional whispers about seeking a divorce. But the bond endured, and it’s still strong as it enters its fifth decade. Bob Booher, who served on the tenants’ negotiating committee and still sits on the co-op board, sums up the key to the success of this marriage: “In our case, familiarity breeds admiration.”
Rosemary Paparo was a twentysomething with some property management experience when she got hired by Buchbinder & Warren in 1977 and assigned to manage the rental property at 230 East 71st. “It was a different city,” says Paparo, now 69, who grew up on the eastern end of Long Island. One difference, she says with a laugh, is that “anyone who could read and write could get a job in property management.”
A much more serious difference was that the then-president of the United States had recently suggested that debt- and crime-plagued New York City should drop dead. While the Yankees were playing in that year’s World Series, the Bronx was burning. The Arab oil embargo had caused the price of heating oil to spike. Residents were fleeing the city, and many landlords were either torching or abandoning their money-losing buildings. Others, desperate to find renters and turn their properties around, began to explore a different option.
“People were just starting to think about converting these rental properties to co-ops,” says Paparo. Two of those pioneers were her bosses, Norman Buchbinder and Gene Warren, native New Yorkers who were determined to help their city survive those tough times. They managed the building on behalf of the owner, Eight Associates, in which they were also partners, and they offered the renters at 230 East 71st the chance to buy their apartments as part of a non-eviction plan. This meant that residents who did not opt to join the co-op could continue to rent.
Booher, a commercial real-estate broker, was joined by his neighbor Eileen Russell, a documentary filmmaker, on the tenants’ committee that negotiated with the sponsor. Across the table sat Buchbinder and Paparo. Such negotiations were often slugfests, but in this case they were civilized, even amicable.
“My interactions with the people in the building were very cordial,” Paparo says, “and Norman Buchbinder had a good relationship with most of the people. He was an ethical, honest person. His word was his bond. That set the tone for the relationship between the management company and the co-op.”
(Norman Buchbinder died in 2007, and Gene Warren died in 2017. Today the company is headed by Buchbinder’s daughters, Susan and Lori.)
Booher corroborates Paparo’s assessment. “Norman Buchbinder was largely regarded as a straight shooter and an honest guy,” he says. “He and Rosemary were very honest and direct, and we all got favorable terms.”
Russell, who joined Booher on the co-op’s first board, adds: “Norman would never argue. He would explain things. He wasn’t one to push your buttons, and he wasn’t interested in making the last dollar. He wanted the building to run well as a co-op.”
Under the conversion plan, Russell was able to buy her one-bedroom apartment for $21,600. Today, property records show, one-bedroom units in the building sell for $550,000 to $590,000. But before those initial investments could appreciate 20-fold, the co-op had to get off the ground.
Coming tomorrow: a co-op is born.
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