A couple has applied to buy a co-op apartment on the Upper East Side. The co-op board is requesting three to five letters of recommendation. The couple's broker has sent sample letters, which are lengthy and gushing. Why would a co-op board want so many letters – and do purchase applicants really need to submit them?
The recommendation letter remains an integral part of the co-op application package, an oddity that is as much of an art as it is a source of misery for buyers, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. But in the quirky world of New York City real estate, there really is no way around it.
By now, buyers have assembled much of the board package, which can run hundreds of pages long and reveal their financial health in microscopic detail. The reference letters from friends and associates is a way to introduce the applicants to the co-op.
This may seem strange, arcane and a little neurotic, but a housing cooperative is a corporation, and applicants are hoping to buy shares in it. The board wants to find out what kind of shareholder – and neighbor – an applicant will be. And so they ask the applicant's friends and co-workers to dish.
“It’s a club, right?” says Lisa Chajet, an associate broker at Warburg Realty. The board members want to know: “Can you afford the dues? Are you going to fit in? And the letters really show that.”
Ideally, the letters should show the breadth of the applicant's character. Include a mix of personal and professional examples from friends, neighbors and colleagues. Your former supervisor wouldn’t be able to add much, if anything, about your spouse. But that’s to be expected. Your friend of 20 years is the one who will have a thing or two to say about your husband. Assuming each of you deliver three or four references, the collection will paint a full picture.
It may feel like a heavy lift, but you are only asking your longtime friend or co-worker to write about a page. Send them a sample letter, or even write an outline for them. Consider the request one you might make if you were applying for a big job. Your friends and close associates should know how hard it can be to get an apartment in New York City (and if they don’t, they’ll figure it out after you ask for a letter). They should be willing to say a few nice things about you to help make it happen.
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