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Forests Can Rejoice: Paperless Applications Are Here To Stay

Marianne Schaefer in Green Ideas on May 4, 2017

New York City

Online Applications
May 4, 2017

New legislative proposals in New York City and Albany are designed to speed up the co-op purchase application process. Online applications are already causing the pace to accelerate – and they’re gaining widespread acceptance.

One new kid on the block is Jim Brune with his electronic application program called BoardPackager. Brune, a real estate agent with the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman, recalls that one day, while trying to assemble eight paper copies of a 500-page application package, everything went wrong: “I had two copiers running in the office, and both eventually jammed and broke. The package was due the next day, so I had to run across the street to Staples to finish copying 4,000 sheets of paper that cost hundreds of dollars to produce, which I then had to hand-deliver to the property management company. I thought with the current technology, there must be a more efficient way.”

Brune collaborated with property management companies to understand the process once an application package is received, and he surveyed the market of already existing online platforms. “I didn’t see anything that was all-in-one,” he says. “I felt there was an opportunity to create a strong, versatile, secure, and universal platform that eliminated the pain everyone feels in this process. So, I assembled a dedicated team of partners and we created BoardPackager."

Brune approached Jeffrey Hummel, chief tech officer at Douglas Elliman. In March, Douglas Elliman started using BoardPackager to deliver paperless applications to board members. So far they have submitted 70 electronic applications. “I do notice that boards are getting much more accepting, even of things like digital signatures,” says Hummel. “Not many board members are still printing out electronic applications. Once they see that there is the benefit of less paper and less storage in their file cabinets, that it’s easier to read on any electronic device, phone, tablet, laptop, they come around. The adoption is definitely picking up.”

The management company FirstService Residential started using its proprietary online application process 10 years ago. It was bumpy in the beginning. “The learning curve was challenging at times,” says Dan Wurtzel, president of FirstService Residential. “I cannot say everything was smooth or perfect. Some clients just don’t like the change. We had training and information sessions, but over time board members started to see the advantage. Right now 90 percent of our clients are using the online platform.”

There are more advantages to online applications than just getting rid of huge stacks of paper. An application has a life from the time it is submitted until it gets reviewed and processed by the board. “Board members can see in real time where that application is,” says Wurtzel. “Sometimes an application is not complete, there are emails, and [a record of] the time when a document was requested or received. Or somebody is sitting on an application for weeks, not doing his or her job. Any board member who has access to the program can see that kind of information and knows where the application is in the process.”

Another advantage of online applications is security. “You can’t encrypt or password-protect paper,” says Brune. “Paper, flash drives, and even file-sharing platforms are not as secure as BoardPackager. We consider security to be of utmost importance.” BoardPackager uses the same security protocol as banks to secure personal identifiable information. In addition, an application can be set to disappear from the board member’s dashboard when the process is completed. Nothing to shred, nothing to dispose of.

The learning curve for board members is, however, somewhat hampered by the fact that there are several online application programs in use, including ApplyPort, The Laurel, and ApplySmart. As a result, board members will have to get used to slightly different online application programs.

But Brune says paper applications will soon be a thing of the past. “Applications are now processed faster,” he says. “A board member doesn’t even have to be around to receive the paper copy. There is no more paper for boards to receive, track or dispose of.”

The nice people at Staples are probably not pleased by this news.

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