New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

A green roof isn't a roof garden — access is usually limited to weed-pulling and other maintenance. Many buildings with green roofs keep their roof doors locked and let staff or volunteers go up once or twice a week to pick weeds (and maybe, as a little perk, bring a book and relax for a while).

A green roof — that is, a layer of vegetation that covers your entire roof — can help keep your building cool, reduce rainwater flooding and pollution, and clean the air. It's a costly but effective way to make your building more environmentally friendly. It's not for everyone, but if your board is considering a green roof, here's what you need to know. 

No good deed goes unpunished. Many times, boards are subjected to second-guessing and criticism unfairly. Sometimes they are even accused of being too shortsighted, of not being open to suggestions from other shareholders, and even of getting paid or, worse, paid off by someone. Everyone's a critic. Anyone who has ever served on a co-op or condo board in New York can attest to it.

Being on a board is hard work, and sometimes shareholders make it more rigorous than it already is. This can be damaging to the building if board members get tired of putting up with unnecessary grief and leave. After all, who needs the aggravation if you can't do the job? There's good news, though. There are some steps boards can take to keep the peace.

Bank statements, Social Security numbers, birth dates. Are they secure? And if they are not, are you protected?

It's time to talk about cyber insurance.

"One of the big misconceptions in real estate is that because they aren't a retail store conducting online transactions, [co-ops and condos] don't have cyber exposure. But if they store personal information, they have exposure," says Jim O'Neill of the New Empire Group, a company that offers cyber insurance for co-ops, condos, and property managers. If that data lands in the wrong hands, the co-op has liability that can cost the building thousands of dollars in legal fees and/or settlement costs.

As a result, building associations and property managers are picking up cyber insurance, since any company that keeps personal information is responsible for protecting that data. Breaches are costly and not covered under traditional protections, such as Directors & Officers liability or crime insurance.

At the Brevard, a co-op with more than 400 units on East 54th Street, Forbes-Ergas Design Associates relocated the concierge desk to a more central location and added several closets directly behind the desk. Although it looks like an elegant wood-paneled wall, the structure is actually quite functional, hiding the closets that contain packages, dry-cleaning, and even laundry bags, which can be stored within easy reach of the concierge.

Another issue is that the amount of information that can be provided to the concierge and to residents is expanding. Part of this comes from improved security monitors and cameras that can better cover the hallways, elevators, and other parts of the building. Monitors can be placed within the desk so that a concierge is sitting or standing behind or just over them.

Where curb appeal is concerned, first impressions are key. And what stronger first impression to potential buyers in a co-op or condo can there be than the doorman and the uniform he wears?

Uniforms — or lack of them — were a big issue at the Butterfield House, a Greenwich Village co-op on 12th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. When the roughly 100-unit property was the victim of a water main break in 2014, the building's lobby and basement were flooded, and the doormen's work clothing destroyed. The door staff was without uniforms, so making the most out of a bad situation, the board considered an unusual idea: ditching the traditional look and going with classy suits.

The idea of heading to the local watering hole to unwind after a long day or an even longer week certainly has its appeal for many. But it's one thing to go to a bar, and quite another to live anywhere near one. Trust us, some of us know. Take Wednesday, for example, typically a work night for the 9-to-5 set. It's 11 p.m. and you're ready to tuck in for the night because you have to be up at 6 in the morning. Except that it's karaoke night at the bar across the street, that one guy is singing "Ice Ice Baby" for the millionth time, and the revolving door of smokers talking and laughing without a care in the world will carry on until 3 a.m. or so. A group of residents who live along the perimeter of Seward Park, who are reportedly part of the SPaCE block association, know all about living near bars. They live near three of them. Three bars located within two blocks. A proposal for a fourth establishment, a Mexican restaurant with a full liquor license and a 4 a.m. closing time, reports Bowery Boogie, has fueled the group to launch a grassroots campaign to stop it from opening. "Flyers were littered around the vicinity this weekend ahead of tonight’s Community Board 3 meeting of the SLA subcommittee. The message is simple — no more bars for Essex Street." This is why when you live near a bar it's a good idea to invest in a white noise machine.

Josh Fox has been on the board of the 206-unit condominium at 340 East 23rd Street for the entire seven-year life of the building, and president for the last three. In that time, he has proven himself a certain kind of board member, one who is more than a board member. He acts more like manager — a take-charge guy who has obsessively turned the idea of money-saving into an art form. Among his accomplishments: he has negotiated lower utility rates with the gas and electric companies; found a different bank to lower banking fees and interest rates; found a new landscaping company at a reduced cost; reupholstered outdated building furniture to avoid replacement costs; started e-mailing building documents to board members instead of printing them; and has instituted a dozen other practices intended to decrease costs and/or increase revenues. Such actions shouldn't be surprising, either: Fox is the founder and CEO of a company called Bottom Line, which analyzes nonprofit corporations and municipalities and helps them control their costs.

A READER ASKS: I'm a doorman in a midsize co-op in Yonkers. I read your article about how boards can back up the concierge when a building resident puts him in an awkward position about the building rules. I really identified with it, especially because we have one of those building carts that building residents can use to take packages and groceries up to their apartments. That's what my problem is about. We only have one cart, and some people will take it and then not return it. Others wheel it back into the elevator and leave it in there, but don't call me at the desk to let me know so I can grab it and put it away — which can be annoying to anyone else using the elevator. When the cart goes missing and someone else needs it, I have to scramble to track it down while apologizing to the frustrated tenant. What can I do to improve this process and prevent the cart from vanishing? How can I get the residents to cooperate? 

You might say it was fun while it lasted. The luxury market was on fire, and developers were testing those one percent waters to see how high prices could climb. As 2014 drew to a close, however, experts warned that the bubble would burst and a slowdown would begin. Sure enough, old man winter did manage to slow everything down. And now, as the Daily News reports, it looks like developers are getting "real about real-estate prices." That's right. Developers are slashing prices by as much as 25 percent. That sure sounds like a lot, but of course when you're not a gazillionaire, there simply isn't much difference between $40 million and $29.95 million or between $110 million and $82 million. It's interesting to see, however, that even the super rich, who arguably according to many have money to burn, can spot when something is overpriced. You can't blame the developers for trying their luck, though. The Daily News calls it "the real-estate equivalent of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks" and quotes one developer as saying, "at the beginning of the sales process, you have nothing to lose when you list your penthouse at a pie-in-the-sky price." You never know when someone rich enough is going to bite.

Who doesn't like a good story? Especially when it's a juicy bit of gossip about an author, a former celebrity, a famous photographer, or the man who founded Random House. Well, it looks like luxury property owners and their brokers have noticed, and according to the Daily News, they are doing some homework and learning about "the fascinating — and sometimes salacious — histories of their listings in an effort to catch attention in a competitive market." Brokers told the Daily News that while "factoids [about who's lived there or filmed a well-known movie there] didn't make the properties any more attractive to live in, but they increased attention to the listings, differentiating them from other buildings of the same ilk." And brokers aren't targeting only the starstruck, either. There's some fodder, too, for literati who still make it a point of walking along 44th Street to catch a glimpse of the bronze plaque in the front of the Algonquin Hotel bearing the names of its Round Table elite, which includes writer, wit, and satirist Dorothy Parker. Take, for example, the "140-year-old brownstone at 132 E. 62nd St. with a rich literary history. It turns out that Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf and his wife, actress turned "Dr. Seuss" editor Phyllis Fraser Cerf, bought the property from the Barnes family — of Barnes & Noble fame — for just $20,000 in 1941. After that, the couple hosted a who's who of New York scholars and celebrities, including William Faulkner [and] Truman Capote." Depending on the history, not to mention the tastes of potential buyers, this could make selling a learning experience on both sides. It's nice to get to really know the city. But of course, the technique will hardly be compelling if we're talking about someone who dated the assistant of some photographer who ended up marrying a person who wrote some self-help books a decade ago. 

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Learn all the basics of NYC co-op and condo management, with straight talk from heavy hitters in the field of co-op or condo apartments

Professionals in some of the key fields of co-op and condo board governance and building management answer common questions in their areas of expertise

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