New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Insider Guide

HABITAT

NEW YORK CITY

If you see dead people, try to get them to pay. It's a fruitless task. "Dead men tell no tales," goes the pirate mantra, and, as boards have discovered, they don't pay bills, either. That could be a problem, especially if the case goes to probate court.

This particular difficulty starts when residents die, leaving no direct heirs. Cooperative and condominium boards find they are no longer dealing with a neighbor but with a byzantine judicial system.

The estates have been passed on to the courts and the judges who run them. This can tie up money needed to pay maintenance and usage fees, which could end up — as the months it takes to settle the estate drag on — placing previously solvent units in arrears.

Why should that make you worry? 

A fire escape is a critical part of a building's emergency plans. You hope you never have to use it; but if you do, it needs to be ready and reliable. When's the last time you took a look at yours?

A fire escape is exposed to the elements. Because it is typically made of metal, it rusts and deteriorates. That's why it's important to develop a maintenance game plan to keep it in good, safe working order. You want to avoid replacing the whole kit and caboodle.

However, if your fire escape is starting to look dilapidated, it's time to bring in an engineer to assess whether it's structurally sound.

Speaking of condos, they may be heading to Greenpoint in the nearish future. Brownstowner reports that the New Warsaw Bakery Company, located at 585 Manhattan Avenue, has sold for $8.7 million. Although no demolition permits have been filed for the two-story brick building, "plans call for a seven-story, 14-unit building with two towers." Brownstowner guesses it may be condos. Although this is more good news to potential condo buyers, it's a little sad to that it's at the cost of losing "a piece of Polish Greenpoint" — indeed, part of what makes the neighborhood so charming in the first place. But you know what they say. Location, location, location — and it's little wonder that Chatham Development Company snapped up the 10,000-square-foot piece of prime real estate that stretches all the way through to Lorimer Street between Nassau and Driggs avenues. 

Even if you've never had bedbugs, you know how difficult they are to eradicate. Never mind the stigma of having rats in a building, having bedbugs is downright mortifying. Even if you successfully get rid of them, the horrible little bloodsuckers haunt you — if not for life, then certainly for a long, long time. After all, the experts all caution you that they can lie dormant for up to a year, that they can survive even in something as inhospitable as a printer or an air conditioner… What if, when you were told to pack all your things to protect them from fumigation, you inadvertently packed away a survivor? Itching yet? Well, there's hope in the horizon, thanks to Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries, who endured 18,000 bedbug bites in five years for science. According to an article on Business Insider, Gries and her husband, Gerhard, teamed up with chemist Robert Britton, also of Simon Fraser to try to find the secret to trapping them. "Like humans and other animals, bedbugs produce and detect distinct smells… [and] use these odors to communicate." Recreate the scent, and GOTCHA! Business Insider reports that the key ingredient in this bedbug perfume, if you will, is histamine, "which could freeze the bedbugs in their tracks … the same chemical produced by our white blood cells as part of our immune response." The trio is still working on their solution, so we have to wait a little more yet. But isn't that something? Science: It works.  

Paul Vercesi has been living in his apartment on Gramercy Park for more than half a century and is now president of the co-op’s board of directors. After all those years, he thought that he knew everything there was to know about the 81-unit post-war building and its systems. Then one day he got a watery surprise.

A doctor who used a ground-floor apartment as his office decided to move out. When the new shareholder started renovating the space, she discovered an outmoded water-cooled air conditioner inside a closet. 

If you're in the market for a broker to help you sell your co-op or condo apartment, and you think they're a dime a dozen, think again. Brickunderground.com writes that while brokers are more than used to sellers that are difficult, eccentric, or both, they keep their distance from the impossible ones. How can you put off a broker? Leigh Kamping-Carder offers seven solid reasons, among them being stubborn about the asking price, wanting to skimp on commission, and — New York City notwithstanding — "being the wrong kind of crazy." Ouch. It makes sense when you consider that time is money. If a seller's antics stall the process and keep a co-op or condo lingering on the market, the potential commission does start to lose a bit of its charm. 

Just because condo sales slowed down late last year doesn't mean they're going away anytime soon. The sales slowdown, we mentioned, is good news for buyers, who can get choosy — and it looks like they are going to have quite a selection from which to choose. The New York Times reports that 2015 may be the year of the condo: "At least twice as many new condominium units are scheduled to hit the Manhattan market this year as in 2014, the most since 2007." So why are so many condos being built if most forecasts point to fewer sales? It seems like a dose of optimism among brokers and new-development marketers. They concede that buyers may no longer have that sense of urgency to buy, but believe that condos will still sell, even if it takes a little longer than what they've been used to in the past few years. 

A co-op board's green initiative has brought the closing of a co-op apartment to a crashing halt just a few days before they were scheduled to seal the deal. In the latest "Ask Real Estate" column in The New York Times, the co-op apartment's seller tells Ronda Kaysen that their lawyer got a memo from the building's managing agent "saying shares could not transfer to the buyer unless [they] installed a low-flow toilet, added aerators on the faucets and installed Energy Star appliances." The seller says that while the toilet requirement was referenced in board minutes from February 2013, the Energy Star appliances were not, adding that the board did not notify any of them of these requirements in advance. Now the closing is delayed indefinitely, and they are facing thousands of dollars' worth of unexpected expenses. Kaysen explains that although the timing is pretty horrible, it's not illegal for the board to make these requests as long as it followed protocol. Some negotiating might be in order to see if the board is willing to make some concessions. 

Back in the summer of 2013, Gerard J. Picaso, a veteran property manager of New York co-ops and condos, was having a get-acquainted meeting with a board president and treasurer who had just hired Picaso's firm. At one point the board president asked, "What happens if you and your partner get hit by a bus?"

"Depends on how big the bus is," Picaso replied.

"Let's say it's very big."

At that moment, Picaso had a revelation. "I realized my partner, Susan Axelbank, and I had a plan if something happened to one of us, but we had no plan if both of us were gone. It was really something to think about when you get to be a certain age."

A READER ASKS: I've been on the board for a few years now. When I first came on board, we had to fix the roofing membrane thanks to leaks. Now some tenants have reported leaks, so the board is talking about fixing the roof membrane again. I suspect that the problem is bigger than that, but the board is not very keen on undertaking a massive and costly project. How do I convince them that it's better to spend a bit more than we may be comfortable with now rather than a lot more later on? 

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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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