The scrutiny of the co-op board interview can ratchet up the tension when you’re buying in NYC. And yet, the vast majority of co-op rejections are based on application packages, with the bad news delivered before a co-op board interview is even scheduled.
"The buyer is about 95 percent there by the time they get to the board interview," says Rachel Altschuler, a broker at Douglas Elliman. "So the interview is really more of a meet-and-greet."
Real estate attorney Steve Wagner of Wagner Berkow & Brandt (FYI, a Brick sponsor) previously served on his co-op board, and says his goal was straightforward: "I mostly wanted to see if they were foaming from the mouth or psychotic. I didn't necessarily have to like them."
[Editor's Note: A previous version of this article was published in January 2016. It has been updated with new information for May 2019.]
Still, it's an important meet-and-greet, and even though your chances of approval by the time you’ve reached the interview are excellent, you don’t want to spoil anything by saying something that will make a board uneasy.
(And for some first-hand accounts of real-life board interviews, check out Brick Underground's My Co-op Board Interview series, which can give you a sense of the predictably unpredictable terrain of the process.)
There can still be some awkward questions, like whether you have renovations in mind or how you socialize. We've asked real estate brokers and lawyers—former board members among them—for tips on how to answer some of these curveballs. And remember, says Altschuler: "Keep answers simple and short. Less is more."
1. Why are you downsizing?
This is a common question, though not one that applicants necessarily expect. You may have fewer family members living at home, or maybe you are trying to trim expenses. If it’s the latter, keep it to yourself, says Michael Signet, a broker at Douglas Elliman. Focus on space, not money.
“Co-op [board members] don’t want to hear you say that you want to move to save money. It's better to say that you’re empty nesters," says Signet.
2. How do you like your job?
This may just be an innocuous part of your conversation, but board members will most likely be trying to get a sense of your overall job security.
“This is not the time to have a candid discussion about any existential crisis you might be experiencing at work,” says Therese Bateman, a broker with Level Group, “so no need to cause unnecessary alarm with throwaway lines.” Instead, she recommends being upbeat about your role and not giving away too many details.
3. Are you interested in serving on the board?
“I recommend neutrality in your response, should you be asked if you’re interested in serving,” says Mindy Diane Feldman, an agent at Halstead Property. "For example, say, ‘If the board or the building thought that I could make an important contribution, I would certainly be open to discussing it.’ You never want the board to think that you are aiming for a position."
Some application packages might ask applicants directly if they have any background or skills that may be useful to the board, in which case, Feldman says, it's fine to list expertise that might not be readily apparent from other parts of your board package.
4. Are you planning a renovation?
Hearing about any renovation plans can be a concern to board members. For one thing, you never know who may live adjacent to your apartment and might dread the disturbance of a renovation. “It is best to omit details of your proposed renovation until after closing,” says Bateman.
While you want to be truthful—obviously an estate purchase will require upgrading—it is best to instead say, "We are taking one step at a time and have no immediate renovation plans."
5. What are your political beliefs or with which political party are you affiliated?
While this question is completely legal, it might be unexpected and throw you off your game. "Just be honest," suggests Wagner. And keep things simple.
Feldman says she specifically recommends buyers preparing reference letters "not to get anything that has a political bent to it,” says Feldman, and steer away from this subject in an interview.
6. Do you have parties or entertain often?
This question is quite common—and it's not a popularity test. The board wants to gauge whether your socializing will be disruptive. Your best answer might be to say you enjoy having occasional dinners with close friends and leaving it at that.
7. What do you do in your spare time?
While it seems innocent enough, this question can trip buyers up. Bateman has three easy suggestions when fielding this one: “Keep it clean, keep it simple, and keep it quiet,” meaning now is not the time to tell the board about your plans for learning the clarinet or your annual Halloween party.
8. Why did you choose this apartment/neighborhood?
“This is an opportunity to be complementary,” offers Bateman. “Don’t bog down your response with a blow-by-blow description of the 30 apartments that you saw before this one, or that it is the only one you could afford.”
Feldman says this isn’t an invitation to overshare. “There are times when boards don’t phrase a question as a question, and that can take people off guard. That’s why we always advise clients to be cordial and not chatty,” she explains.
9. What was your last interaction with an attorney?
"The best answer is, of course, 'My lawyer brother-in-law and I had Thanksgiving dinner together,' but if you do have something behind you, be honest," says Dean Roberts, an attorney with Norris McLaughlin. "Temper your answer, though," he says. "Go with something like, 'I was unjustly sued by someone, we were able to resolve it quickly and cleanly and fortunately I've never had any legal involvement since."
You want to give a clean, simple explanation that proves you are reasonable and weren't the source of the problem. But remember, "Litigation is not a scarlet letter, especially for certain businesses," says Roberts.
It’s worth doing an online search of your name before an interview to see what information comes up. Be prepared to answer questions related to the results.
10. Why are there some inconsistencies in your application?
Wagner says some buyers will have an assistant fill out their application for them and that might introduce inconsistencies. So to head this off, "it's a good idea to read through the application before you come to the interview to make sure that everything looks legit and be prepared to answer any questions you think it may have elicited," he says.
Usually, some financials questions arise, like how much money a person has, especially if their assets are a combination of several business and or a trust.
"If, say, you receive $60,000 a year from a trust, be sure to explain that that trust allows you to invade the principal if that's how you're planning on paying for the apartment," Wagner says.
And if you don't know the answer to a question, try not to seem flustered. Just say you don't know the answer, and that you'll get back to them as soon as you've spoken to your accountant, Wagner says.
11. Do you have any questions?
While in other forums it is often useful to have questions at the ready as a demonstration of your interest, you really shouldn’t raise them during a co-op interview.
“Boring is good,” says Feldman. “A co-op interview is not a job interview—people do not have to fall in love with you. For instance, when the board asks you if you have any questions, say, ‘None that I can think of right now, but I’ll be sure to get back to you if any should occur.’ It is never about keeping the conversation going, as it often is at a job interview.”
Finally, never ask about the board’s decision at the time of your interview. Instead, say something like "We look forward to hearing from you."
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