Co-ops often get a bad reputation as buying one involves a bit more diligence and tenacity than a condo. The mere thought of facing a co-op board interview paralyzes many homebuyers with fear. While the process of buying a co-op can be intimidating at first, working with the right agent can help you ace the interview and land your dream home. We spoke with Matthew Melinger of Brown Harris Stevens for his tips on how to make the best impression during your co-op board interview.
Co-op boards aren’t as scary as you think
“A lot of first time home buyers are immediately like ‘I want a condo,’” explains Melinger. “And you go through their criteria and their pre-approval letter and start to realize a co-op might be a better fit. Most will immediately say ‘oh, no it’s so scary.’ It’s not.”
The fear is real, but it is often unwarranted. Sure, the thought of preparing a phone book sized board package and application doesn’t exactly inspire excitement, but the key is to break the process into smaller, manageable steps.
“Other than the interview the most intimidating part is that initial email with the list of things that need to be done,” says Melinger. He opts to prepare clients in advance, introducing them to the process little by little while they’re viewing apartments so that they understand that a large undertaking is about to happen. It’s his winning strategy for making sure clients feel confident and prepared.
“And when you go into the interview confident, rather than mentally drained and exhausted from having to provide all of this information in a week or two, it really makes the interview less stressful.”
The good news is that much of this process has been streamlined due to COVID. Documents can be uploaded online and virtual interviews have eliminated long scheduling waits.
“What buyers forget is that this is not an opportunity to get grilled and to be made uncomfortable,” Melinger explains. “It’s an opportunity for you to get to know your neighbors. And at that stage (if you’ve been working with a broker with a ton of co-op experience) you already know you’re qualified from a financial standpoint, and spent enough time in the building where you feel like you would really enjoy being part of the community. Now you’re just getting to know them.”
Co-op interview dos and don’ts
It’s natural to be nervous about your co-op board interview, but you can eliminate some butterflies by following the best practices below.
Do Be Prepared: Having a seasoned agent is invaluable when navigating the co-op process. Know what’s in your board package and be ready to speak to its contents.
“If you’re getting a gift from your parents to make the down payment, you’re likely going to have to talk about that,” explains Melinger. “If you are an investment banker and your bonus is 60 percent of your annual income, expect to be asked some questions regarding your compensation history over the years. Remember the numbers that you provided to them and be able to back them up.”
Do Dress to Impress: “Even if it’s via zoom, always dress like it’s a job interview,” says Melinger. “Dress well, arrive on time, understand your audience and make eye contact. Eye contact and engaging is sometimes more important than what you’re wearing.”
Men should wear a suit, with an optional tie. Women should wear a suit or dress with minimal makeup and jewelry.
“When we did interviews in person (pre-COVID), I always advise no cologne, no perfume, minimal makeup. Keep it simple, like you’re going to a conservative banking or tech interview.”
Do Be Yourself: The board interview is not the time for surprises. Melinger says it’s key to come off as exactly who you are making yourself out to be in the details of your application. “If you mention that you’re expecting your first child in your cover letter for example, play that up and show off that baby bump!” says Melinger
Don’t Overshare: If your board interview is going well, it can be tempting to drop your guard.
“Sometimes when you start getting comfortable, you start oversharing things,” Melinger explains. “It may give them reason to take issue with something that you said.”
It’s better to keep things cordial, but simple. Only answer the questions they ask and don’t volunteer too much information.
“Co-op boards love boring,” Melinger notes. “No one ever got rejected because they were boring or too quiet.”
Don’t Ask Too Many Questions: This is not the time to pepper the board with questions about the building. This is their opportunity to get to know you and confirm that you’d be a great addition to their community. Towards the end of your interview the board may ask if you have any questions. Melinger advises it’s best to just compliment how they were so wonderful and thorough and they covered everything. Any pressing questions you have about the building should be taken up with your agent.
Don’t Talk About Renovations: If possible, it’s best to leave discussions about renovations out of your board interview.
“You don’t want to come off as high maintenance or needy by outlining an elaborate plan in an interview. Their main objective is to get to know you, and not necessarily your plans for the apartment,” Melinger explains.
You can glaze over your long-term general plans for the apartment, but going into detail about a renovation is overkill. Save this for your alteration agreement. The last thing you want is to leave the interview with the board thinking your residency is going to lead to a laundry list of disruptions for the other shareholders. If you’re buying an estate, the board will assume that you are going to renovate.
There’s a co-op niche for everyone
Co-ops are not one size fits all organizations. Some of the fears homebuyers have can be eliminated simply by targeting co-ops that are more in line with their lifestyle. Typically the smaller the co-op, the more liberal their policies are, but as with everything there are exceptions to the rule.
There are co-ops geared towards artists and creatives Melinger notes, especially in Downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
“We will find buildings whose policies are in line with your goals,” Melinger explains. “If you want to sublet at some point, we’ll pay close attention to that policy for every co-op we look at. If you are concerned about post purchasing liquidity requirements, we’ll keep that in mind too.”
It’s also important to note that co-ops often offer a greater value than condos when it comes to pricing.
“Co-ops tend to trade around 15% lower versus a comparable condo. For the amount of money you save going the co-op route, the incremental cost of baring your soul and your financial history makes it worth the effort.”
Because co-ops focus heavily on the character of shareholders in addition to financials, they’re great at preserving a sense of community. For those that want to live in like-minded communities with similar interests and long-term residents, co-ops are the way to go. If you prefer more anonymity and the freedom to use your investment as you please, a condo may be a better fit.
For those still feeling a bit of apprehension about the co-op experience, the best thing you can do is work with an experienced broker you trust.
“As long as you have the right team,” Melinger says. “It’s not as bad as people make it out to be. If anything, the experience can be quite enjoyable if you’re prepared and trust the process.”
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