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Getting past the entrance to cooperatives like River House hinges on a successful board interview. Getting past the entrance to cooperatives like River House hinges on a successful board interview.
Between the drastically reduced sales of Ambassador Bruce Gelb, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Charles H. Dyson’s apartments on Park and Fifth Avenues, it is clear that cooperatives in prestigious prewar buildings are losing some of their luster. A recent article in Curbed cites many factors, from newly hip downtown neighborhoods, an array of amenities, and apartments rich in historic details but in need of renovation, for the dip in popularity. The article also mentioned the fact that condos and townhouses allow buyers to make a purchase without appearing before a board. Co-op boards are notorious for requiring numerous financial and personal details, and are not required to disclose why they rejected an applicant.

At the state level, there is a bill in committee that would require co-ops to disclose this information so as to protect from illegal discrimination. In the meantime, prestigious co-ops remain attractive. Julia Koch’s $101 million purchase of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s penthouse at 4 East 66th Street set a new record and is among the highest priced of the year. Additionally, at a time when the top sales were dominated by Billionaires’ Row supertalls, a full-floor unit in a Park Avenue cooperative closed for $11.88 million in the third-highest closing of the past week. This article outlines the very best way to woo any co-op board to close your next deal.

Why the Opinions of Co-op Boards Matter

In most housing scenarios, if you can convince a lender to give you a mortgage, you’re already well on your way to purchasing a home. In the case of New York City co-op purchases, finding a lender is just the first step. Local co-op boards also carefully vet all future shareholders, and unlike lenders, they aren’t just looking at financials. Depending on the board, co-ops will dig deep into your financials, work history, and personal life. This means you’ll need to do more than pay off any overdue bills. You’ll also need to be ready to respond to a host of questions about all aspects of your life (and your family’s life), and your intended future uses of the unit you wish to purchase.

Key Factors

1. Have your financials in order

Buying in a co-op typically means bringing at least 20 percent and often much more to the deal. Also, most co-ops will be looking at your remaining liquid assets. Many buildings will want you to still have considerable liquid assets after closing. In other co-ops, you may be asked to put two to three years of maintenance fees in an escrow upfront. This isn’t the only thing co-op boards will be scrutinizing. They will also be looking at your current and past income and credit history. The more solid your financials, the better off you’ll be.

2. Demonstrate a stable work history

Most co-op boards aren’t just interested in your current position and salary but also your entire work history. Prospective buyers with short or erratic work histories are bound to be a disadvantage. Co-op boards regularly turn down buyers who have a history of changing jobs frequently. If you’re a foreign national, you may also run into obstacles, even if you’re a high-income earner in a professional field. A long, stable, U.S.-based job history will serve you best when you meet a co-op board.

3. Be transparent about your intended use of the unit

Although some boards are open to buyers looking for a pied-a-terre or even an investment property that will be rented, many others are not. Likewise, many boards will not take well to a buyer whose real intent is to hand over the unit to a college-age child. In most cases, the best way to woo a New York City co-op board is to demonstrate a commitment to buying the unit with the intent to live in it for an extended period.

4. Less is more in terms of family size

In New York City, it is not uncommon for families, even middle-class families, to stretch the capacity of apartments by flexing them (e.g., turning a large one-bedroom into a two-bedroom). While this is usually possible if you’re already a shareholder on good terms with the board, persuading a co-op board to let you move into a one-bedroom with your family of four will be challenging. Remember, from the perspective of the co-op board, larger families mean more wear-and-tear on the building and more use of services but for the same maintenance fees. As a result, when it comes to most co-op boards, the smaller your family unit, the better—unless, of course, you’ll actually be purchasing a combined apartment and paying double the maintenance fees.

5. Avoid relying on a guarantor

In some co-op buildings, guarantors are permissible, but many buildings do not permit guarantors and few or no buildings prefer them. This largely reflects the fact that using a guarantor will create additional work for the board since most boards will want to scrutinize both the buyer’s and guarantor’s financials and work histories. In other words, a guarantor may not kill a deal, but it rarely works to any buyer’s advantage.

6. Be pet-free

Some co-op boards love cats and dogs, but many are either pet-free or have restrictive policies (e.g., only cats, or only dogs under a certain weight). Even if you’re proposing to buy in a genuinely pet-friendly building, avoid pushing the envelope. One or two cats may be welcome, but seven or eight likely won’t. Likewise, if your dog is large or loud, don’t lie. Some co-op boards even do “pet screenings” and others ask for pet reference letters. Ultimately, even in pet-friendly co-ops, it is often better to be pet-free. After all, without a pet, you’ll be giving co-op board members one fewer reason to scrutinize your application.

7. Don’t show up looking like a rock star

It may be New York City, but in nearly all co-op buildings, showing up as a party girl or guy is a sure way to kill a potential deal. If you have any doubt, bear in mind that Mariah Carey ignored her broker's advice to "dress for a funeral," showed up to her board interview with a bared midriff, and was rejected in her bid for Barbra Streisand's former penthouse at The Ardsley. You don’t need to claim total sobriety. Still, with few exceptions, co-op boards will reject any buyers who appear at risk of blasting music regularly, using their unit as a rehearsal studio, or throwing one too many parties.

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Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.