Because co-op boards have the final say on whether you’ll be the proud new owner of an apartment in their building, the board review process can be totally intimidating. One way to make it smoother is to use a broker who not only knows the area, but is also familiar with the particular building in which you are interested. It makes no sense for you to waste your time looking in a building where you will not get approved. With the exception of some ultra-exclusive high-end buildings, a typical co-op board just wants to make sure that you can carry your share of the building’s expenses and don’t disrupt other tenant-shareholders’ lives. In order to do that, they use a pretty standard process that consists of a Board Package of both financial records and reference letters, and a board interview.
If you thought you had to leap through hoops for your bank to get approved for the mortgage, be forewarned. The co-op board is likely to ask even more intrusive questions about your assets and financial lifestyle. If there are any blemishes, be prepared to explain them upfront. At minimum, you’ll need to provide pay stubs, bank and brokerage statements, several years of tax returns (all pages), and the commitment letter from the bank together with your mortgage application. The board will want to know about your car and student loan payments. They will double-check all the information against your credit report, so you’ll need to be comprehensive. The goal of the board is to be comfortable that whatever happens in the future you have sufficient funds to continue to pay your share of the building’s expenses – i.e. your maintenance bill and any special assessments.
Forcing someone who disrupts the lives of others to sell their shares and leave the building is a complicated and expensive legal undertaking. Therefore, the board also wants to know about your personal character. To that end, they will request letters of reference from both personal and business associates. You’ll want to ask for references from people who know you well – long-time personal and family friends are best. Business references should come from someone you work with and someone who is in a supervisory position above you. Asking for those references will be another source of stress, but if you are buying in a co-op heavy market, the request will be understood. The board will double-check your personal story as well, and most likely will also run a criminal background check.
Warning: Clean up your social media trail before you start your search for a condo or co-op. All those old party pictures from your earlier, wilder years will now come back to bite you.
The final step in the board review process is the board interview. You will be invited, with all your family members, to a board member’s apartment for a brief visit. Two to three board members will be present to chat with you about your plans for the apartment. At this point, they have usually already approved you, and the interview is the final formality. Still, it behooves you to treat it as a job interview and dress and act accordingly.
Pets: If the building allows pets, questions will come up about the type of pets you have. With dogs that will be in the elevators or stairs frequently, the questions will be about the breed and size. With certain breeds, you may need to get your dog a reference letter from the vet. Sometimes a board member will also want to meet your dog, in order to make sure there are no behavior issues that would endanger other people or pets living in the building.
While going through the board approval process might seem like torture, once you move in you’ll be happy to live in a harmonious, financially stable building, and when the time comes to move on, your building’s reputation will make it easy to sell your co-op.
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