32 Years of Co-op Truisms

This month is the 32nd year of Habitat’s existence, and my 10,000th year on the board of my co-op (actually, it’s more like the 20th). In that time, I’ve learned that managers like to refer to the magazine that I work for as The Habitat; that the majority of people I’ve met over the past three decades think Jimmy Carter builds houses for us (or else that we can broker your next big sale); and that eating a bagel for breakfast every day for 30 years can make you unrecognizable to people who haven’t seen you in a few years.

Besides that, I’ve discovered at least ten definite things about the real estate business in general and about co-ops and condos, in particular:

1. Managing agents never return a board member’s phone calls because they are too busy answering the 987 texts and tweets that their clients send them every day.

2. Shareholders and unit-owners are apathetic, which is a good thing because it shows the board is doing something right – or a bad thing because the board can’t get a quorum for its annual meeting.

3. Lobby redesign is the most controversial action a board can take, unless it consults with everyone in the building to get a “consensus lobby” that everyone agrees on and no one likes, and which now must be redesigned.

4. Increasing the maintenance is responsible but foolhardy and hurts sales by raising the cost of living, except when it helps sales because it shows the board is responsible.

5. Proxies are essential for annual meetings, which can be boring affairs, except if everyone is talking about lobby redesign or maintenance increases, in which case the board members would probably wish they could send in their proxies instead of attending

6. Board members are too hands-on, interfering with the smooth operation of the building, except when they are not involved enough, interfering with the smooth operation of the building.

7. The superintendent is “the captain of the ship,” except when you have to create a 32BJ-sanctioned paper trail to sack him.

8. Night meetings go on forever but are better than morning meetings, which are too high-pressured, which are better than no meetings at all, which happens when you can’t get enough board members to agree on a meeting date.

9. Sublets are bad for co-ops but good for condos, except when a condo wants to be more like a co-op and control who’s living there.

10. Board presidents always spend decades on the board, saying they hate serving and insisting they would step down, except that no one a) will let them or b) knows enough or c) wants to serve or d) will serve unless they can redesign the lobby and cut maintenance.

April 16, 2014