Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Should all co-op applications be the same?

Seems like the only ones this would benefit would be the brokers helping their buyer-clients put together their co-op purchase applications.

The Real Deal
Author: Lauren Elkies
Should all co-op applications be the same?
June, 02, 2008

It's a process that can be a veritable nightmare: getting a mortgage loan approved, supplying personal information, preparing financial documents, acquiring reference letters, undergoing credit checks and finally, making numerous collated copies of the package for review by the property manager and co-op board — and all that's before the fateful interview.

Besides being extensive and intricate, co-op board applications are not uniform, and with roughly 2,500 co-op buildings in Manhattan alone, that can amount to a lot of different variations. Now even condos have become fussier, with applications similar to those required at co-ops.

Some real estate pros think the co-op application process could be simplified with a standardized application. The topic was addressed at a recent meeting of the Real Estate Board of New York sales council, a group of brokers who liaise between REBNY and its member brokers. Alan Pfeifer, a senior vice president at Halstead Property and co-chair of REBNY's sales council, said the group decided at its May meeting to form a subcommittee that will work on the uniform application in September, when the council reconvenes.

Proponents of a standard form say that it could make matters simpler for managing agents, who oversee the building's day-to-day maintenance and finances, and for buyers and their brokers, who would know from the get-go what the board was looking for. Opponents say that managing agents are lame ducks, so their preferences are irrelevant, and since all co-op boards basically ask for the same information, brokers should know how to prepare their buyers. In addition, a uniform application does not work for boards seeking additional information.

Anthony Miller, a vice president at Bellmarc Realty who initially raised the standardization issue at a previous sales council meeting, said, "I got sick and tired of board packages that maybe don't serve the interests of the boards nor the managing agents and can drive both buyers, sellers and brokers absolutely crazy."

Miller said that he recently helped a couple prepare the financials for an application to a co-op. The board wanted the assets to be divided between the husband and wife.

"This doesn't really help matters because in no case did it show what the combined assets were," he said. "That's an example of a bad format. It makes the asset total look weaker than it actually is."

Miller said that a standard form could be used on a voluntary basis, and buildings would be able to customize it with a "rider or an addendum to the application."

Not everyone thinks uniformity is a good thing.

Arthur Weinstein, vice president of the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, a not-for-profit organization for housing cooperatives and condominiums in the New York area, and a real estate attorney, thinks standardizing the forms is a "terrible idea." He added, "It's a stupid idea because each building has its own concerns."

One building with porous interior walls that he represents asks on the application about smoking habits because many of the building's residents are asthmatics who cannot have smokers dwelling in the building.

"Other buildings wouldn't care less about smoking," Weinstein said.

So long as it's legal, "the whole point of the matter is to live in a co-op, you should be able to pick who your neighbors are going to be," Weinstein said.

Still, a voluntary standard form could be a decent idea, he acknowledged, and a good jumping-off point.

But as private corporations with total autonomy, many co-op boards would be opposed to the new approach, he said.

Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty Partnership, said that while managing agents might be amenable to using a standard board package, the boards would not be because "they're not going to want some outside body telling them what to do. They want the autonomy."

Some buildings are more interested in social issues than others, with questions about a would-be buyer's friends and organization memberships. Other buildings emphasize more rigorous background checks. Still others want to know about pet ownership and subletting.

Kathy Braddock, co-founder of real estate consulting firm Braddock + Purcell and the New York City real estate company Charles Rutenberg Realty, said that there is no way a co-op board is going to agree to use a standard form.

Besides, the application isn't the issue since they all pretty much ask for the same information. Preparing a successful package is more about what's not in the application.

"It's not what you need; it's how it's presented, how it's tweaked," she said.

An application may ask who will be residing in an apartment, for example, but only someone familiar with a specific board would know that the board only approves couples with a maximum of two children. Or, a board may specify the number of references on the application, but only someone knowledgeable about the building would know its board only accepts written references.

Managing agents often run a number of buildings, and a uniform application would make their lives easier.

Donna Weinberg, a management executive at Lawrence Properties, a residential management and brokerage firm, said she thinks a standard form would be "great." The applications at the company's 60 residential buildings, 95 percent of which are co-ops, all have the same financial and reference requirements, but some of the building's house rules may be different, Weinberg said.

Anita Sapirman, founder and president of Saparn Realty, a residential management firm, said that she uses a standard application but alters it to suit each building.

"Usually, you can have one that is fairly standardized and then try to accommodate that particular board, adding some little item that they may want," Sapirman said.

She uses a uniform rental application.

"For me, it's a great idea. I love that it would be one standardized form. It just makes it simpler for my staff to go to the board and say, 'Here's the application; let's use this,'" Sapirman said.

Neil Binder, principal of Bellmarc Realty, which has a property management arm in addition to its main business, residential brokerage, said he would not support standardizing co-op applications.

"Different buildings have different criteria that they feel are pertinent to their evaluation search. There is already a number of 'standard forms' including those proposed by Bellmarc," Binder said. "Invariably, boards have objections to these forms and wish to have additional elements added."

Anthony Miller of Bellmarc said he's "sick and tired" of the co-op application process.

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