Coronavirus

The virtual co-op board interview may be here to stay

The convenience of conducting the interview from your living room is just one of the many benefits.

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Buying in New York City is now a virtual experience from start to finish, and if you're on the hunt for an apartment, that means you will probably need to get comfortable with apps you've never used before. But if you don't end up closing before restrictions ease in NYC, the effort won't be for nothing. Now that NYC's real estate industry has finally caught up with the 21st century—it's hard to imagine taking a step backwards.

While transactions have slowed greatly, the pandemic has made virtual tours, online applications, and remote closings the norm now. The co-op board interview has also gone online with buyers and board members connecting via computers or phones from their living rooms. Many say they like the online format for its scheduling convenience and the ability for buyers to provide a personal glimpse into their current apartments. Buyers and board members tell Brick they would be happy to see virtual meetings remain an option.


Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.


The online co-op interview grows up

Conducting co-op board interviews online seemed a little awkward at first.

Jennifer Taus’ board interview took place just as New York shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus in March. She found the board members who interviewed her remotely via FaceTime kept the process short and sweet with very little small talk. Gerard Splendore, a broker at Warburg Realty says a recent co-op board interview he arranged was “a little stilted because it wasn’t in person,” but that was early on in the shutdown, when much of the new technology was unfamiliar. 

Now many New Yorkers are using online platforms for work or socializing. Board members tell Brick they are more comfortable with the online format and say the convenience of doing the interview from their living rooms is just one of the many benefits.

Virtual interviews are easier to schedule 

New Yorkers are typically busy, and to align their schedules—even for an hour—is a big ask, says Alexis Carpinello, an agent at Elegran. She’s had several boards arrange successful virtual interviews recently and says it’s a convenience that would be beneficial even when social distancing isn't keeping people at home. “You're much more apt to be able to dip into a spare office on your lunch break than you are able to get across town for an interview,” she says.

“There’s far more flexibility and I don’t think you lose anything” with a virtual format, says Steve Wagner, a partner at Wagner, Berkow & Brandt (a Brick Underground sponsor) who is also board president of his 420-unit building. He's done several interviews in this way and says, “We very often will get to look at what people are like in their homes and that’s something you wouldn’t usually see.”

A glimpse into the buyers life

One board member who conducted an interview on the Upper West Side recently says seeing the buyer’s surf board propped up against the wall of her living room brought the buyer to life in a way that could never have happened at a conference room table. The surfboard was also consistent with the hobbies she listed in her board package, which “added authenticity,” says the board member. 

Another advantage for a board is that they might get to see other members of the buyer’s household, whether that’s children or the dog. Splendore says most buildings don’t require a dog to come but in a recent co-op board interview the buyer’s pet made an appearance. 

“Seeing the dog in the apartment and having the dog behave was beneficial to both sides,” Splendore says.

Handling the video-bomb

Lots of New Yorkers have seen—and possibly experienced—kids video-bombing work-from-home interviews and while it might be stressful for the person being interviewed, it can be instructive for the interviewee.

That's what happened when Wagner was conducting a co-op board interview recently.  “You see how the parents deal with it,” he says. In this case it turned out well—the family had dressed up for the occasion, even putting a hat on the dog. “It’s a little more than you get sitting in the boardroom,” Wagner says. 

Cheat sheets and text channels

The advantages aren't exclusively for board members. If you're a buyer, you have the benefit of being able to have a cheat sheet for your finances. It’s not something you’d be advised to take to an in-person interview,  Carpinello says, but “the reality is that none of us can recite all of our balances down to the cents, and it's easy to have your paperwork there to reference if you're sitting at home.”

For board members, another perk is that they can text each other while the interview is taking place, either to keep the questions on track or share thoughts about the candidate. 

Carpinello reckons there’s no turning back the clock on this one.

“I think it's safe to say that once boards have gotten a flavor for the amount of stress that is alleviated by taking advantage of virtual meetings, they'll be more inclined to embrace it in the future," she says.