A board interview is the final step to approval when buying a co-op unit in New York City. In this series, New Yorkers tell Brick Underground about their experience with the interview process, what worked and what didn’t—and what you can learn. This week, Mark Eric Rodriguez shares his experience buying a one-bedroom co-op with his partner in Queens. The couple were anxious not to say too much about their renovation plans, but the scary stories of board interviews they'd heard about on the UWS and UES turned out to be a far cry from their experience in Jackson Heights.
What was your biggest concern going into the interview?
For us we just didn't want to say the wrong thing. My partner really wanted us to be very conservative and I said we should try to be ourselves as much as possible because we will be living among them. We went back and forth with that, but I think when we sat down for our interview it was a very relaxed atmosphere, and we were able to ease into it that way. We did tiptoe around the idea of altering the apartment. We were interested in their philosophy on renovations and alterations because we wanted to reconfigure the bathroom and were in a bit of a time-crunch. We’ve just closed and we only have a month to do the renovations that we want to do. We didn’t really get to ask how long it takes to get approval from the co-op board. We felt we should hold back and wait until they accepted us and everything goes through, and then try to figure it out from there.
Was renovating a deal breaker for you?
We were very interested in renovating but it wasn’t going to be a deal breaker for us. We mentioned some of the lighter cosmetic things, just to test the waters. I mentioned we were interested in redoing the floors and they said light alterations weren’t a problem and we kept it at that. We actually wanted to do a gut renovation and reconfigure our bathroom and now having had the offer accepted and closed we are realizing we can’t do it in the time frame that we have. The bathroom is something we’ll do down the line.
What kind of questions were you asked in the interview?
They never asked us, 'Are you loud, do you party, do you have a lot of people over?' The questions seemed kind of general and they were waiting for us to answer. They stayed quiet for the most part. Our broker advised us to just say just what they asked and not say anything more. When you are in an interview you always want to just fill the space with some kind of chatter but we held back a little bit.
After we got out of it, I told my partner, ‘Well that was more like a conversation.’ They asked us a handful of questions and they started with the general, ‘Why are you interested in this building, this community, this neighborhood?’ They asked a little bit about our background, about what we both did for work and about our lifestyle and it trailed off into a conversation after that. We talked about why we loved Queens and why we love the neighborhood and that wrapped it up.
Were you nervous going in?
I felt pretty relaxed. My partner was a little bit more nervous but my approach was, if they aren’t going to like us for whatever reason, then maybe it’s not the right fit because I don’t think we should be dishonest in our interview.
Were there any surprises?
Well, our interview was scheduled in the evening, at 8 p.m., which we thought was a little odd. I guessed that it was after work [for board members]. There were a series of interviews that went on that day, we later found out. We were on the tail end of that. We saw the board members walking someone out and we were thinking, what’s going on? We thought they were interviewing someone else for our unit but then thought that doesn’t make any sense, so let’s not think about it right now. Later we asked and they said there were other vacant units in the building so they were interviewing for them plus doing interviews for rentals.
How much research had you done for the interview?
My partner and I are very research-intensive when we go into something like this so we asked all the brokers for any information that they could dig out. And the board members did actually ask us, 'What’s your impression of the building and of possibly living here?' We gave them a response and they told us whether we were on point: We said it had a community vibe, it seems pretty quiet and that the building doesn’t have any major damage. We hoped that it would prompt them to tell us if there were any big expenses coming up and we did some research on some of the larger expenses that they’ve had recently. There's an assessment on an elevator that’s being repaired but we knew about that going into the deal.
What appealed to you about the unit?
We are first-time home-buyers in NYC and I like medium-sized buildings and this co-op building has about 100 units. When we were looking [for a unit] we were trying to find the right balance of price, space and the quality of the building as well as the neighborhood and the infrastructure. At first, we were looking in Manhattan and deep into Brooklyn. I lived in Astoria and my partner lived in Sunnyside so we’ve always gravitated towards Queens.
What are your takeaways from the process?
In our research, a lot of articles seem to address co-op interviews on the UWS and UES—those really tough co-op board interviews where they are digging into you for all the information they can get out of you and they leave you weeping. What we heard from brokers and agents is that it’s pretty casual in Jackson Heights and Queens. We shouldn’t have been nervous. It was really relaxed and it was probably the least stressful part of the whole buying process. Working with the bank and doing the financials was the most stressful part—they ask you for everything and you have to sign your life away.