All co-op apartment buildings require prospective tenants/owners to apply for membership by submitting a co-op package. This usually consists of an application, not unlike a job application (only more intrusive), along with some supporting documentation (e.g. tax returns, bank statements, pay stubs, reference letters, etc.). The co-op’s officers – commonly referred to as the co-op board – review your application and, if they like what they see, will later schedule an interview with you. After which, you will be approved (and can go forward with your purchase), or rejected with scant rights to protest or appeal. The process is a minor inconvenience for some, while others need their own copy of DSM-IV to describe its effect on them.
The first step to passing the interview is being granted an interview. Submitting a perfectly constructed co-op board package will substantially increase your odds of being asked on that date, and will go a long way to reducing your anxiety throughout the review process.
1. Get it in writing. Some boards are formal and will provide you with a printed application containing very specific instructions and required documents; others will send you an email with instructions; and there are those, “unstructured” boards, that will leave you a brief voice mail describing a list of documents it would be nice to get from you. This last situation is untenable. Instructions from the board should be unambiguous, complete, and in writing. If yours are lacking, send an e-mail or letter to your board contact or the managing agent (see #3 below), “confirming” your understanding of what is being asked of you.
2. Give them what they want, not just what (you think) they need. If you have followed step 2, you have a formal application or clear-cut instructions from the board or management company. These need to be followed to a T. Here is an example of a classic mistakes some applicants make along the way:
- You are a couple purchasing your first apartment together. The board application asks for two personal reference letters from each applicant. In this situation I’m often asked if it’s okay to share one or both of the personal reference letters. This seems reasonable, because couples usually have friends in common, but the answer is no. If the board asks for “two personal reference letters from each applicant,” then give them what they want. Of course, your friends can wax poetic about both of you in their letters, provided each of you has two separate references.
3. Submit well written reference letters. If you have friends or colleagues who write well, and who like to write, then ask these people to write your reference letters. Not everyone is so fortunate. You may need to give your references an outline (or flat out write the letter for them). If possible, collect sample reference letters from other people who have passed a co-op interview. You can pilfer ideas and format from these letters.
4. Be Honest and Forthright.Your references don’t need to reveal every time you forgot to do the dishes or the pens you swipe from the office, but your entire application package should be an accurate reflection of you. So don’t fudge your finances or claim you invented the Internet in your co-op application.
5. Triple check your numbers. This one is very tedious, which is why it trips up so many people. Mistakes here could force the board to ask for clarification or give the impression that you have something to hide. This could delay your interview (and move in date), or worse, you may find yourself rejected by the board. Here are few things to look out for:
- There will be a place on the application where you state your annual income. This needs to match the amount on your employee letter.
- If you are asked to provide a detailed list of assets, these need to match exactly any financial statements you are including with the application.
- The financial documentation (bank statements, tax returns, etc.) you include with the package, should be up to date. More specifically, monthly statements should not be more than 30 days old, and quarterly statements should not be more than 90 days old.
Get Help. A good real estate broker will work his or her tail off to make your application sparkle and to streamline the entire process. However, if you are flying solo, enlist the help of friends or colleagues who have been through the process. Ask them lots of questions and, if they really love you, ask them to review your application package.
When you have a moment, please share your co-op experiences and tips via e-mail or the comments section to this post. Next week, we’ll talk about the co-op interview and how to pass it. For more tips and detailed information have a look at Passing the Co-Op Interview on Amazon.com.