The vast majority of co-op rejections are based on application packages, with the bad news delivered before a co-op board interview is even scheduled.
So once you've proceeded to the in-person inquistion conducted by a duly elected body of your potential neighbors, your chances of approval are actually excellent....provided you don't screw it up.
We've already walked you through some questions that co-op boards should ask, as well as what they should not. BrickUnderground's Big Fat Board Interview series--a collection of firsthand accounts of real-life board interviews--provides an even fuller sense of the predictably unpredicable terrain you may encounter.
For our latest foray behind closed doors, BrickUnderground asked a handful of real estate brokers for some recent stumpers and their suggestions for hitting your answers out of the park:
1. Why are you downsizing?
This question is a common one, though not one that applicants necessarily expect. While the typical reason may be due to a change in family size—or to trim expenses—you should keep the latter to yourself, says real estate broker Michael Signet of Bond New York Properties.
Put the focus on space -- not money.
“Co-op [board members] don’t want to hear you say that you want to move to save money. It's better to say that you’re empty nesters," says Signet.
2. How do you like your job?
While this may just be an innocuous part of your conversation, board members may be trying to get a sense of your overall job security.
“This is not the time to have a candid discussion about any existential crisis you might be experiencing at work,” says Therese Bateman of Town Residential, “so no need to cause unnecessary alarm with throwaway lines.”
Instead she recommends being upbeat and not disclosing any details.
3. Are you interested in serving on the board?
“I recommend neutrality in your response, should you be asked if you’re interested in serving,” says real estate agent Mindy Diane Feldman of Halstead Property.
Lately, she says, some applicaiton ackages even ask applicants directly if they have any background or skills that may be useful to the board, which is new.
"It’s best to be neutral," she says. "For example, say, ‘If the board or the building thought that I could make an important contribution, I would certainly be open to discussing it.’:
But it's a bit of a balancing act. "You never want the board to think that you are aiming for a position," she warns.
4. Are you planning a renovation?
Revealing the details of any renovation plans can be potentially concerning to board members. For one thing, you never know who may live adjacent to your apartment and dread the disturbance of a renovation.
“It is best to omit details of your proposed renovation until after closing,” says Bateman
While you want to be truthful—obviously an estate purchase will require upgrading—it is best to instead say, "We are taking one step at a time and have no immediate renovation plans."
5. What are your political beliefs or with which political party are you affiliated?
While this question is completely legal, it might be unexpected and throw you off your game.
According to Neil Binder of the Bellmarc Group, it’s best to remain neutral whenever possible, especially if you’re asked about a specific issue. “I suggest that buyers attempt to take a very neutral position on political matters by saying that it’s an important issue and you’re still considering the facts," he says.
“I actually guide my clients when I am [instructing them about] getting their reference letters not to get anything that has a political bent to it,” says Feldman.
6. Do you have parties or entertain often?
This question is quite common--and it's not a popularity test. It's a disturbance of the peace predictor.
Tom Stuart of Bond New York suggests saying, “We enjoy having occasional dinners with close friends” and leaving it at that.
7. What do you do in your spare time?
While it seems innocent enough, this question can literally hang you if you give yourself enough rope.
Bateman has three easy suggestions when fielding this one: “Keep it clean, keep it simple, and keep it quiet,” meaning now is not the time to tell the board about your plans for learning the clarinet.
8. Why did you choose this apartment/neighborhood?
“This is an opportunity to be complimentary,” offers Bateman. “Don’t bog down your response with a blow-by-blow description of the 30 apartments that you saw before this one, or that it is the only one you could afford.”
Generally speaking, Feldman agrees. "Don’t let this one encourage you to overshare. In fact, there are times when boards don’t phrase a question as a question, and that can take people off guard. That’s why we always advise clients to be cordial and not chatty,” she explains.
9. Do you have any questions?
While in other forums it is often useful to have questions at the ready as a demonstration of your interest, you really shouldn’t raise them during a co-op interview.
“Boring is good,” says Feldman. “A co-op interview is not a job interview—people do not have to fall in love with you. For instance, when the board asks you if you have any questions, say, ‘None that I can think of right now, but I’ll be sure to get back to you if any should occur.’ It is never about keeping the conversation going, as it often is at a job interview.”
Finally, never ask about the board’s decision at the time of your interview. Instead say something like "We look forward to hearing from you."