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The Complexities of Small Co-ops and Condos

Real Estate Legality, Real Property

Small residential properties, whether co-ops or condos, can be difficult to manage. There is an overwhelming sense of community, but also fewer people and less funding compared to residential high rises in New York City. Board meetings are smaller and personalities can be larger, making it difficult to resolve the myriad issues that plague residential buildings. Conversely, because there are fewer people, board meetings can also be more intimate, casual, and open. So what is the best way to cope with your neighbors in a small property?

Smaller properties have a greater sense of culture and community. Ms. Braddock of William Raveis told the New York Times that in smaller co-ops “[y]ou have to consider how you fit with the building’s dynamic and whether the shareholders share your beliefs about how to handle problems”. Residents in small buildings are usually more involved with the day-to-day maintenance of the property. The key to success is participation. Residents need to be available to attend board meetings, be willing to contribute in the decision making process, and most importantly, pay their maintenance fees and common charges on time.

Naturally, smaller properties have less funding making it difficult to attract managing agents. Jeffrey Stillman, vice president of Stillman Management, told The Cooperator that these smaller properties are not “cost effective” as agency fees are around $20,000 to $25,000, which is a greater burden for small buildings. However, luxury co-ops and condos do not usually face this problem as residents typically have the resources to hire a managing agent. Managing agents do everything from collecting common charges, paying bills, maintaining permit deadlines, hiring architects, and handling large construction projects. Managing agents can take a large burden off residents’ shoulders as self-management is akin to having a second job.

In small buildings, a lack of funding also becomes a problem when the property needs to undergo extensive work, such as repairing a leak in the roof or the exterior of the building. These repairs are expensive and more weight is put on each shareholder or property owner. It is important to consult with experienced professionals in case of an emergency. Managing agents, or even firms who specialize in helping self-managed co-ops and condos usually have existing relationships with engineers and contract workers, making it easier for co-op and condo boards to make repairs.

Tight quarters can bring the worst out in residents, especially when sharing amenities such as the washer and dryer. To avoid future feuds it is important to ensure the building has enough resources for the amount of people on the property. Having one washer and dryer in a five-unit property might be enough if each unit only has one resident, but is woefully insufficient for people who have families.  As board members of a small property, it is important to guarantee that reasonable needs of residents are met. Fortunately technology today has been able to ease the burden of small buildings such as by installing virtual doormen, key lock boxes, and arranging dry cleaning services for the property.

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