Buyer ‘strip search’ part of co-op life

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Con­dos -

Co-op own­ers are a smug bunch. They’ve been judged and deemed ac­cept­able by their neigh­bours.

This high­lights the dif­fer­ence be­tween co-op­er­a­tive apart­ments and con­do­mini­ums.

Buy a suite in a co-op and you’re pur­chas­ing a share in a build­ing.

This build­ing share equates to your apart­ment, but its board must first ap­prove you as be­ing as wor­thy of own­er­ship as the ex­alted be­ings now in res­i­dence.

With a condo, you just pur­chase your apart­ment.

Co-op­er­a­tive own­er­ship was com­mon be­fore the 1970s, but since then, most high­rise res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments have been con­do­mini­ums.

Other than in Mon­treal, the idea of liv­ing in an apart­ment, even a grand one, was never an as­pi­ra­tion for many Cana­di­ans un­til the 1980s.

As a re­sult, there aren’t many coops in Cana­dian cities, and the ones we have are older, al­beit de­sir­able, build­ings.

It’s dif­fer­ent in the United States, es­pe­cially New York. While co-ops are still mostly pre-1960, the most cov­eted be­ing “pre­war” (i.e., be­fore the Sec­ond World War), there are quite a few of them, and they’re con­sid­ered among the best places to live.

Why do peo­ple ex­pose them­selves to a fi­nan­cial strip search by a co-op board, not to men­tion the hum­bling im­per­a­tive of ca­jol­ing ref­er­ences that de­tail your good char­ac­ter and so­cial sig­nif­i­cance?

I used to be­lieve it’s be­cause coop apart­ments are typ­i­cally in the choic­est lo­ca­tions, have won­der­ful fea­tures such as high ceil­ings, fire­places and kitchens with win­dows, and it was worth it to grovel. (In Toronto, I as­so­ciate co-ops with the best mod­ernist apart­ments of the 1950s and 1960s.)

Af­ter hear­ing the sto­ries of sev­eral co-op own­ers, the most com­pelling rea­son to buy is you get to choose your neigh­bours.

Co-op boards em­pha­size sim­patico: If we have to live with oth­ers, they might as well be nice like us.

A board can re­ject with­out giv­ing a rea­son; it’s the last bas­tion of prej­u­dice and be­yond the long arm of govern­ment reg­u­la­tion. Even to­day, some build­ings still care about at­tributes too po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect to men­tion.

If you’re re­jected by too many co-op boards, you buy a condo or move to sub­ur­bia. Richard Nixon was fa­mously forced to live in New Jersey af­ter he was re­peat­edly de­clined.

Real-es­tate agents will ad­vise if you’re likely to pass a co-op board’s scru­tiny. Some buy­ers ask to be “pre-cleared” be­fore they make an of­fer to avoid em­bar­rass­ment later.

Oth­ers cam­paign for years and suck up to prom­i­nent own­ers in a build­ing so they can even­tu­ally pur­chase there.

Celebri­ties are of­ten the first to be re­jected — with good rea­son. Do you want pho­tog­ra­phers stalk­ing the en­trance to your el­e­gant ad­dress wait­ing for Madonna to ap­pear?

Worse, do you want to live in the Dakota, on Cen­tral Park West, wor­ry­ing that there’s a gun­man lurk­ing in the shad­ows wait­ing to kill the fel­low who lives across the hall, to­day’s equiv­a­lent of John Len­non?

Peo­ple who are rich on pa­per but don’t have much cash on hand are frowned upon as po­ten­tial co-op buy­ers be­cause build­ings of­ten need large in­fu­sions of cash for im­me­di­ate re­pairs.

I’m told that New York co-op prospects are ex­pected to demon­strate that they have liq­uid as­sets equal to — at a min­i­mum — the cost of the apart­ment they want to pur­chase.

It’s said that, in the most rar­efied prop­er­ties, this mul­ti­ple is much higher. And, of course, you must pay cash for your suite, a co-op can’t be mort­gaged, and few build­ings al­low co-ops to be rented.

My agent ad­vised me not to bother try­ing to buy a Cen­tral Park West maisonette, be­cause I was from out of town. (It was a small den­tist’s of­fice and could be con­verted back to a one-bed­room apart­ment.)

The build­ing didn’t want any suite used as a pied-a-terre. Also, these are the kinds of suites that are likely to be loaned to friends. Not de­sir­able, ei­ther. Some build­ings don’t like chil­dren or pets. I was told of a very nice New York co-op that de­cided to be­come a no-pet build­ing and grand­fa­thered the cur­rent dogs liv­ing there. One fam­ily con­tin­ues to have “Rover” 20 years later. He’s look­ing younger all the time.

Fa­mous Cana­di­ans with stag­ger­ing for­tunes can still have a rough ride with New York co-op boards.

Their as­sets and ref­er­ences are dis­counted, be­cause they’re from that so­cial­ist coun­try to the north.

So what if the prime min­is­ter of Canada writes a ref­er­ence; who’s he, any­way?

Co-ops are clubs. When I stare long­ingly at some of my favourite ad­dresses, I hear Grou­cho Marx’s line: “I don’t care to be­long to any club that would ac­cept peo­ple like me as a mem­ber.”

An ex­am­ple of a co-op apart­ment in Ot­tawa.

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