In a recent Real Estate piece, the New York Times explored why and how newer shareholders can successfully integrate themselves into the governance of their co-ops. Five under-45 shareholders who recently joined their co-ops’ boards of directors explained their motivations and challenges.
Citing experts in residential real estate, the Times explored the reasons younger shareholders may want—and may not want—to run for and serve on the board. Drawbacks include the time commitment necessary to attend meetings, perform due diligence, and get up to speed on longstanding issues, which many young professionals or parents with young children (or both) cannot accommodate. This is why “[I]t’s easier if you’re retired,” licensed real estate saleswoman Melissa Leifer of Keller Williams NYC TriBeCa told the Times.
But, as the Times points out, there are many avenues for advice and resources available to new board members, including classes, seminars, and publications geared toward everything related to residential real estate. [Ed. note: like The Cooperator! Ahem.] Real estate professionals interviewed by the Times also indicate that the skills and experience a younger shareholder might bring to a board are as valuable as the institutional knowledge and familiarity with their co-op that an older board member might have.
A Personal Perspective
This writer is among the ranks of younger shareholders to join their co-op boards. Six years ago, I was elected to a board that for many years had been dominated by a majority of “originals”: shareholders who had lived in the co-op since before its reconstitution in 1996. When I became a shareholder there in 2006, the percentage of original owners was still well above 50%. But as the years went on, the board did not adequately reflect the generational changes occurring in the membership. Today original shareholders make up about 40% of the total, and the board's current composition reflects this demographic shift.
It also represents a variety of personal and professional experience adequately suited for the tough deliberations and decisions incumbent on a board. Retirees may be blessed with time, but the capabilities of the current board allow us to operate more functionally and efficiently than ever before. Even though we have a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, a facilities manager, a nonprofit director, a financial professional, a business owner, a tech entrepreneur, a real estate professional, a photographer, and a landscape expert on our board (some of whom are indeed original shareholders), the civility and diligence with which we conduct our business has led to unprecedented progress for the co-op and a stronger cohesion among its wonderfully diverse population.
The five shareholder-directors profiled in the Times recognize that their backgrounds, interests, and perspectives have worth in running a building, and that the importance of serving their community and protecting their investment are reasons enough to take on the added responsibility. Justine Chapman, 29-year-old fiction writer and new member of her 14-unit West Village co-op, told the Times, “The change you can effect may be bigger than what you can imagine.” This director wholeheartedly concurs.