Oftentimes, co-op shareholders forget that their building is not only a home, but also a business. And while running a home is a big responsibility in itself, with financial, legal, and managerial elements, running a cooperative corporation is even tougher. With most board members acting as volunteer directors who may or may not have inside knowledge of the day-to-day concerns facing their home/business, it's vital that every board has a team of skilled, competent professionals to help when things get complicated - and to try and avoid complication in the first place. Choosing such professionals to help guide your building is a tall order, but if you know what to look for, what questions to ask, and what you can and should expect from your hired pros, the task is a little less daunting.
Regardless of whether you're seeking an accountant, an attorney, or an architect, it's absolutely non-negotiable that your chosen pro have substantial experience specifically with co-ops and condos. The laws affecting these kinds of communities require special knowledge and experience. "Use someone well-known in the field," advises Richard Smolin, CPA, of Smolin & Yavel, an accounting firm based in Brooklyn. "The general practitioner approach doesn't seem to work."
A good place to start might be trade organizations like the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums (FNYHC), or the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC). The latter, Smolin says, "[is] the largest nonprofit institution lobbying for New York City co-ops and condos. They have no vested interest in anyone - they serve the community." Smolin also adds that asking your building's attorney for an accounting firm reference isn't a bad idea, but stresses that the responsibility for finding an accountant falls squarely with the board.
This is somewhat different from hiring a construction contractor to overhaul your building's lobby, says Smolin. In that situation, your managing agent is the point man between vendors and the board. But with accountants, "A board should receive sealed bids for choosing professionals, just as it would for any major capital expenditure. As the board's advocate, an accounting firm should keep a healthy distance from the managing agent, because it might be tough for a firm chosen by the managing agent to bite the hand that's feeding it."
Smolin believes the prospective candidate should meet with as many board members as possible. "At least the president, treasurer and the managing agent (with the managing agent playing only an advisory role). Ask who will be in charge of the assignment - a partner or someone on staff? Will they be available for meetings?"