Q: My husband and I are buying a co-op on the Upper East Side. The co-op board is requesting three to five letters of recommendation from people who know us. Our broker sent us examples of these letters and they are very long and effusive. This seems so false and forced, and I can’t imagine anyone has time to write such letters. Why would a board want so many letters, and do I really need to do it?
A: The co-op board letter is an integral part of the board package, an oddity that is as much of an art as it is a source of misery for buyers. But in the quirky world of New York City real estate, there really is no way around it.
By now, you’ve likely assembled much of the board package, which can run hundreds of pages long and reveal your financial health in intimate detail. The reference letters from friends and associates introduce you to the co-op.
This may seem strange, arcane and a little neurotic, but a co-op is a corporation, and you are buying shares in it. The board wants to find out what kind of shareholder you will be. And so they ask your friends and co-workers to dish.
“It’s a club, right?” said Lisa Chajet, an associate broker at Warburg Realty. The board members want to know: “Can you afford the dues? Are you going to fit in? And the letters really show that.”
Ideally, the letters should show the breadth of your character. Include a mix of personal and professional examples from friends, neighbors and colleagues. Your former supervisor wouldn’t be able to add much, if anything, about your spouse. But that’s to be expected. Your friend of 20 years is the one who will have a thing or two to say about your husband. Assuming each of you deliver three or four references, the collection will paint a full picture.
It may feel like a heavy lift, but you are only asking your longtime friend or co-worker to write about a page. Send them a sample letter, or even write an outline for them. Consider the request one you might make if you were applying for a big job. Your friends and close associates should know how hard it can be to get an apartment in New York (and if they don’t, they’ll figure it out after you ask for a letter). They should be willing to say a few nice things about you to help make it happen.