Getting to Know You Welcoming New Co-op and Condo Residents

The days of neighbors bringing casserole dishes to the door may be over, but welcoming new co-op and condo residents into the buildings they now call home is not an entirely lost art. In fact, it goes on every day in buildings throughout the city.

From guidebooks that provide new residents with "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Co-op or Condo But Were Afraid to Ask" to bottles of chilled champagne, today's welcome wagon takes multiple forms. The extent to which new homeowners are greeted, however, depends on a number of things, from building size to community tradition. Sometimes it just boils down to individual tastes and preferences. "In New York, you can't force people," says Jane E. Goldberg, vice president and associate broker at William B. May. "If [new residents] are quiet, that's fine. If they want to meet other people, that's fine, too."

There's no single procedure or method universally suggested for welcoming residents into their new building's fold, and there's no one person who automatically takes up the task. Sometimes a broker will offer a friendly welcome. Other times, it'll be the managing agent. And sometimes, it'll just be that friendly neighbor from down the hall. One thing is clear, however; the point is not how a new arrival is welcomed, but that the effort is made.

Just the Facts When the papers have all been signed, most managing agents will give new residents a very basic orientation package, detailing all the do's and don'ts of the building along with a listing of staff names, board members, and committees. This streamlined approach works well, says Richard Kalikow, owner of Max Capital Management. "In Manhattan, everyone wants their privacy," he says. "They don't want to be nurtured. People come in and meet over time. And if they have any questions, they can call us."

Manhattan's AKAM Associates, Inc., offers individualized welcome packages in the form of an informational handbook for each of their client properties. The packages include reference information about the services AKAM provides to the property, contact information for AKAM and the building itself, as well as critical after-hours and emergency phone numbers and contact procedures. The package also includes specific information about the property and how it's governed; house rules, policies, procedures and tenancy guidelines.

AKAM created the packages because, according to company president Michael Berenson, "We felt there were many questions that new residents might have, and we wanted them to get better acquainted quickly." Although some of the older buildings managed by AKAM do not take part, the management company offers the package to any building that wants it.

Berenson feels the packages have paid off. "Welcoming people absolutely makes a difference," he says. "It gives them a sense of community and makes them feel good about their new home. It starts the relationship off on the right foot."

Bellmarc Property Management president John Janangelo agrees. His company also produces a comprehensive welcome package filled with rules, regulations and listings. "It's a nice touch," he says. "Not a lot of places do it. But we're in a service business and it's just another thing that's good to do."

Going High Tech Not only do welcome packages represent a friendly way to say a metaphorical hello, they also serve an important informational purpose, enabling new residents to know and understand their building's rules from day one. To keep that flow of information going, some management companies have set up private information Web sites that their residents can access any time. "It's a great tool," says Berenson of his company's online information system. "People are actually surprised they get to use it."

Many private building communications networks also offer community links, providing information on local events, activities and entertainments, acting as an electronic introduction to the resident's new surroundings.

Getting Creative Often as not, the initial welcome for new co-op and condo owners comes courtesy of their broker. "Brokers play a big role [in welcoming residents]," Janangelo says. "When clients are looking at new properties, they'll tell them about the buildings. They know the intricacies."

Brokers have also been responsible for some of the most imaginative and thoughtful greetings. One broker for a large Manhattan company had a client whose deteriorating health meant she would soon be wheelchair bound. As a move-in gift, the broker gave the new resident a bottle of sparkling cider and a basket full of take-out menus and lists of neighborhood grocers that would deliver.

Another client had always lived in rental properties. To welcome her to the world of home ownership, her broker presented her with a bottle of champagne and a crystal key ring from Tiffany's with a little house on the end. The broker also introduced the new owner to the neighbors, giving her an instant set of friendly faces in her new building.

Other large brokerages go even further with neighborly introductions. One company hosts a champagne and cheese party for newcomers, complete with handwritten invitations to the new buyer's neighbors. According to the company, it's a way for new residents to break the ice without having to make the first move.

Broker Seiglinda O'Donnell of William B. May stresses the importance of orienting new residents, particularly if they're from way out of town. O'Donnell says she makes sure they get to know not only their neighbors, but their neighborhood as well. "If they're from out of town, they don't know beans about the neighborhood," she says. O'Donnell gives recent arrivals information on the background and history of the area, as well as lists of schools, barbers, bakers, gourmet shops, liquor stores, even appliance shops. At times, she's even written letters of recommendation for their children's schools.

"We love this city, so why not share it?" O'Donnell says. "I tell them to take a walking tour of the local delis and cleaners and shops and introduce themselves." Sometimes, she says, a shopkeeper will give them a loaf of bread or some cheese as their own special welcome gift. "It creates a neighborhood feeling," she says. And for the shopkeeper, "it creates a feeling of goodwill and perhaps a lasting customer."

That idea of goodwill rests at the heart of welcoming new residents. "You have to be a full-service broker," O'Donnell says. "People deserve it. I would want someone to do that for me." And in a big city at the end of the day, isn't that what being good neighbors is all about?

Liz Lent is a freelance real estate writer.

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