Every relationship starts the same way—people getting to know each other and moving into a new condo or co-op is no different. It’s actually a lot like moving into a new town; there are new neighbors, new rules and new community leaders. Some buildings might go to great lengths to welcome newcomers into the community, but for the most part, most boards are hands-off when it comes to the red-carpet treatment.
When Jodi Lipper was asked how she was welcomed when she moved into her New York City co-op, she replied “I got squat; nada.” Similarly, Manhattan shareholder Laura Barillaro says when moved into her co-op, she wasn’t welcomed with a bottle of champagne and a map to the neighborhood. “Instead, I was welcomed with a $1,000 move-in fee—followed by a capital assessment,” she remembers.
It's Nothing Personal...
This is not unusual, say those in the industry. “The boards in our buildings are usually on more of a professional level with the residents, not a personal level and that’s pretty standard,” says Robert Rinaldo, vice president of D&J Property Management in Forest Hills. “The board doesn’t send any gift baskets or anything like that when a new resident moves in. They handle the residents’ move-in more like a business transaction.”
When a new shareholder/owner moves into a building, they should know what’s required on their part when they sign the lease, but since they are moving into a building with other neighbors, a welcome gift might be just what they need to feel like they are home.
Paul Purcell, managing director of William Raveis Real Estate in New York City, is also on the board of directors of his co-op and says that even though it’s the not the norm to provide a new resident with any kind of welcome token, he actually would like the idea of welcoming new residents with a little something.
“I think it's really nice for the board to welcome people,” he says. “A new resident may not know their neighbors, and they have only met a couple of people on the board during the interview process. By welcoming them it would say, "We're happy to have you with us." It would also tell the buyers that we're a friendly building.”
Rinaldo also says that he loves the thought and is an advocate for anything that makes the new residents feel more welcome. “For all the people on the board who talk about trying to rally the shareholders, and about how they are a community who are supposed to look out for each other, there are things you can do to build that camaraderie,” he says. “A small welcome gift is just one of those things.”
A Need-to-Know Basis
In most cases, however, a resident’s welcome packet is nothing more than a book of house rules. “We were welcomed to our condo and given a book of house rules, along with a description of fees for violating them,” says Tricia O’Sullivan, a New Jersey condo resident.
In today’s technological age, some boards do not even provide a printed version of the house rules and are, instead, pointed to the condo association’s website where the rules are there to be read or printed out.
“I know most information is in a co-op's house rules, but I think a resident should still be given a recap of the daily need-to-know things,” says Purcell. “For example, this would potentially include a list of neighbors if the tenant shareholders don't have an issue with that and some might, the doorman's phone number if there is no house phone, the names of the doormen, porter and handyman, the building manager's phone, how we handle deliveries and when the mail comes.”
Purcell also suggests that the board create a "Neighborhood Guide" that informs the new folk of such items as the cleaners that most of the residents use, the seafood market, the meat market and more. “I bet shops would even give a discount coupon to encourage new business,” he says.
Other items that Purcell suggests including in this informational welcome packet includes a schedule of community events and tenant shareholders meetings, a reminder of service elevator operation hours, information on the laundry room system and the neighborhood in general. “Beyond that, there are shops in our neighborhood that I think are great,” he says. “Clearly, some residents like one dry cleaner over another, but where are the nearest ones? We also have a couple of great wine shops within walking distance, we have a great cheese shop, a great meat shop and a great fish market within a couple of blocks. I love using local vendors to support my neighborhood. That’s what makes New York City unique and special. We shop locally, so why not help a newcomer?”
One such reason that boards aren’t extending themselves beyond a handshake and a copy of the rule book is most likely financial. The board is under a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholder. It is under no obligation to welcome new neighbors, so unless there is a designated welcoming committee voted on and approved by the board, there is no welcome gift. Any money for such an item would also have to be already designated for purchase and approved on by the board as well.
“I would suggest that the board pay for a small gift and when I say the board pays I do mean the building fund,” says Purcell. “In our building, we have a fund for parties and things like that. I'm not talking about buying something extravagant, but maybe just purchase a small bouquet of flowers, or a gift of food or wine.”
Purcell explains that living in a building is all about creating a sense of community, “It's the thought that counts, right?” he says. “A welcome gift also sets a tone for a welcome feeling and begins a feeling of good will. It also sends a message to everyone the new owner speaks to, ‘hey, I love this building."
Typically when a buyer purchases a new co-op or condo unit, they do receive at least one gift on moving day—from their real estate salespersonâ€•who will buy their clients such congratulatory items as wine and wine glasses, or a keychain or gift cards and some artwork. On some occasions, the property management company has taken it upon themselves to purchase small gifts to give to welcome the new residents and to let them know that they were available should they need anything.
For the most part, landlords of rental buildings are more apt to give a small bouquet of flowers, a cleaning kit, a gift card to a local coffee shop, restaurant or home improvement store.
Just because a board doesn’t roll out the red carpet when a new resident moves in doesn’t mean they have hearts that are two sizes too small. In some buildings, there are welcoming committees who host community events where residents can mix and mingle.
“At one of the buildings that we manage, they have a both a gardening committee and a pool committee,” said Rinaldo. “It’s not something they are paid to do, they do it out of the goodness of their hearts but it brings some of the community together. If you have a newsletter and want to do something together, it could be written up and posted there and it might spark some interest in getting new residents to come out and meet their neighbors. For the most part, the extent that some boards will go to to create events where residents meet is their yearly Christmas party.”
Boards who are interested in welcoming new residents to the neighborhood can still provide information that will, as Purcell says, help them to navigate the property and neighborhood.
A welcome letter that includes all of the rules, as well as pet policies, garbage and recycling, emergency contact information, municipal rules and government resources, is a good first start. Here are some other suggestions:
• A letter of welcome signed by the board president and the manager.
• Meeting dates and times, locations and protocol.
• Information on location of the community billboard or website information
• Information on home improvements.
• A list of committees, contact information for the heads of those committees and a sign-up sheet.
• A list of local addresses and phone numbers, schools, zoning questions and more.
Ultimately, the pros say that once a new resident moves in, the most important way that you can make them feel welcome is by communicating. They should know where to go should they need assistance. They should know what to talk to the manager about and what to talk to the board about. While face-to-face contact with every resident on a regular basis is tough, try to reach the new homeowners so they get to know the board and the management company. This will help the new resident to feel more comfortable and like an official resident of the building.
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.