I n an industry enamored of the latest and greatest technological tools—apartment-hunting iPhone apps, open-house check-ins on Foursquare, doormen who tweet—one agita-building convention remains a digital-age holdout: the co-op-board interview. Titans of industry and budget-minded first-time buyers alike have long been forced to submit to the traditional, in-person once-over. But that paradigm is being challenged. The Times recently reported that an uptown couple sat for an interview via Skype last fall, and last December, a West Village co-op followed suit. Warburg Realty broker Leslie Lalehzar reports that a couple seeking a rental passed muster at the co-op after meeting board members not in the flesh but via a webcam. They were in Europe and were eager to line up a place since they were expected Stateside in the New Year. After a previous rental applicant failed to make the cut, Lalehzar, who represents the homeowners, pulled a brand-new trick out of her bag: a Skype interview (“We needed candidates who could pass the board,” she explains).
William Flaherty, the board’s vice-president, says the online meet and greet went off without a hitch. The connection was clear, the candidates sound. “[They had] a very strong package. Everything was top-notch,” he recalls. Then again, it was for a one-year sublet only. “We’ll probably see how they fit into the building, and if it stays a positive experience, we might [turn to Skype] again,” says Flaherty. (As it happens, the board recently fielded another webcam request—this time from buyers. The board declined and asked them to fly to the city for the interview.)
So, is this the wave of the future or merely an aberration? Real-estate attorney Stuart Saft, who heads the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums, says the prospect of vetting-by-Skype is intriguing, but predicts buildings will be wary about adopting it wholesale, especially for sales transactions, which have long-term consequences. “Physically being with applicants and taking [them] out of the comfort zone, you’d probably get a better reading of what they’re like,” he says. “They need to make sure [the newcomers] aren’t going to be disruptive.” A hybrid interview—where the applicants meet with a few board members face-to-face while other neighbors interact online—may make more sense. Whatever the situation, it can’t hurt to ask. Lalehzar says she plans on inquiring about Skype interviews from now on. “I wouldn’t have any qualms putting it out there,” she says. “It allows for amazing flexibility, especially in a tough market like this.”