Question: What's the latest on the City's real estate tax abatement program for co-ops and condos?

MGRE Chief Financial Officer and controller Cynthia Dubensky responds:

That's a good question. As you may recall, in an effort to address the disparity in property taxes between private homes and co-ops and condos, in 1996 New York City introduced an amendment to the Real Property Tax Law that provided real estate tax abatements to most co-op shareholders and condo unit owners for a period of three years. The program has now been extended until June, 2012 and the legislature is currently working to extend it further As always, MGRE will keep the properties we manage appraised of any new developments, and we will continue to meet the City's filing deadlines in a timely and complete manner.

Question: I am on the Board of my condominium association, which is not managed by MGRE. We hold Board meetings once a month, but they last forever - sometimes as long as four or five hours. Any advice on getting the work done and getting out of the meeting before the break of dawn?

MGRE Director of Management Steven Greenbaum responds:

Volunteering to serve on your property's Board of Directors or Board of Managers should not be an endurance test. Unless a building has more than one or two significant issues that require re-hashing at every Board meeting, there is no reason why any Board meeting should last more than two hours tops. Here are four specific suggestions to help you and your fellow Board members be as productive as possible in as little time as possible

First, hold the meeting in a business-like setting. Meetings that double as social events in someone's apartment tend to last much longer than meetings that are held in a more professional location, such as a Board meeting room or in the management offices.

Second, your management company should be providing all documents that require Board review in advance of the meeting. By doing this, Board members will have an opportunity to make notes and bring appropriate comments and questions to the meeting. Management companies that spring new information on Board members at Board meetings aren't doing their job, and are wasting the time of everyone who attends.

Third, prepare an agenda in advance of the meeting, and stick to it. The best-run Boards even assign a specific allocation of time to the discussion of each individual issue. The time allotted takes into account how long it will take to provide the information the Board needs to make an informed decision. When the time is up, a vote or other appropriate action is taken. In this way, decisions get made and items get checked off the to-do list so they don't pile up and prolong Board meetings unnecessarily.

And finally, if your Board is spending a lot of time micro-managing because management isn't performing up to standard, maybe it's time to think about a different management company. At MGRE, we respect the time and energy Board members contribute to their properties. That's why we invite Boards to hold their meetings in our offices, we provide all meeting-related documents well in advance of every scheduled meeting, we prepare and issue agendas, and we execute our responsibilities in a timely and professional manner so that Board meetings are as productive-and as streamlined-as possible.

Question: Our 225-unit co-op has bounced around from one management company to another and we've never been satisfied with the service we've received. One company even stole money from our Operating Account and now we're in litigation trying to get it back. We're thinking about self-management. What do you think?

MGRE Vice President James Goldstick responds:

It's unfortunate that your cooperative has had such unsatisfactory experiences with professional management. But before your jump into self-management, you may want to consider a few things.

First of all, managing a 225-unit building is a big undertaking. Unless you have one or more shareholders who are willing to devote a tremendous amount of time to learning about and overseeing your building's structural and mechanical elements, handling all the aspects of your property's finances, receiving and responding to the ever-changing laws that govern residential housing, working with you building staff and with the Union, conferring on a daily basis with your building's vendors, contractors, and outside professionals, and interacting with fellow shareholders and residents (which are not always pleasant exchanges), you may want to think twice about the prospect of self-management.

And second, despite your experiences, there really are many fine and ethical management companies operating today that would be able to provide a satisfactory level of service to your building. My best advice is to initiate an active and thorough search for new management - management that will provide the caliber of service your property and its owners and residents need and want, and which will contribute to both the value and quality of life of the property in which you have invested. That's exactly what we do at MGRE, and we would welcome the chance to speak with you and your fellow Board members about how we can be of benefit to your building.