"In many ways, the whole process feels like you’re being violated—it’s just so tedious."
Burcher is not alone. Co-ops are common in cities such as New York and Boston, and so are the horror stories about buying into them. The first step is that an applicant must prove financial solvency with a large down payment (10 to 20 percent) and a preapproval letter from the bank. Then comes approval from the board of directors, a group often composed of long-term co-op residents whose lack of business experience is guerdoned with often cantankerous and belittling attitudes. Or so say applicants on the wrong end of the co-op stick.
"They look at your financial history, what kind of job you have, your personal references, investments—everything," explains Burcher. Because a co-op is technically a corporation in which applicants buy shares (in the form of an apartment or flat), the board of directors can refuse future applicants for any reason and suffer no legal recourse. Burcher continues: "Basically, they just try to figure out if they like you or not."
But months of financial despoliation and groveling can pay off for the persistent few who survive the hazing process: Co-op prices average 10 to 15 percent less than condominiums and are often in storied buildings in central urban locations. "Through it all," says Burcher, who sold his co-op in May 2006 for double the price he paid for it, "once you’re in, it ends up being just like living anywhere else."