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Redoing Hallways and Lobbies the DIY Way

Dennis DeFillipo, Board President
Lexington Estates Resident since: 2015
Joined Board: 2015

Dennis DeFillipo, 68, spent 30 years as a software developer before retiring in 2009. He and his wife, Lynn, have lived at Lexington Estates, a six-building, 96-unit co-op in Oyster Bay in Nassau County since May 2015. He has served on the seven-member board for three years, the last two as president. Besides renovation of the lobbies and hallways, he has overseen the installation of two new boilers. Up next: new roofs.

HABITAT: You’ve just spent the last year and a half renovating the hallways and lobbies in six buildings. How did that come about?

DeFILLIPO: Our hallways were tired. They were last done in the 1980s – the wallpaper was actually falling off the walls. The carpeting was coffee-stained and rundown. It was cleaned twice a year, but you can only clean it so much, and it was old. But we had a problem: we didn’t have money to do any repairs. Prior boards hadn’t raised the maintenance, and unfortunately they had started taking money out of the reserves for the operating expenses. Our reserves never got dangerously low, but they’d started to dwindle.

HABITAT: What did you do?

DeFILLIPO: We had to raise the maintenance 4 percent, which is a lot, considering that it hadn’t been raised for at least four or five years prior to that. We’re now going to raise the maintenance every year just a small amount. We did a 1 percent increase this year. I got involved with refinancing the mortgage. We had a very high-interest mortgage, and we refinanced at a low rate and saved $12,000 a month in mortgage payments. We were able to get money into our reserves to finance the project to redo the hallways.

Redoing the hallways in this co-op is probably different from other co-ops. They just have one building – we’ve got six. And we’ve got 12 lobbies because each building has two entrances. We turned to John Wolf [the president of Alexander Wolf & Company], and he put us in touch with a decorator. But we were floundering with her. We spent probably a year going back and forth with her over various things. We weren’t in agreement as to what we wanted to do. She worked up these boards with lobby designs, and we hung them in two of our lobbies. We had a vote, and about 48 percent of the complex voted. When we got the prices back, that was the main reason we left the decorator. She came back with estimates that were astronomical.

So we said, ‘Let’s take the bull by the horns and do it ourselves.’ We formed a five-person committee, with four people from the board and one non-board member. We did that because we wanted to get the residents involved to a certain degree. I would have liked to have gotten another non-board member involved, but we couldn’t find one.

HABITAT: What did the committee do?

DeFILLIPO: We sat down and did a budget, and we’re now working within the budget number, and we’re handling the tasks, as opposed to having a contractor do it. We wanted to save money. The committee picked out vendors to hang the wallpaper and install the carpeting. We started working physically on them in April. We’re currently in the middle of the renovation to the last building, and we’ve gotten mostly positive feedback on the choices of wallpaper and carpeting that the committee made. We’re probably under budget by about $60,000. The total budget was $200,000.

HABITAT: How closely did the board supervise the work?

DeFILLIPO: We have an excellent superintendent here, and he said, ‘I’ve done this sort of work before,’ and he handled it. I’ll tell you something: he’s got eagle eyes. He walks around and sees any defects, and he points them out. He works very closely with everyone, and he keeps me informed. He’s very well-organized, and he’s doing all that in addition to handling his regular responsibilities.

HABITAT: What did you learn from this experience?

DeFILLIPO: Check your designer or decorator very thoroughly. Don’t just look at their work prior to this; check into his or her references thoroughly for cost overruns and things like that. Also, make sure you have a budget upfront. This is the mistake we made. We didn’t have a budget in the beginning, and that’s what I believe caused us to kind of tread water, because we didn’t really know what we wanted. The budget number helped focus us.

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