Case Study: Top Master-Planned HOA Excels With Strategic Plan

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Not every master-planned community is facing critical maintenance issues or looking for a full-blown makeover when choosing a management solution. Many established master-planned communities are relatively successful, with great amenities, a solid reputation and an active and engaged homeowners association. However, they may not be achieving maximum cost savings and property values or have an unmatched resident experience that stands out in the greater community. In a competitive marketplace, master-planned associations need to continually make improvements to get a leg up on their competitors and not fall by the wayside. They can do this by partnering with their management company to improve efficiencies, develop cost savings and strengthen the resident experience through compelling amenities and lifestyle offerings. The Johnson Ranch Community Association took this approach, which yielded cost savings as well as many efficiencies and forward-thinking improvements.

“Because of its local and national reach, FirstService Residential had the right services in place to effectively manage a community the size of Johnson Ranch. Since taking over management, FirstService Residential has overseen the election of new directors, the on-site supervision of landscaping services and the beginning of our ‘master plan’ for achieving our goals. "

– David Jones, Board Member and Former President, Johnson Ranch Community Association

The Association 

Johnson Ranch is a 6,071-home master-planned community located in San Tan Valley in Arizona, surrounded by natural landscape. The first phase of construction started in 2002, and FirstService Residential began managing the community on January 1, 2018, with a 90-day transition starting on October 1, 2017. The community features 300 acres of recreation and green belt space, three pools, a nine-hole golf course, a catch-and-release lake, tennis, basketball and sand volleyball courts, a Frisbee golf course and playgrounds. Additionally, the Johnson Ranch community is home to a public 18-hole championship golf course as well as a preschool, K-8 school and a shopping center. 

The Challenge

As an already distinguished master-planned community in San Tan Valley, Johnson Ranch did not face emergency maintenance issues or have a dysfunctional board of directors. In fact, the board was highly engaged and focused on enhancing the community. However, they didn’t have access to a network of local and national resources that would allow them to achieve cost savings, staffing and IT efficiencies or guidance with their vision. Ultimately, they wanted to rise above their already strong position, with the goal of gaining relevance in the community at large. Kirk Kowieski, vice president at FirstService Residential, said, “While Johnson Ranch was one of the first notable master-planned communities in the area, several large communities have sprung up in the last several years, bringing newer homes with great amenities to the table.” He said, “The Johnson Ranch Community Association saw that they had the opportunity to excel even more and partnered with us to gain an edge in an increasingly competitive market.” 

The Solution

FirstService Residential partnered with the enthusiastic board to make both immediate and big-picture changes to strengthen the community’s position in the competitive market. While the community wasn’t experiencing serious problems, they faced some inefficiencies and had potential for additional growth. With the board’s guidance and support, FirstService Residential:

  • Worked with partner banks and FirstService Financial to improve association’s annual interest (i.e., diversified accounts to improve average yield)
  • Modified staffing model to include both a general manager (GM) and a residential community manager, in order to provide support for both big-picture strategy and day-to-day resident issues, respectively
  • Provided an IT addendum to boost efficiencies with the community’s IT network in order to decrease downtime and save money in the long term
  • Partnered with the board to begin developing a strategic community plan and overall vision, taking stock of the Johnson Ranch community’s needs and focusing on long-term goals 

“We look forward to partnering with FirstService Residential on improving communication with homeowners, cutting our operational expenses and developing and implementing long-term goals to make Johnson Ranch the most desirable place to live in the Southeast Valley.” 

– David Jones, Board Member and Former President, Johnson Ranch Community Association

The Results

By making financial changes, adding an IT addendum, modifying the management staff model and setting the stage for a robust strategic community plan, the Johnson Ranch Community Association has experienced immediate benefits. Perhaps most importantly, FirstService Residential is partnering with the board to facilitate its proprietary Strategic Community Plan (SCP). Kowieski said, “In our work with large master-planned communities, we’ve seen the significant and long-term benefits of the SCP. It not only provides the board with a solid tool for daily decision making, it helps unify the existing board and all future and incoming board members with common goals and objectives.” In the brief time that FirstService Residential has managed Johnson Ranch, the association has experienced some very positive results:

  • By working with FirstService Residential preferred partner banks and FirstService Financial, the association was able to increase their average yield on deposits (as of January 2018) with an estimated increase in interest of more than $30,000 
  • FirstService Residential’s proposed changes to the staffing model (from one GM to a GM and a residential community manager) allows the GM to focus on big-picture responsibilities. These include execution of the developing Strategic Community Plan as well as working with local and state municipalities on potential legislation 
  • Installed IT hardware and replaced all shared laptops and desktops to provide direct access into the proprietary FirstService Residential server, solving latency and connectivity issues and eliminating downtime by providing direct access to the remote help desk and server 
  • Strategic Community Plan development has provided sight into the community’s future needs (through a community-wide survey) and a framework for growth, with the goal of improving Johnson Ranch’s relevance and enhancing property values

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