HOA Planning: 4 Helpful Lessons from 2020 to Take Into 2021
Want to get the full 2020 recap and 2021 outlook report with survey results, best practices and industry insights? Download the HOA Survey Results here.
What lessons can HOA and high-rise board members take from 2020 and apply to 2021 and beyond?
In our latest survey, we asked community and high-rise association board members to reflect on 2020 and share their HOA planning tips and strategies for 2021.
Read on to find out how board members plan to approach 2021 and get insights on how to make better decisions and crush your strategy in the months ahead.
Lesson 1: Stick to Your Association’s Vision (Or Create a New One)
Good news! Despite facing a big curveball in 2020, most board members (about 80%) said they were confident in their performance (37% said they would rate their association’s overall performance as excellent and 43% said they would rate their performance as good). The truth is, boards who are prepared and have a strong foundation, vision and reliable resources (e.g., human resources support to handle staffing furloughs, management guidance with social distancing policies, emergency standard operating procedures and communications, etc.) will come out of a crisis stronger than before.
On the flipside, you may have experienced a less-than-exceptional year (for reasons beyond your control), like 20% of survey responders. These association board members said that the biggest challenges they faced were more resident requests or complaints (62%), postponement of maintenance projects (62%) and staff or manager turnover (38%).
While you can’t prepare for every unexpected challenge, keep in mind that having an association vision and 5- to 10-year plan can help you prioritize projects, pivot when necessary and make better decisions in general. Your plan should include emergency protocols and project priorities to help you make decisions that enhance your resident experience and property values. While it may be tempting to solely focus on short-term challenges, your long-term vision will set the stage for your future success. Partner with a management company that has the expertise to help you develop (or modify) your vision and align on important decisions that enable growth.
Lesson 2: Plan for Unexpected Emergencies (Hint: Don’t Wait)
Not so surprisingly, nearly 60% of HOA board members surveyed said that they changed their association’s strategy or plans in 2020. When an emergency or a natural disaster occurs, you need to have the foundation to make decisions quickly to ensure that your association remains strong and healthy (even in a crisis). This foundation should be built around a well-defined vision, strongly aligned board and responsive communication.
When board members were asked what aspects of their strategy or plans they changed in 2020 (note: survey responders could select more than one option), 79% said they changed or cancelled community events, 74% adjusted policies to align with social distancing or stay-at-home orders (e.g., updating parking policies or amenity restrictions), 47% postponed planned maintenance or capital improvement projects and 45% prioritized sanitization and cleaning processes.
Red Flag (And Pro Tip): Of those same survey responders, only 21% said their changes included focusing on emergency and crisis planning. While it may seem counterintuitive to think about emergency planning while you are in a crisis, planning for the next one is just as important (if not more so). While we don’t know exactly what 2021 or the years ahead will look like, you can prepare your association for future challenges. Work with your management partner to create a robust and customized emergency preparedness plan based on tried and true tactics that have worked for other associations.
For example, FirstService Residential’s Daniel Farrar, general manager for Ironwood Community Association, said associations or emergency committees should speak with communities that have already developed emergency plans. This can help you better understand what your mission needs to be and what details need to be included in your plan. Your management company should help facilitate these discussions.
Lesson 3: Create a Proactive HOA Communication Plan (Don’t Leave Residents Guessing)
We can’t stress this enough. Whether it’s 2020, 2021 or 2035, clear and proactive communication is key to a successful homeowners association and a strong reputation among residents. This is particularly the case when you resume or pause maintenance projects and capital improvements or revise policies that may affect the resident experience.
In fact, one of the biggest lessons board members learned in 2020 was the importance of communicating proactively as the situation changed moment by moment. In the 2020 Recap and 2021 Outlook (fill out the form on this page to get the full report), more than half (52%) of the surveyed board members that rated their performance as excellent or good in 2020 said that they improved communication with residents during the year.
Proactive communication during a crisis (or with any upcoming project or policy change) leads to less confusion and a better overall resident experience. For instance, many associations had to change amenity policies in 2020 to comply with local and state social distancing requirements. When communicating these changes, the most successful associations clearly outlined what was changing (e.g., community gym is closing temporarily), why it was changing (e.g., to adhere to state and local guidelines and prevent the spread of COVID-19) and what residents needed to do to comply (e.g., please do not use the gym until further notice).
How can you ensure that your communication is on point in the year ahead? Work with your management company to develop appropriate and transparent communications to share with residents. For tips regarding policy communication, read the article, HOA Policy: Why Consistent Communication is Key.
Lesson 4: Board Education and Alignment Are the Keys to Growth (Unity Matters!)
The most successful board members know that aligning with one another, focusing on education and partnering with the right resources (e.g., a solid management company and reliable association staff) are critical when the unexpected occurs. By unifying with fellow board members before a crisis happens, you’ll be better positioned to make thoughtful and informed decisions together.
The good news is that in education alone, board members remain committed to staying up to date and relevant. In the 2020 Recap and 2021 Outlook, 86% of surveyed board members ranked their board’s level of association expertise and knowledge as excellent or good.
To take your association one step further, use this next year to focus on the areas that are best for your community and that will position you for success not only in 2021, but in 2022, 2023 and beyond. Take a 10-question quiz to discover your association’s #1 area for growth.