HOA Maintenance: Ask These 13 Questions to Assess Your Plan

Does your California homeowners association have the right tools in place to tackle an unexpected maintenance project? 

More importantly, what can you do now to avoid facing surprise costs and unexpected repairs down the road?

Your HOA can’t plan for everything, but having a strong preventive maintenance (PM) plan or program is key to helping you keep equipment and facilities in excellent condition, build up your association’s reputation and enhance property values. Sit down with your manager to evaluate what’s working and what’s not. 

Start with these questions:

 

1. Do we have a PM plan?

It’s a no-brainer, right? Maybe, but if the answer is no or you’re not sure, speak to your management company about establishing one. If the answer is yes, follow up with additional questions to see if it hits the mark (or if you need to take steps to improve it). 

Red flag! In our 2019 HOA Health Assessment Survey Report, more than 25% of board members said that they either didn’t have a PM plan, or relied on vendors to take care of it. 


2. Is our PM plan documented?

Get it in writing. Everything related to your HOA should be documented digitally or in print, and that includes your PM plan. This step is important because it ensures that your maintenance plan will outlive the current board and any other managers or staff that need to be kept in the loop. 

3.  Does our PM plan reflect our HOA’s vision?

Your association’s vision should be the foundation of any operational documents, including a PM plan or program. For instance, is your vision to be a modern and trendy community with cutting-edge amenities and activities or have the best-in-neighborhood curb appeal? If that’s the case, you need to have a robust and thorough PM plan to keep equipment and common areas in top-notch condition. 

4.  Are we taking our reserve study into account when planning maintenance?

A reserve study is not the same as a PM plan or program, but the two should complement each other. Most importantly, your board and California management company should review your reserve study when developing (or tweaking) a PM plan. Reviewing an association’s reserve study on an annual basis helps ensure that a community’s PM plan matches equipment life expectancies. Additionally, if the reserve study’s estimated timelines do not align with your PM program, there’s a good chance your program is outdated. A timely review of the reserve study help associations mitigate surprise costs and save money.

5.  Has an engineering specialist assessed our equipment and facilities?

Don’t look to an amateur when you need a professional. Partnering with a dedicated and experienced engineering specialist or consultant leads to more informed solutions and cost savings for your HOA. This individual can help detect potential issues that may result in last-minute or unexpected repairs.
 

Success Story
A 228-unit high-rise was facing water drainage issues coming from one of its swimming pools, which resulted in leaks into the parking lot below. Prior to FirstService Residential, the association received a $400,000 estimate to fix the problem and had limited funds to use. FirstService Residential brought in an engineering specialist, who not only discovered the cause of the problem, but provided a more efficient and cost-effective resolution that was $280,000 less than the original solution.

 

6.  What equipment testing methods are we using?

Thermal imaging, sound testing and plumbing stack inspection. Sound familiar? Your engineering specialist should be using a variety of testing methods to ensure that your PM plan is both accurate and thorough. For example, they may use vibration analysis to measure the vibration of moving parts in machines. This information can be used to determine the condition of equipment like pumps and motors to help inform your PM program. It is also used to diagnose mechanical problems, including imbalance, misalignment, looseness, worn bearings, strain and resonance. 

7.  How often are we inspecting facilities and equipment?

A strong PM plan and a solid schedule go hand in hand. Facilities and equipment should be tested frequently to ensure that they are operating in accordance with useful life. To determine this schedule, an engineering specialist should perform an initial quality assurance assessment or full inspection of all of your components. After 30 days, they will be able to determine a baseline that can be used to develop a schedule (also taking the size and scope of your facilities into account). Lastly, your maintenance schedule should remain fluid to accommodate emergencies, such as extreme weather.  

8.  What are we doing to extend the useful life of equipment and facilities? 

Along with adhering to the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, is your management company taking steps to improve and extend useful life? Your association may be able to extend useful life by testing equipment more frequently, investing in ongoing maintenance and replacing parts with higher quality or more efficient materials. On the flipside, an association that doesn’t have a solid PM program in place may inadvertently be reducing a component’s useful life. 

9.  What types of vendors do we work with?

How well do you know your vendors? Make sure that your association is only partnering with highly vetted vendors. Your management company should be seeking out multiple quotes for your association in order to get the best price and highest quality service. They should also be experienced in your local market, have relationships with trusted vendors and be connected to a network of national support. 

10. Are engineering associates regularly trained on our maintenance processes? 

A great PM plan without the right people behind it is virtually worthless. Make sure that your engineers and maintenance staff have access to ongoing training and support in their day-to-day job. That means connecting with local and national resources such as engineering specialists and project administrators to give them the help they need. They should also be kept in the loop when changes to the schedule or PM plan occur, so that they can adjust accordingly.

11. What system do we use to track maintenance projects? 

Technology is everything when it comes to keeping your association on track with preventive maintenance. That’s why a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) or some type of digital tracking system should be used to monitor projects and automate all of your schedule’s processes. When selecting your CMMS, consider the number of users needed, the location where the application is hosted, mobile functionality and tracking inventory, work requests and scheduled maintenance.

12.  How do we respond when emergency maintenance issues do occur?

No matter how prepared you are, natural disasters and emergencies do happen. However, an experienced management company has procedures in place that can help your association prepare for unexpected emergencies. They should have documented staff training, exit strategy, equipment preparation and emergency protocol review. 

13.  Do our maintenance projects require a project manager or administrator?

If your community requires a much larger maintenance project or capital improvement, it’s in your best interest to use a dedicated project manager or administrator to help facilitate these projects. While your community manager should help manage aspects of the project, they can’t reasonably do it all. An experienced management company should offer project consulting or administrative services, where they provide support for a number of important tasks, like establishing the budget and guiding the bidding process. 
 

“Enlisting the help of a project administrator or manager is critical when you need to handle important or complex projects in your HOA. It not only helps make your project more effective, but it relieves the burden on your manager to conceive, plan and execute on a project.” 

—Anthony Martin, Project Manager, FirstService Residential

 

Why a PM plan matters

A thorough preventive maintenance plan can help mitigate unexpected costs and repairs, saving your association money and helping preserve and enhance property values. Sit down with your board and management company to make sure your HOA is taking steps to maintain a strong preventive maintenance plan.