Find part one of our two-part Capital Improvements series here

HOA capital improvements not only affect your community or building’s health and reputation, but also homeowners’ wallets. That’s why you need to prioritize projects appropriately and communicate with association members from the beginning. It’s also crucial to have an experienced project management professional overseeing the project. They will create a plan of action prior to starting each capital improvement project and communicate with residents about the project’s status as work progresses. 

Michael Healy, vice president of Project Management Services at FirstService Residential, says, "Effective project management transforms vision into reality through meticulous planning, dynamic communication, and strategic execution, ensuring that every capital improvement resonates positively with both the community's heart and its budget.” He continues, “If you don’t lead a project where you want it to go, it will lead you somewhere else.” 

Communicating with residents 

Effective communication is crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship with residents. Transparent communication, especially regarding costly capital improvement projects, helps prevent residents from feeling blindsided or questioning the necessity of the expenses. Clearly explaining the reasons behind these projects can foster acceptance and approval among residents. Furthermore, sending out surveys to gather resident feedback on which projects they consider important shows that the board values their opinions and is committed to considering their needs. This strategy can significantly enhance trust and satisfaction within the community. 

Keep residents informed about the board’s capital improvement plans by discussing them in meetings and using any other communication channels available: emails, your association website, newsletters, flyers, and mass communication tools. Getting buy-in from residents helps projects proceed more smoothly. 

Regular, relevant, and timely communications are also important during capital improvement projects so homeowners are aware of work that’s in progress, how it might impact them individually or as a community, and when it’s likely to be completed. This helps manage expectations and boost morale when they know there’s an end in sight. Most importantly, always communicate the benefits and purpose of the project itself. For instance, share why a new pool will improve the resident experience or the external additions to your clubhouse will enhance curb appeal and increase property values. 

Prioritizing projects 

The remaining useful life of your components often dictates the scheduling of your capital improvement projects. For example, a component nearing the end of its expected lifespan next year will likely require replacement sooner than one anticipated to last another five years. But what should you do if multiple components reach the end of their useful life simultaneously or if you have several enhancement projects to consider? 

Start by prioritizing structural work over those projects that are simply aesthetic or nice to have. Consider delaying “wish list” items that might be desirable but aren’t necessary for the safety of your association and residents. “Sometimes you may even need to shift priorities when a ‘must-have’ repair comes to light during enhancements or upgrades,” said Christopher L. Pappas, senior vice president at FirstService Residential. “For example, while it may be a priority to update your hallways from an aesthetic angle, if you don’t evaluate what is behind the walls (like electrical, plumbing, or other code upgrade requirements), you may end up facing expensive repairs or even safety risks.” While they may not be as exciting as amenity upgrades or aesthetic enhancements, must-have repairs and replacements should always be prioritized over “nice-to-have” projects. 

Pappas added, “Along the same vein, when prioritizing capital improvements, consider how each project may impact another. It’s important to do projects in the proper sequence rather than arbitrarily picking one project over another. Residents may want to see the landscaping around your clubhouse upgraded in the current year, but if you’re planning on painting the building in the following year (which can damage landscaping), it may not be a wise investment.” 

Lastly, whenever possible, you should give residents a voice in how you’ll prioritize projects. Your board may think that repaving your parking lots should take precedence because you’ve heard some residents complain about cracks and potholes. A survey might reveal that, in fact, outdoor lighting upgrades are a higher priority for residents because they are more concerned about safety. Your board wouldn’t know this without surveying the entire community or building. 

Defining a project’s scope and timeframe 

When it's time to plan your next capital improvement project, it's crucial to weigh the pros and cons of different approaches. Partnering with an association management company can be beneficial, as they often manage similar projects across different properties. This allows you to visit these properties and see firsthand the results and costs involved, potentially uncovering more cost-effective solutions or identifying upgrades that offer significant added value. Also, plan the project's timeline by working backward from your desired completion date, considering factors such as weather, holidays, and occupancy rates. Don’t forget to include buffer time for potential delays due to these elements. 

Hiring a project manager 

By offering comprehensive construction management services from concept to completion, project managers significantly alleviate the burden on your board and property manager. Their expertise allows them to oversee capital improvements and maximize project value through value engineering. Acting as advocates for your association, they aim to minimize overall project time and costs by utilizing their established resources and relationships to procure goods and services at lower prices. Additionally, they ensure smooth project execution and adherence to quality standards and codes. 

Project managers are usually engineers or other construction professionals with years of experience in capital improvements. It’s important that you not make the mistake of assuming your property manager can act as the project manager – property managers don’t have the specialized expertise to manage capital projects, nor are they licensed to do so. Property managers will assist in the administration of the project, but they must focus on operating the community, paying the bills and leading the staff. 

Our Project Management Services team has proven track records of completing complex projects on time and on budget by leveraging FirstService Residential’s size, relationships, and buying power to create significant cost savings for our clients. 

Soliciting bids 

Both your project manager and your property manager can help identify reliable vendors and contractors. In addition, the boards of other properties the company manages may be able to recommend providers they have used. A good property manager will also be able to minimize the complexities of soliciting bids by taking on the job of interviewing and negotiating costs with engineers and contractors. Because FirstService Residential has a wide network of managed properties as well as a strong local presence and vetted vendor relationships, managers can help guide boards with their vendor selection. 

Ensure that all vendors and contractors possess the necessary licenses, certifications, and insurance coverage. Additionally, confirm that they provide warranties for their components and workmanship. Consult your association’s attorney to understand potential liabilities during the project and decide if additional insurance is needed. For instance, your association could be held liable for theft or damage to tools, supplies, and other items stored on-site by contractors during the ongoing work. 

Updating your reserve study 

Once the project is over, you’ll need to engage your reserve specialist to update your reserve study. The existing study will have become out of date because you’ll have depleted some (or all) of the money in your reserve fund and completed one of the projects listed in the study. 


Capital improvements play a crucial role in sustaining the vibrancy and financial stability of your community or building. By prioritizing key projects, promoting transparent communication with association members, and executing detailed plans managed by professionals, you not only boost the property's health and reputation but also protect homeowners' finances. Open communication and proactive involvement throughout the process ensure that residents stay informed and engaged, nurturing a sense of unity and trust within the community. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. 
Friday May 24, 2024