Managing Community Maintenance and Improvement Needs

Posted on Wednesday April 12, 2017 |



Whether your community is self-managed or professionally managed, maintenance is a big part of the day-to-day responsibilities. It’s a responsibility that can quickly become overwhelming, especially when you walk in on a Monday morning to a list of what went wrong over the weekend.
 
If you’re on the board of an association, you’re in luck! Our experts have some helpful advice that will make prioritizing that list and managing both maintenance and improvement needs a little easier.
 
A good beginning
“The first thing I train my engineers to do is walk the property at the start of every day and create work orders for things that are visible to homeowners,” said Rodney Riepenhoff, manager of Engineer Services West Region for FirstService Residential. “I teach them to be aware of the surroundings and to see what the homeowners see.” After the work orders are created, Riepenhoff has his teams group all new and existing work orders into one of three categories:

  • Priority work orders. These include obvious items that affect the lives, health or safety of residents in the community. Does the problem disrupt the association’s business? Are lights out in a common area that could lead to a slip-and-fall incident? Is an air conditioning unit not working?
  • Day-to-day work orders. Following the critical comfort and safety concerns, Riepenhoff’s primary concern is what is important to board members and homeowners, and that means the things that they can see. “If the plantings need weeding, if there’s a scratch on the wall or if the carpets are dirty – these are things that homeowners do not want to see, so we make them a priority,” he said.
  • Preventative maintenance work orders. Once the other two areas are addressed, preventative maintenance tasks are next on the list. These tasks are designed to extend the life of major systems and equipment and are directly tied to your reserve study.
 
An ounce of prevention
Riepenhoff is a specialist on reserve studies, and is a proponent of asset management in his work. “If your reserve study and preventative maintenance don’t match up, the reserve study is useless,” he said. “Your reserve study determines your budget for capital improvements and major repairs or replacement, so it needs to be accurate. That accuracy can be affected by your level of preventative maintenance.”  

“The first thing we do when we go into a facility is test all of the equipment and match it to the reserve study. If things are out of whack, and we don’t believe that an item has the life indicated by the reserve study, we let the association know and it becomes an immediate priority for us,” Riepenhoff said. “We correct what we can, extending the life of the component through correction and preventative maintenance. With good preventative maintenance, we find that things last longer, so now the association is saving money through the preventative maintenance program.”
 
Your association’s reserve study is like saving for retirement: rather than making one investment and leaving it alone, it must be checked and managed on an ongoing basis for the best results. Riepenhoff said that most communities have reserve studies, but their chief engineers or facility staff don’t base their preventative maintenance programs on them and update them as needed.

John Degnan, executive director at FirstService Residential in Maryland, said that, in his experience, roofs are a special area of preventative maintenance concern.

“One of the most significant maintenance project that impacts the financial status of a condominium community is the replacement of the roof, which falls under the responsibility of the community, not the individual homeowner,” he said. “Sometimes, communities do not proactively put away enough money to replace them and wait until the roofs are in bad shape before putting together a replacement project, which can result in costly special assessments or loans.”

Degnan recommends spot inspection and repair of the roofs by a certified roofing company every year, preferably the company that originally installed the roof. Working in conjunction with the original warranty company to preventatively maintain your roof can extend its life significantly and allow more time for a community to save for replacement.
 
Planning for improvements
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and associations need to plan for and prioritize their capital improvements as well as their maintenance needs. 
 
Degnan said that he finds it beneficial to put together a list of high-cost maintenance projects for the following year during the budget season and prioritize what should be completed first. In his experience, prioritization is a good first step to help plan a scope of work, especially if your community is tight with funding. He recommends using the following checklist to do that:
  • Does the project prevent a safety and security risk for the community?
  • Does the repair prevent damage or a problem to another part of the community that will create additional costs?
  • Is the repair part of an association obligation?
  • Does the repair take into consideration the broadest impact for the community members?
  • Is the project part of the long-term reserve study?
  • Will the project require funding from a special assessment or a loan?
  • Should you solicit consideration and comment for the project from the community members?
Properly maintaining your community, and scheduling improvements for it, is a huge part of keeping it vibrant and attractive to both current and future residents. Those maintenance tasks need to be properly prioritized, whether they are emergency needs or preventative maintenance needs. Creating a preventative maintenance program that is aligned with your reserve study and budget can actually help prevent day-to-day needs from becoming emergencies, so it’s important to plan and prioritize accordingly.
 
For more information about how a professional property management company can help your community set up a preventative maintenance program and prioritize your maintenance needs, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company, today.
 
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