What’s most important is that you know what matters to your community. Where are you having trouble? Budgeting? Policy enforcement? Preventative maintenance? Communication between the board and residents (or the board and your existing management)? These are all legitimate issues that board members deal with every day, and you need to know which ones are the greatest hurdles for your community association board so you can accurately assess how a management company can assist you.
The risks of not knowing what to look for in a management company are myriad: if you aren’t clear on what you want and need, a company cannot meet those needs. You can get stuck with management that you don’t really want, and no one wants that.
We’ve done lots of research and discovered some fairly universal needs among association boards. Take a look at our list and see which ones apply to your board.
Rebecca Sarnese is an executive director for the condominium and HOA division of FirstService Residential. She said there are three topics she consistently hears about from board members: communication, proactive management and response time.
Sarnese said that, when board members tell her that they are unhappy with communication, it’s usually one or more parts of a three-way system. They generally feel that there isn’t enough communication in at least one of these directions:
• Manager to board
• Board to residents
• Manager to residents
To help combat this problem, especially from manager to board, Sarnese said that, “We do Friday emails to the boards. They summarize what has happened in the week. In addition to updating the board on what’s going on, they decrease the number of questions to the manager, and prevent the board from assuming that things aren’t happening,” she said. “An action list is included in the email and provides updates on larger projects like bids on landscaping, or construction projects that are ongoing. Especially during budget season, it’s important to keep them abreast of the status of bids.”
The single biggest complaint board members have when switching professional property management companies is that their old manager lacked “people-skills.” A manager that is the right fit for your community will work to develop a great working relationship with the board. They know they need to connect on a one-to-one, personal basis. That means not only being able to provide advice and accurate information about the property, it means knowing how to listen really, really well.
“One of our global service standards at FirstService Residential is a timely response: our team commits to getting back to people within 24 hours of them reaching out to us,” Sarnese explained. “For portfolio managers who aren’t onsite all the time, we commit to 24 to 48 hours and we stay consistent with that. I’ve heard of communities in which managers take a week or more to get back to their residents, if they do at all, and that’s just not a good way to manage.”
Why does it matter how long it takes a resident to get a response from their community association manager? “If you have a resident with a concern and you don’t respond within 48 hours, they assume you don’t care and that causes ill will between the management and the resident, even when it’s unintentional or accidental,” Sarnese said. “Just reaching out, even if you don’t have an answer, will help with building trust. Building those relationships makes us more valuable in the eyes of that person. Everyone wants to be heard. Even if it seems like a minor issue, it’s an important thing to the person taking the time and effort to reach out about it or they wouldn’t have bothered to call or email.”
Some degree of reactivity in management is inevitable. A pothole or burned out lightbulb can’t be addressed until they happen, obviously. But management has the opportunity to jump ahead of some issues and prevent them from becoming problems. “Perhaps there’s a policy that we can see will be a problem and it needs to be tweaked to be effective or comply with local laws,” Sarnese said. “Boards want someone who will jump ahead and take care of that before the problem starts.”
Where else can management be proactive? Insurance renewals! Sarnese said that, when managers know that insurance renewal is coming up, they can reach out to FirstService Residential’s insurance subject matter experts, and get everything ready for the board to review and approve before a deadline looms. Her teams make sure to include insurance renewal as an action item in that weekly email too, so they are communicating clearly about being proactive.
Sarnese takes the same approach with other vendor contracts. “We are proactive in looking for competitors, we contact the current vendor and work on those well in advance to make sure we have the best possible pricing for your communities,” she said.
That proactivity can even include helping communities avoid running afoul of the law. One example that Sarnese cited is the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement that communities allow service animals, even if all other pets are banned in the community. Management was able to explain the law to boards and help set up the means for setting up exemptions to the policy for people with service animals. That helped the community avoid potential lawsuits for violating the ADA.
Choosing the right community association management partner is a huge decision. Things like communication, response time and proactive management are a great place to start. Make sure that you take the time to assess the true wants and needs of your community and assess that the companies you are considering are able to meet them.