As a board member, you want your community to grow and thrive. Having a vision for your community – the aesthetics of it, its brand reputation, the lifestyle services it offers and amenities it provides – is critical to its long-term growth and health. A well-crafted vision will transcend board and resident turnover and keep your community on track by helping your board craft the policies and procedures to support it.
Your community needs to ask itself what it wants to be before it can determine how to get there and what policies and rules it needs in place. If your focus is on lifestyle, for example, evaluate your policies with that in mind: ‘how does this specific policy impact residents' daily lives and overall resident experience?’
Why should you go to the effort of creating a vision and using it to create policy? If your association’s policies are made – or worse, enforced – in a haphazard manner, residents will be upset and unhappy. Your community will earn a reputation as a difficult place to live, and that reputation will spread – particularly in today’s social media-driven environment. That makes your community less appealing to buyers, which will eventually impact your property values. Having a vision will make it easier for your board to be consistent because the vision will drive your actions, including policies and compliance.
So let’s talk about your community’s vision and how that ties into both creating and enforcing policies
among your residents and homeowners.
How can your board define that vision?
It starts with internal brainstorming and communicating with residents. Stephen Doran, vice president at FirstService Residential, once worked with a community originally built in the 1970s. Forty years later, the community wanted to rebrand itself, but wasn’t sure how to do that. The board realized that the aging façade and image weren’t appealing to young families looking to buy. “They had to ask themselves ‘Where are we, as a community, today? What do we want the community to be? How do we get there?’,” Doran explained. “After about two years of brainstorming, surveying residents, working through their top 10 goals and the image they wanted to project, we brought in professionals to reinvent the community’s look and re-establish its lifestyle direction. In the end, it looked brand new and was absolutely worth the effort and cost.”
If your community doesn’t have a clear vision for itself, start by surveying your residents, as Doran's community did when they were rebranding. You can hold town halls, knock on doors and send out an online survey with a tool like Survey Monkey. Get feedback from as many channels as you can. A quality property management company will have the technology to help distribute and make the most of those communications.
It can also be helpful to check out neighboring properties to see what you like or dislike about them. A large property management firm will be able to provide benchmarking data on other communities similar to yours as well as arrange tours of those properties and introductions to their board members. Joe Padron, regional director at FirstService Residential, said that being able to show his Atlanta high-rises which buildings offered certain services and amenities and what prices the units sold for was “a real eye-opener. Communities want to offer a lot of things to their residents, but sometimes economic realities prevent that,” Padron explained. “Being able to show hard data helped them make decisions.”
“We’ve done a few board and resident alignment projects. One of the biggest included a town hall where we asked residents to dream big, come with plans and share their ideas,” said Bradley White, regional director at FirstService Residential. “We then took their suggestions and input, put it into a survey and sent it back out to the community, with an explanation of the cost implications of things they asked for.” White cautioned to make sure that residents understand that survey responses are not votes, just feedback for the board to consider.
After you have collected all this information, you can use it to help clarify the direction you want for your neighborhood or building. When the vision is crafted, make sure it is communicated to everyone in the community. Residents need to be engaged with the community’s vision and understand how it will affect them, how it will help enhance their property values and how it will improve their lifestyles. Get their buy-in. Alignment from the community on the vision is key. Once you have that, the policies and rules will follow.
How do the right policies reinforce your vision?
So you've established your vision. How do you determine if your policies are aligned with it? In larger communities, as White suggested, consider having a town hall meeting. You can vet policies that are being proposed and see how residents respond to them.
Board members often wonder where to start when it comes to policy creation and priorities. It’s important to make sure that residents understand that the board isn’t arbitrarily making rules. A good property management company knows that creating policy is not easy and addresses that lack of understanding and process early on. They will be able to provide guidance on policies established in similar communities and know what some of the hot-button issues are.
How do you help residents understand the “why” behind the rule when creating new policy? “Easy!” said Jorge Dominguez, also a regional director at FirstService Residential. “Explain why the rule was created, the positive impact it has on resident lifestyle, safety or property values. It often comes back to the basics of being courteous and a good neighbor. If you explain it from that perspective, residents usually understand and will comply.”
For example, if your community vision is a luxury condominium that attracts high-end buyers, you may want to institute a policy that only certain colors of window treatments are used in your high-rise. Make sure that residents understand that the policy isn’t meant to inconvenience them, but rather to help everyone’s property values increase by maintaining uniformity and quality of appearance to passersby, which in turn helps make the community more marketable and appealing to buyers.
Other examples of how vision can direct policy creation:
How does resident compliance with policies support your vision?
- Does your active adult resort community want to establish rules about when (or if) children are allowed in the pool, at what age and how they must be supervised?
- Does your luxury high-rise want to allow dogs? What size?
- Does your exclusive gated community want to allow certain vehicles to be parked overnight?
- Does your amenity-rich, family-friendly community want to set policies about bicycles and basketball hoops in driveways? What about child supervision in the clubhouse and pool area?
No one wants to be seen as the “bad guy,” but it’s important that residents follow established policies. This is for the good of everyone’s safety and security, quality of life and property values. When crafting messaging around violations, especially those related to newly implemented policies, it’s a good idea to reinforce your community’s vision and how this policy supports it. In the above example about window treatments, your violation notice would mention the “why” and tie the policy back to your community’s appeal to high-end buyers, which ultimately enhances everyone’s property values.
“Are you a community that wants to rule with an iron fist?” Padron asked. “Probably not. Consistency is key in policy enforcement, but you first need to establish how the community wants to handle violations and how that fits in with your vision and the reputation you want to have. I never recommend starting with fines. Try having a conversation with the resident first and see where that goes.”
Your board wants the best for your community and residents. Creating a detailed vision, then using that vision to drive policy creation and enforcement will help your community become its best. A quality property management company will have the resources to help you get input from your residents about their needs and values, create and communicate your vision and craft policies that support it, then enforce those policies. For more on how to effectively enforce policies and how your property management company can help with tools and technology, stay tuned for part two of this series.
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