Does it feel like your life revolves around your community association board? Does managing your community feel a little overwhelming from time to time? Are you spending 50 hours a week managing your community? You’re far from alone!
“Board burden does not discriminate,” says Jake Howse, director of business development and client relations at FirstService Residential. “Whether it’s a community of 18 units or 1,800 units, a high-rise or a gated community, board burden and burnout are real. I’ve met so many board members who say ‘We didn’t sign up for this! We want to set the vision, delegate and enjoy our lives.’”
Board burden and overload can cause bigger problems for your community than stressed-out board members. “Things fall through the cracks, projects can get dropped, maybe the insurance doesn’t get renewed,” Howse explains. “None of that is good for the community as a whole. It doesn’t have to be that way, but a lot of people think this is just the way things are.”
What’s the solution to board burden? Howse says that having the right management company – and more importantly, the right management model – in place is critical to alleviating stress for board members. “You can have the best management company in the world, but if you don’t invest in the right level of services for your community, your load is never going to lighten,” he says. “You will always be stuck picking up the slack created by an inadequate service model.”
Donna Moffitt is the secretary of two boards. In addition to serving on the board of one of two towers, Moffitt is the secretary of the master association. She’s lived in her community for 6 years, serving on the board for the last 4 of those and says that it was a big change to move to professional management after 30 years of self-management.
“We started working with FirstService Residential last August, and it’s a transition. It’s going to be a transition for another 6 months,” she explains. “We really had to think about what company was going to be best suited to work with us, to do some of the tasks that we’d been doing, including hiring staff, contracting vendors, reviewing bids, overseeing maintenance and more. Before we partnered with FirstService Residential, I put in at least 10 hours every week on board work, and I know our president put in a lot more than that.”
What does it take to lessen those hours and lighten your load? Trust in your management company and clarity of roles are key to making your job as a board member easier. How does that happen?
Going from self-managed to partnering with a professional property management company is a big step. Even boards eager to share the burden of running their communities may have a hard time letting go because they’ve been doing the work for so long. But with transparency and effectiveness from your management partner, trust is built.
“It’s quite a journey!” says Edwin Lugo, vice president of property management at FirstService Residential. “It helps to have a good reputation and references from board members who know we can take on the hard stuff so they can live more relaxed, better lives. But more than that, we have to show boards value from the start. When they see results, it builds trust. We show board members what it takes to arrive at their goals, step by step. When that time is quantified and given a value in hours, board members can see just how much they were investing that they now can enjoy doing other things, which also helps build trust that we are providing something they need.”
That trust helps board members let go of worrying about the day-to-day work of running their communities. “They want to be very involved, sometimes too involved, at the beginning. I think it's mainly because most are leaving a management company they are not happy with and they have gotten used to getting too involved to pick up the slack,” Lugo says.
“FirstService Residential was the most transparent of the companies we interviewed, more the style we were looking for,” Moffitt said. “Their honesty and transparency won me over immediately.”
Moffitt said that having a professional manager has taken a lot off the board’s plate in just a short time. “My stress level is definitely lower. It’s always going to be a process because things are always changing, but we know that progress is being made,” she says. A quality management company will provide its board members with regular updates on work being done, lightening their concerns that things might fall through the cracks. Weekly updates from your manager are a good place to start.
Conversely, Lugo said the boards he’s found hardest to win over have been let down by other management companies. “When a board entrusts their community to a management company, they’ve bought into promises made. When that management company doesn’t live up to its promises, it’s harmful,” he explains. “Broken promises damage the relationship between the board and current management as well as any future property management partner.”
In communities that were self-managed or under-managed, it’s common to see murkiness around the roles and responsibilities of the property manager versus the board. When the board has to be involved in the granular business of managing the community, that’s to be expected. But clarifying those roles can go a long way toward alleviating burden and stress for board members.
The board of any association should set the vision for that community. Serving on the board is a serious, admirable commitment. Providing leadership and inspiration to your residents is a big enough job! As a member of the board, each person is responsible for knowing the governing documents, for creating policy that supports your vision and for setting clear expectations and priorities for your management team.
The property management team executes your vision, enforces policy you create and handles the day-to-day business of operating your community. They take the emergency phone calls and handle problems, so you don’t have to. They will communicate clearly and responsively with community residents as well as the board.
A quality property management partner will help your community make the most of its budget, leveraging buying power and vendor relationships for greater value and savings. They will have the expertise to help your board plan rather than react to issues as they arise. “At the beginning of the year, we ask board members the top 3 things they want to accomplish this year, then we create a business plan and an annual budget that covers community, financials and other areas of the property,” Lugo explains.
Volunteering to serve your community is a generous use of your time and resources. As North America’s property management leader, we understand that board service requires a lot of dedication and commitment. Partnering with a property management company that will take on the daily work of running your community can lighten the burden of serving on your board and let you enjoy your community more.