How to Communicate so Residents Listen

Are residents in your community always aware of upcoming events, construction projects and board meetings? Do they understand their responsibilities and the policies they need to comply with?
 
When your board clearly and effectively communicates with residents, it has a positive impact on the overall wellbeing of your condo or homeowners association (HOA). Open and honest communication creates the perception of transparency and facilitates a feeling of community.
 
Poor communication, on the other hand, can negatively impact your community’s reputation and even your operating budget and property values. “When there is a lack of communication, you get what I call a ‘black hole’ or a ‘silent spiral,’” says Clare Jackson, vice president, Human Resources at FirstService Residential. She explains that association members will often fill that void with misinformation and rumors. “That negative word of mouth spreads faster and further than people realize.”

“People may begin to think that decisions affecting their home values are being made in secret or without their input,” Jackson says. Ironically, that belief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “When you have a community that isn’t happy with where they live, it will directly affect their home values,” she points out.
 
Start with a communication plan.
 
  1. Break down your objectives into attainable goals. Outline what you want your communication plan to accomplish using the SMART format (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timeframe).
     
  2. Think of your audience. Consider their current knowledge and understanding of the issue, and if necessary, simplify complex concepts.
     
  3. Use all available communication resources and channels. Residents have different preferences when it comes to receiving communications, so use as many as you can to be sure you’re not missing anyone, including e-blasts, newsletters, billing statements, announcements, reminders at board meetings, social media and resident alert systems.

Prioritize topics.
Ideally, you want members of your community to be informed about everything that’s affecting them, but if you have limited time or resources, what should you focus on first? Your association has to make sure it is complying with legal requirements and association bylaws, such as notifying residents about board meetings, so these communications are nonnegotiable. However, there are other topics that you should prioritize as well.

For example, communicating about financial matters is particularly important. This includes general communications regarding the association’s overall finances as well as those about individual accounts. It’s always a good idea to remind residents when their assessment fees are due and the amount they owe. Information about payment plan options should be included in those communications as well.

An effective technology platform, such as FirstService Residential’s proprietary program, FirstService Residential Connect, makes it easier to share financial information. It also allows residents to conveniently check their balances and make payments, which can improve your community’s ability to collect dues.

You should also reiterate rules and regulations regularly so that everyone in the community is aware of them. Community members are more likely to comply with policies if you provide them with frequent reminders. If your community experiences a period of higher-than-normal resident turnover, that’s a great time to send out a reminder of your policies. This will help prevent excessive violations, which can cause property values to decline – especially if they affect the community’s aesthetics.
 
Architectural modifications are another area that requires adequate communication. Residents need to understand your policy, restrictions and process for requesting approval. Even if your governing documents clearly spell this out, residents may still make assumptions based on past experiences or hearsay. For instance, if the board fails to communicate in response to a request, a resident may assume there are no objections. This can have unpleasant consequences for a community’s curb appeal and, ultimately, property values.
  
Communicating openly and effectively with residents takes time, effort and careful planning. But it pays off. Residents will feel better about the community if they are kept in the loop, and they are more likely to follow the rules if they are reminded regularly. All of that contributes to the success of the association, the satisfaction of residents and the value of everyone’s property. 
 
Does your association have a plan for after-hours communications? Fill out the form now to download our complimentary infographic, Customer Care: Can Your Management Company Answer the Call?

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