Managing Your Community’s Maintenance and Capital Improvement Projects
Keeping your property maintained and making needed improvements are important aspects of your community’s financial health. To manage these crucial responsibilities effectively, you need to stay on top of day-to-day projects, as well as create and adhere to a long-range plan. What does it take to make those goals a reality?
Do a daily property inspection.
Your property maintenance team should ensure that a daily inspection of your property is conducted and that work orders are created based on this inspection. Any outstanding work orders, as well as these new ones, should then be categorized according to importance:
- Work orders that take priority. Work orders for health issues, safety concerns or problems that limit the association’s operations should be handled before others. This might include work orders for lights that are out in a common area or loose handrails on stairs.
- Work orders for routine issues. In the next category are work orders for items that affect the enjoyment or comfort of residents or that are noticeable to board members. Weeds at the entrance of your community or dirty carpeting in your high-rise lobby, for instance, would fall under this category.
- Work orders for preventative maintenance. Attending to more urgent issues first doesn’t mean you should ignore scheduled preventative maintenance. Be sure that these tasks stay on your to-do list as well.
According to Robert Meyer, director of engineering services at FirstService Residential in Illinois, “Look at the number of people affected by the issue and the effect on the property if the work is delayed.” Consider the following questions to determine which improvements to do first:
- Is there a safety or security concern if the work is postponed?
- Will you face higher-cost damage if you don’t do the work now?
- Is your HOA obligated to make the repair according to the law or according to your governing documents?
- How many of your residents does the issue affect?
- Does the reserve study account for this project, or will other funding be needed?
- Do you need to solicit input for the project from an outside consultant?
- Do you need to solicit input for the project from residents?
Empower your maintenance team.
Boards should not require their engineer or maintenance team to seek approval for every little project. Instead, provide them with a budget – along with a cap on spending so that they can get these tasks done on their own. “If you are working with an experienced community management company, they should have systems, processes, and procedures in place,” says Meyer. “This way, your board can rest assured that the routine maintenance will be handled, which will in turn allow them to focus on capital improvement projects and higher level planning.
Align your preventative maintenance with your reserve study.
All communities should have a reserve study and fund their reserves adequately according to the study’s recommendations. However, what many associations consider “adequate” does not always cover all the necessary repairs. “Reserve studies will generally present different levels of funding,” explains Meyer. “Many boards opt for the lowest level. They are essentially gambling on their future replacement costs.”
Meyer says that if you can afford it, you should go with a higher level of funding instead. “A fund that has 10% more money than the study recommends helps to provide a buffer to homeowners. This can prevent a possible special assessment and usually has a positive effect on property values.”
Additional money in your reserve prevents your association from having to settle for lower-quality services or products that cost less. For example, door and window replacements come with a variety of price tags. “Some boards fall victim to cheaper bids on these projects,” Meyer points out, “lower quality products and or workmanship may end up costing more money in the long run.” A buffer can also offset large, unforeseen expenses. “Let’s say your roof sustains significant damage due to weather. The cost to repair it can be prohibitive versus a total replacement,” says Meyer.
Review your reserve study annually.
Meyer recommends doing an annual review of your reserve study immediately after your new board has been elected. “Reviewing the study early in the year ensures that your board understands its scope and has the money needed for any major work that needs to be done,” he explains.
Regular maintenance and inspections are important proactive steps that can prevent surprises. As Meyer points out, “In the long run, it will cost you less if you know about issues and repair them before they become more major.”