How Your Board Can Partner With Your Management Team
Board members are dedicated volunteers who spend their free time trying to make the association or building better for everyone who lives in it. That’s no easy task!
Bringing in a professional property management company can go a long way toward relieving board members of the liability, stress and workload that comes with managing a community. Still, some board members are reluctant to take on a partner to share the load. That’s understandable!
Arthur Bartikofsky, senior vice president, high-rise division, at FirstService Residential, has worked in property management for more than 3 decades. “I see a few concerns that dominate self-managed boards when the idea of hiring a management company is brought up,” he says. “First and foremost, always, is fear of loss of control. The board gets used to wearing two hats: the board and the supervisor of the manager they hire. But that control comes with liability. Second is almost always cost, but loss of control comes first.”
“I was the manager of a community that was self-managed more than 50 years,” explains James Magid, vice president of New Jersey condo/HOA/lifestyle communities. “You cannot go into a community like that and try to dictate change. It’s much more about assessing and making recommendations, bringing resources that can help their community, looking for ways to improve processes. You have to walk before you run and make small changes, slowly. Self-managed board members have a wealth of institutional knowledge that is valuable to any management company, and once they trust you, they’ll want to share that. As board members began to let me in, we found ways to improve and streamline, as partners.”
So, how can self-managed board members know that they are truly partners with their management company? Setting boundaries is the first step. Be clear about who is responsible for what in the community and stick to those boundaries.
1. The board sets the vision.
Look at it this way: you are the one who has decided to dedicate your free time and a considerable amount of effort to make your community a better place to live. That’s a serious – and admirable – commitment. That alone entitles you and your fellow board members to the privilege of providing the leadership and inspiration for the community you’re envisioning. Along the way, you’ll create a sense of interconnectedness among residents, help onboard committee members, keep residents committed to upholding community standards, and foster a sense of wellbeing and belonging to each of your neighbors. Whatever your vision is, you must communicate that to your management company.
2. Your property management company helps put the board’s vision in motion.
The vision is yours; your management company will execute that for you. The right management company has the expertise and the experience to understand your vision and to work with your board to bring it to life. Want to make the most of your budget? The right company for you to partner with will know how to work with vendors, leverage relationships and renegotiate contracts to do just that. Want to foster a greater sense of community? A good property management company will have ideas on how to bring people together and help them communicate and share ideas with greater efficiency. Want to be prepared for the unexpected? Your property management company has probably seen it all and helped communities prepare for just about anything, from floods to hurricanes and everything in between.
3. The board operates in an administrative capacity.
The board sets policy and the rules for enforcing it. Along with the committees you build, you’ll help your community stay true to the guidelines that keep it thriving and vibrant. A good board member knows that means not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of it too.
4. Your property manager and company operates in an executive capacity.
Enforcing the policies and guidelines you create falls to your property manager. They’ll make sure that any recorded amendments are incorporated in your governing documents and distributed to your owners and residents as required; they’ll send violations when there’s an infraction and they’re the professionals residents call, 24/7, with any issue or concern. You’re not getting paid for this – the last thing you want is your phone ringing at 3 a.m. because of an upstairs unit’s ruptured water heater.
A management company lifts the responsibility and liability of human resources work from the board. “As employment law changes, having the resources of a professional HR department is important,” insists Ted Gammon, executive director at FirstService Residential. “Who wants the responsibility of hiring, firing and interviewing people as a volunteer? It’s a lot of work and liability to put on volunteers.”
Although some boards are afraid that partnering with a professional management company means they have no say in hiring decision, Bartikofsky explains “We seldom make a staffing decision without collaborating with the board and getting their blessing.”
5. The board should get specific about expectations – and priorities.
Much of the board’s role is big picture thinking. But it’s crucial that you focus around a few specifics, especially when it comes down to expectations and priorities. Be clear with your property manager about how you see their role and eliminate any potential misunderstandings from the start. Likewise, be extremely concrete in your priorities. Your property manager is probably an excellent multi-tasker (it’s an essential part of the job) but knowing what’s most important to your community will help your manager tackle the most pressing issues first.
6. Your property management company brings diverse skills to support the board and your community.
They’ll come to your meetings. They’ll lead your meetings. They’ll post notices about upcoming meetings. Afterward, they’ll file the minutes and notes from the meetings.
Your property manager will also conduct an inspection of your premises to troubleshoot any potential maintenance issues. They’ll leverage relationships with banks, insurance companies, maintenance companies, landscape companies, security companies and more, making sure you have well-negotiated rates and receive excellent service.
They’ll distribute financial packages and help you stay compliant with city ordinances and building codes. They’ll take those late-night calls and meet service people early in the morning if needed.
At the end of the day, collaboration between boards and property management companies is essential to the wellbeing of a community and its residents. By working together, you can maximize the potential of both organizations – and that’s a pretty powerful combination, indeed.