Great Communication Makes the Most of HOA and Condo Vendor Management

Vender RelationshipsVendor relationships are a large part of serving on the board of a managed community. Every community has outside partners for services like landscaping, sanitation, cable and Internet service, pool maintenance, valet services and more. Open, effective communication with the people who service your community and residents is crucial for maintaining the lifestyle your residents expect and deserve. 

Why Communication with Vendors Matters 
When we talk about communication, most board members think about communication between the board and residents or a board and management team. Vendors are often left out of those equations. 
 
But effective communication with those vendors can help your community save money and build trust, according to Bob Rogers, regional director at FirstService Residential. “Our goal is to always create a level of trust with the board. Creating and earning that bond is critical to a successful partnership. If we are recommending a vendor, boards know that there is a comfort level there for us that hopefully extends to them as well,” he says. “In that regard, the vendors know that they are representing us and will put their best foot forward. At the end of the day, the community knows that we have their back at all times.”
  
“Building great relationships through ongoing dialogue helps to make sure that the property is serviced at an appropriate level so the community residents will be happy,” explains Jim Magid, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Good communication can help your board avoid the problem of services not being timely or not performed to the level that the board would like.”
  
Poor communication with vendors can cost your association money, too. If you don’t understand the details in a contract and don’t keep an open line for questions and clarifications, you may not realize that your community isn’t getting the services you think you are signing up for…. and then you will need to pay for the missing elements separately, impacting your operating budget.
  
Magid is an advocate of vendor relations and boards maintaining a “12-month-relationship.” He recommends talking to your landscaper in the middle of winter, not just spring and summer, and your auditors even when it’s not the time for an audit. 
  
If you aren’t sure whether or not your current property management company maintains vendor relationships, ask! It’s important to make sure that outside vendors operate in the best interests of your community. “At FirstService Residential, our associates are all well-versed in the importance of vendor relationships and effective communication,” Rogers explained. “Boards appreciate that we bring that additional level of support. Because of the trust we create with our vendors, almost any situation between boards and vendors can be resolved fairly.”
  
Speaking the language
A basic part of communication is simply understanding the language each party is speaking. Most board members are not going to be experts in all the areas of running a managed community, but it’s important that you have a basic knowledge of the terminology being used. You’ll be expected to understand proposals and execute contracts on things like landscaping or elevator maintenance that you may not understand at first. 
 
It’s important to be educated on the basics so you can understand the scope of work detailed in a contract and the value of that work, not just its bottom-line price. You don’t have to be an expert – leave the details of execution to the management company – but you need to be able to communicate critical elements of your vision for the community to the vendor and be clear about what they require from each of them. 
 
Of course, a self-managed community is going to require more knowledge from the board members as far as monitoring the work being done and knowing that contracts are being fulfilled properly. “I’ve seen self-managed communities that don’t necessarily know how to get bids that are fair comparisons - apples to apples versus apples to oranges - how to qualify that, and how to break down a bid. They may not know what’s missing from a bid or whether there is a warranty on labor or parts,” warns Airielle Hansford, vice president at FirstService Residential. 
 
Staying informed 
How can your board members be sure they are up-to-date on the terminology and jargon being used by your vendors? Some management companies offer educational seminars or roundtables that let board members hear directly from vendors. Go to home shows, garden shows, and other trade events and interact directly with vendors; ask questions and pick up literature on the latest techniques and products.
  
Keeping your management staff informed and educated is important too. A management company with the depth of resources to allow staff to attend educational events and to help them stay up to date will be invaluable. Good management companies will have access to experts who can answer questions when needed, whether they are on staff or not. 

Vendors in many different disciplines host events that allow property managers to earn continuing education credits, and many welcome board member attendances as well.
 
Now that you’re committed to vendor relationships, and to getting educated in speaking their language, you’re ready to work with them as partners, to optimize your community association’s budget and improve the lifestyles of the residents in your community.
  
For more information about how a professional property management company can help you work with vendors to make the most of your association’s budget, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading residential property management company.