Avoid These 4 Condo and Co-op Board Member Mistakes

Whether your New York City building is a condo or co-op, being on the board can be challenging. If you’re a new board member, there’s a lot to learn.Board Members working together-First Service Residential New York
Of course, you want to do the best job possible, but condo and co-op board members can make mistakes. 
In this article, we share four of the most common errors that we’ve seen condo and co-op board members make and recommend effective ways to handle similar situations.
 
Mistake No. 1: Taking action without having all the facts
Enthusiasm is great, but sometimes new board members can be a little too enthusiastic. Before they’ve received all the necessary information, they are already pressing forward to take action.

Solution: Becoming educated
It’s important that board members remain objective when making decisions, adopting policies and procedures, or simply interacting with owners/shareholders. Everyone will have their own perspective, and board members must learn to lead by maintaining a healthy balance between what seems fair and reasonable and what’s in the best interest of the building, as well as between establishing precedent and following the normal course of past practice.
 
You will position yourself as an effective leader by understanding your role and the key provisions of the governing documents. Soon after you’re elected to your board, start educating yourself. Read through the condo’s/co-op’s bylaws, declaration, house rules and other applicable governing documents, including the proprietary lease for co-ops. Review the board meeting minutes for the past two years, and be sure you understand the policies and procedures. A good property management company will offer board training, seminars and symposiums. This training should include information about:
  • Preparing your condo’s/co-op’s operating budget
  • Effectively running board meetings
  • Understanding the potential liability and risk of being a board member
  • Getting the insurance coverage you need
  • Managing capital projects
  • Choosing a reserve study firm
 
Mistake No. 2: Putting personal feelings ahead of the building’s best interest
Most people who choose to become board members want to help raise their building’s property value and enhance resident lifestyles. However, in some cases, an owner/shareholder may join the board for personal reasons. In other situations, emotions and self-interest could lead them to forget their purpose, putting them at odds with other board members or residents. This is never in the building’s best interest.

Solution: Remembering your role and keeping it professional
“Being on a board means that you’re representing your entire building, not just yourself,” says Steven Hirsch, executive managing director at FirstService Residential, New York, “but that’s not always easy to do. Once the board makes a decision, you have to support it even if it wasn’t what you wanted. The needs of the many should be the highest priority.”

If a board member negatively impacts a meeting or contradicts a board decision, the matter should be addressed immediately. “Not all board members will be aligned,” says Hirsch. “A healthy debate can be extremely productive to obtain different points of view and to look at issues from different perspectives. However, in the end, an effective board is one that is united and not polarized when decisions are made and must be executed.”

Mistake No. 3: Micromanaging the property management company
It’s normal for board members to want to retain control when they’re working with a property management company, but board members who lack trust or have an excessive need to control every detail can become overworked and interfere with the management team’s ability to do their job.

Solution: Understanding your management company’s role
The purpose of partnering with a management company is to reduce your board’s workload and have professionals with the right expertise there to help your building thrive. The success of that partnership depends on everyone having a clear understanding of how the board’s role differs from the management company’s role.
 
While your board is responsible for establishing the building’s strategic goals and setting its policies, the management company is responsible for policy enforcement, day-to-day operations, maintenance and communication. In addition, a good management company will assist you in preparing your annual budget, find ways to reduce costs, increase revenue, offer board member training and provide other guidance and support.

Mistake No. 4: Communicating inadequately
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, so boards may occasionally delay sharing information that could be negatively received. In some cases, a board might delay commenting on a complaint or request because the particular issue does not align with the current-year goals. Owners/shareholders may also become frustrated when board members are not accessible and do not respond when they have questions or concerns.

Solution: Communicating openly
Owners/shareholders appreciate a board that is transparent, and that means communicating both positive and negative news in a timely way. “Even if you can’t provide a resolution, let residents know that you’ve heard their concerns, and explain why you aren’t taking action on it in the current year,” says Hirsch. “If it’s something that was previously addressed, explain what the board did, or direct residents to the appropriate documents.”
 
With all your communications, cast the widest net to ensure that everyone receives the information–through email, website updates, postal mail, digital bulletin boards and flyers. Also, be sure that residents know where to look to stay up to date on building news. If multiple residents are asking questions about a particular topic, send out a quick communication that addresses that topic or concern. Board members should be comfortable in delegating their communications to their property manager and entrusting them as the liaison for customer service deliverables.

Serving on your building’s board can be very rewarding, but it isn’t always easy. By following these simple tips, you’ll be better able to avoid some of these common pitfalls. Your property management team is always available to provide guidance on how to become the most effective board possible.

For more complimentary board member education, please read our 'Onboarding New Board Members Guide'