As part of your responsibility to preserve, protect and enhance your community association, you may choose to bring in a professional property management company. Professional management can provide a depth of resources that you may not have access to otherwise, can help you optimize your budget while improving your residents’ lifestyles and more. What features should you be looking for when looking at a management partner for your community association?
Start by asking questions. Conduct a survey of your community, if possible. Find out what’s most important to your residents and board members. Budgeting? Policy enforcement? Preventative maintenance? Communication? Response time? These are all legitimate issues that board members deal with every day, and you need to know which ones are the greatest hurdles for your community association board so you can accurately assess how a management company can assist you.
The risks of not knowing what to look for in a management company are myriad: if you aren’t clear on what you want and need, a company cannot meet those needs. You can get stuck with management that you don’t really want, and no one wants that.
Anne Greak is a FirstService Residential community association manager. She has managed a single-family home community of 825 homes on a golf course for almost four years. She took some time to tell us about the issues she’s faced in her seven years of working in community association management, including as both a portfolio manager and an onsite manager. “My research background has come in handy in this career,” she said. “You don’t have to know all the answers, but you have to know how to find them.”
“Communication is imperative to me,” Greak explained. “That means from the manager to the board and from the manager to the residents as well. When the management company doesn’t communicate well with the residents, the board will hear about it. It’s important that we respond as quickly as we can when residents reach out. I think communication is number one. It’s a place you can easily make a huge difference in your community.”
Greak said that good communication extends to building great relationships with your vendors. “We have a great landscaper that serves our community,” she said. “When a resident calls me with an issue, I know I can reach out and they will address it in a few hours.” That fast response to the resident from the manager and from the vendor to the manager helps management to appear seamless.
Additionally, a good community management company sets itself apart by offering state-of-the-art management and communication software that helps make communication to all of the community easier and more efficient.
Great service means following through on matters big and small. Regardless of supervision, when a property manager consistently does what he or she says they are going to do, it proves that they value homeowners, respect the community and understand that they are working in a community that residents call home. Greak takes that trustworthiness even further than doing what you say you’re going to do. “By the same token, if you can’t do something, you need to say that so you’re open and honest with the resident or board member,” she said. “That level of honesty is essential to building trust and a great relationship.”
Whether in person, over the phone or through social media, the right company for you will have multiple channels of communication and provide quick and efficient follow-up to all your board or resident concerns, including a 24/7 customer care center you can call when there’s a problem. Sometimes, even just a few hours can make a huge impact on a situation.
“One of the best things I’ve been able to do for my community is to offer them same-day response. I have a part time assistant, so that’s helpful with managing the office and lets me respond to homeowners more quickly,” Greak said. “Sometimes, if you respond to somebody, that’s enough to help smooth over a rough situation – they really just want to be heard. A quick phone call can keep a problem from festering and getting worse, even if that phone call is to say ‘I don’t know the answer but I’m working on it.’”
Every community is unique. Knowing every aspect of the property is essential to being able to maintain its value and provide the best service to the residents who live there. A property manager who values attention to detail will make sure that the needs they fulfill are handled with accuracy and efficiency. They will also be able monitor, manage and quality control vendors to ensure they respect details as well.
A good manager will also learn, over time, how much of that detail to share with each unique board. “My board doesn’t always want to have to handle details. They prefer that I handle things and then fill them in as necessary,” Greak said. “They want us to be the public face, and we know when to give them a chapter or give them a book as far as the details and outcome.”
Sometimes a small problem snowballs into a much bigger one. Property improvements or beautification projects can unveil hidden structural issues. A single resident’s concern can turn into a seemingly never-ending stream of complaints. The right management team will go the extra mile to make sure it is resolved to your complete satisfaction.
“I may not know the answer, but I have the resources to get the answer,” Greak stated, “and to keep going until I get it. I think that is a tremendously valuable skill for a manager to have.”
A property management company can provide the best service by being proactive, sharing recommendations and advice and bringing deals and cost-saving solutions to the board. They should be actively auditing your vendors, renegotiating your existing contracts and using their collective buying power to get your community the best deals. They should take the view that their job is to increase your quality of life, improve your property values and save you money whenever they can.
“Our team has developed a bid process, guidelines for procuring services and goods. We dig into the details and discover where we could save money,” Greak explained. “We were able to get a refund for $14,000 from a utility bill account that was mistakenly set up in our community’s name, as well as saving $5,000 a year going forward by no longer automatically paying that bill. We were able to find a lot of cost savings by looking at the budget and asking questions.”
A lot of factors go into finding the right management partner for your community association. Issues like communication, response time and proactive management are a great place to start. Make sure that you take the time to evaluate and weigh the true wants and needs of your community and that the companies you are considering are able to meet them.