As the state with the third most homeowners associations (HOAs) in the U.S., Texas comprises many master-planned communities. The desirability of these communities is understandable: They offer a wide variety of home options, amenities and activities. At the same time, however, they can be challenging to run.
The complexities that come with managing a master-planned community make it especially crucial for your board to be very selective when choosing a community management company. If you’re currently in the midst of the selection process, you’ll need to gauge each company’s experience, knowledge, level of service and ability to deliver the most value for your money. But how do you know which criteria to apply so you can make that kind of determination?
Not to worry! We’ve provided a list of 10 criteria you can use to assess the qualifications of prospective management companies.
1. Commitment to responsive communication with HOA members
One of the biggest complaints HOAs have regarding their community management company is that the company lacks responsiveness and doesn’t do a good job of communicating. According to Pete Willder of FirstService Residential in Texas, “Communicating effectively with board members and residents is such a basic quality, you’d think any good management company would stay on top of it.”
Willder, who works as the general manager of the Bridlewood HOA, a master-planned golf community in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Flower Mound, points out that even the most experienced management companies sometimes get complacent and neglect these important responsibilities. “That’s just not acceptable,” he says.
One sign that the company prioritizes communication is if it offers multiple ways for residents and board members to contact them. “Residents should be able to call a customer care center any time of the day or night and go online at their convenience to get timely answers to questions or to make requests,” says Willder. “This is especially critical in a master-planned community where you have a wide range of residents with a variety of communication preferences.”
2. Dedicated community management team with in-house support
During the evaluation process, the management company should be able to tell you who your community manager will be and what you can expect from the management team. Be sure that the members of your team are highly skilled and that they will be accessible to your board. In addition, find out what kind of support the company provides to its managers. A good company will support its managers with in-house professionals who have specialized expertise in areas such as:
- Human resources and staffing
- Lifestyle and amenity management
- Information technology (IT)
- Account support
- Compliance administration
3. Established processes and systems
The best management companies adhere to operational procedures and standards that they have developed and improved upon over time based on their years of experiences. These should include:
- Transparent financial management and budgeting practices
- A third-party certification process for vetting contractors and vendors
- Preventative maintenance programs
- Crisis management procedures
- Audits of supplier contracts
- Proven solutions for enhancing property values and resident lifestyles
4. Community management technology that drives board efficiency
Does the management company offer – and support – its own web-based platform so you can take care of your board responsibilities more easily and efficiently? According to Michael Bodner, director of property services at FirstService Residential, it should. “A management company knows better than any third-party developer what board members have to accomplish,” says Bodner. “So you want to work with a company that has the resources to develop and continually enhance software that’s specifically designed for associations.”
Bodner says to look for a platform that provides secure access from any desktop or mobile device. Board members should be able to use it to connect with residents, other board members and their community manager, as well as to take care of association business like making payments, tracking violations and initiating work orders.
5. Financial management
Financial management and budgeting are among your board’s most important responsibilities. Partnering with a management company that has an internal financial management team led by certified accountants will help you maintain your association’s stability and financial health. Make sure the company follows strict internal review and accounting protocols and undergoes annual third-party audits.
You should also find out if the company can provide banking and insurance products that offer additional value to your association. For example, you may be able to obtain higher interest rates on reserve and escrow accounts, lower your insurance premiums and improve your coverage with the right company.
6. Vendor relationships
Look for a community management company that implements a reliable vetting process for contractors and has established partnerships with first-rate vendors. Additionally, a national company will have more buying power, which your association can leverage to receive discounts on products and services without sacrificing quality.
7. Demonstrated success with lifestyle programming and amenities
Keeping your association relevant means offering the kinds of programs and amenities that prospective buyers and residents want. Since trends are constantly changing, it’s not always easy to stay on top of them. However, a good community management company should know what’s popular and what makes communities desirable from its experience at other properties. It should also be aware of which amenities are cost-effective and will be used regularly by residents.
What does the company recommend for your property? Here are some possibilities:
- Additional storage space, which not only allows residents to keep tools, extra furniture, bicycles and other items without filling up their homes, but can also generate revenue for your association if you charge a fee
- More children’s play areas, especially as younger families increasingly move into HOA communities
- Pet amenities, such as pet stations, dog parks or paths for residents to walk their dogs
- A variety of classes geared to the interests of a range of residents
- Social functions that bring residents together, regardless of age or interests
8. Attention to detail
Every community has its own unique features and idiosyncrasies. A company that is interested in managing your property should want to know what those are. “Notice which companies are really listening to you and want to understand your residents’ needs and the community’s culture,” explains Willder. “The more details they ask for, the more likely they are to provide a high level of service.”
Willder also points out that a company’s attention to detail early on bodes well for a future partnership. “A company that is interested in the nitty gritty details is likely to do a good job of integrating input from your board to create customized solutions that are specifically designed for your community. “Enabling your association to meet its goals and realize its vision should be the company’s top priority.”
9. Dedication to training
If you want to really evaluate the level of service you’re likely to get from your community management company, just look at its commitment to training. As much as the industry evolves, continuing education is necessary so that associates stay current about new laws, new research and the changing needs of community residents. Educational and development programs for associates should not only encompass classroom learning, but also hands-on activities and online training. Make sure the company isn’t just focused on training associates. It should be equally dedicated to training board members so that they can do a better job of fulfilling their association duties.
Great community management companies should not simply be satisfied with their achievements. They should be proactive in seeking ways to improve their service and offerings. Ask questions to find out how open the company is to receiving feedback from board members:
- Does it survey board members regularly to measure their satisfaction?
- Does it employ best practices to develop their surveys?
- How does it use the insights it obtains? Does it create an action plan based on the survey results to address deficiencies?
If you are currently seeking the right management company for your master-planned community – or if you are unhappy with your current management company and want to explore your options – these criteria will provide you with a consistent process for evaluating different companies. And be sure to include FirstService Residential so you can discover all that we have to offer your community.