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The art of community architectural review may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but there is more to it than meets the eye. In fact, one of the main reasons community associations are formed is to protect property values and keep the community maintained, harmonious and beautiful. Ensuring high architectural standards is an important part of that.
No doubt that’s why most community association boards have an architectural control committee (ACC), responsible for reviewing all exterior modification requests. That’s also why an effective review process is necessary to ensure that homeowners understand the value of the architectural guidelines, and that everyone plays by the rules.
It’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced community association management company to ensure you have an effective process in place and the right ACC team to implement it. But to get you started, we’ve compiled five steps to help your association’s architectural review process run more smoothly and effectively:
1. Form an HOA architectural committee
Let’s start with the people who will be leading the review process. The ACC should be able to provide varying perspectives, so nominating and selecting members from different backgrounds is a best practice. It’s also a good idea to have a minimum of three committee members, or else five. An odd number guarantees a majority vote and eliminates the need for tie breakers. Once the committee is selected, a chairperson should be appointed to set meeting times, send letters and lead the committee. With the team in place, it’s now time to move on to getting things done.
2. Develop a clear process
Like any productive workflow, a clear process for reviewing ACC requests is vital. Be sure to include key steps in your process, such as deadlines for submittal, timelines for review and an architectural guidelines decision tree that outlines the rules and helps the committee present consistent conclusions. To keep the process moving quickly, the ACC should meet once per month, or frequently enough to meet the requirements of the governing documents. Also consider holding the meeting at least one week prior to a board meeting in case a homeowner appeal is requested or for larger improvements that may require board approval. This will allow for time to get on the agenda.
3. ACC guidelines and request forms
Capturing the information needed to make a well-informed decision will help the committee move requests along quickly. This is where a well-structured request form with adequate space for homeowner information and project details is a definite must-have. Consider including checkboxes for things like permit required, deed restrictions, before and [proposed] after photos, fence removal and whether the project will be visible from the street. Be sure to include submission details such as where and how to send the form, as well as the deadline for submittal or when reviews will occur. As a helpful tip, consider providing a quick reference to the location of community architecture guidelines in the governing documents. This will aid homeowners in preparing a more educated request. Also be sure to provide a checklist and instructions for including additional supporting documentation, such as photography, survey, drawings, etc.
Shout it from the rooftops and let them know. Frequently reminding homeowners of the requirement and reasons to submit an architectural request is a pivotal point in the process. Including a form and reminder about ACC reviews in community newsletters and emails is an easy way to make sure everyone is informed. Spring tends to be a big time of year for exterior improvements and it’s also typically the time of year for annual homeowners association meetings. Provide forms at the annual meeting and include a section in the agenda to discuss your ACC review process and status. To put it simply, make the forms easily accessible at all times. If possible, provide a PDF download of the request form on the community website.
Closing the loop on the process involves clearly stating the final decision from the committee in writing. The ACC should develop two standard letters, one for approvals and one for denials, that can be customized as needed. In both communications, the committee should outline the result of the decision as well as the rules and guidelines used to inform the conclusion. For denied requests, be sure to offer suggestions for how the project could be completed to comply with community guidelines and ask the homeowner to resubmit the request with revisions. Giving the homeowner this insightful information demonstrates the ACC’s desire to provide assistance, and will also help prevent decision appeals.