Finding the best association management service for your community can be a complex task. Busier real estate markets may have dozens of residential management companies that you can choose from, and they might seem very similar at first glance.
How do you determine which association management company will provide you with the best service? Here are 10 questions that you should ask when consulting with property or homeowner association (HOA) management companies to help you make the important decision.

1. How long have you been managing communities?
Association management companies may come and go, and this can leave you and your board in a bind. Finding a company that has been in the business for some time is an excellent way to ensure that your association management company is here to stay. Not to mention having a professional association management company with decades of expertise could prove very helpful if your community needs legal, accounting, emergency response, and maintenance expertise. The biggest benefit by far is that a company with longevity has most likely encountered and solved any issue or problem your community has; there’s nothing they haven’t seen before.

2. How many communities do you manage? 
There is no right or wrong answer, but a lower ratio of properties to manager often means that your manager will have more time for you and your needs, and will be able to provide the best service. Sometimes, residents equate company size with more dedicated service. While you may think you would be better served by a small, family-run business, this isn’t always the case. Small companies may be stretched thin, with one manager across many communities, often with no back-up support should the manager become ill or need to take time off. Typically, the larger companies have a greater depth of experience and resources, which allow them to deliver better service to your community.   

3. Will I have easy access to the management team? 
Being able to get in touch with someone who can handle problems quickly and make decisions is essential. The right association management company should be able to provide you with various methods of contact. Look for companies that have invested in association management software, which allows for direct communication with the management team, and can be quicker and more efficient than more antiquated forms of communication.

4. Do you have references? 
The best association management companies will be able to easily provide customer references, reviews and testimonials. Pay special attention to the reviews of services that are most important to you, or from properties similar to yours.

5. What are the terms of the contract?
A full-service association management contract is usually anywhere from one to two years long – and your residential management company may have penalties or fees associated with ending your contract early. If this is true, you'll want to learn about it immediately. On the flip side, there may be added benefits to renewing a contract year after year.

6. What services are included?
An organization may call itself a full-service residential management company. However, this can mean very different things within the industry. Will the company help with strategic planning, arranging preventative maintenance and fund collection? Obtain a list of what services are included before you sign a contract. Also, ask if the price you are quoted is all-inclusive, or if are there any additional fees. Understanding what you will pay both upfront and on a recurring basis is important and can help you make the best decision for your community. Finally, be certain to ask about other resources available to support your manager, including legal, human resources, training and engineering.

7. How will a manager be selected for my community?
All HOAs whether condos, high-rise or large communities are different. In order to provide the best service, association management companies should have a detailed process to find the right manager to fit the needs of your community. For example, if many of your community’s residents speak a foreign language – the right association management company will be able to staff your community with a manager who is fluent in that language and can communicate with and understand the needs of your residents.

8. What qualifications do your property managers have?
When it comes to the day-to-day business of managing your community, you'll want to ensure that the managers who will be working with your residential property have the right training and qualifications to deal with the situations that inevitably arise. Look for companies that offer experienced management teams with bench depth, and that provide associate education programs and board member training. And, as the laws and regulations are constantly changing, ensure that your community manager is up to date, as evidenced by professional memberships and training.

9. How do you handle maintenance issues when they arise?
A good residential management company will have procedures in place that clearly define how they'll respond to maintenance and any other emergency issues that may arise – because as we all know, these issues always happen when we least expect them. Find out if an association management company has their own maintenance crew and if they work with preferred vendors. Will they get multiple quotes, negotiate the best price and pay bills on your behalf? The right association management company for you will be invested in saving your community money and provide you with cost-effective maintenance solutions.

10. How often will you communicate with me?
Look for a company that sets up a regular schedule of communication, such as monthly reports and statements. Attending regular board meetings is an essential part of providing the best service and managing a property well. Additionally, the best association management companies should be accessible 24/7 and able to answer routine questions quickly. Look for HOA management companies with a 24-hour customer care center, which provides answers to residents’ questions, while freeing up the manager to manage the property.

If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of a professional association management company and what it can do for your HOA, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading association management company.

Tuesday April 22, 2014