by Kathy Danforth / Published Jul 2015
Just as a car will break down if even one system is not working, no matter how new some of the other components may be, associations also require a multitude of operations to converge successfully for a community to thrive. Community association management companies have been on the front lines in numerous communities for many years, and they offer their advice below for best management practices in areas they have found essential for optimum community living.
A community is more than a collection of houses and streets. Community associations are groups of people, and the success of a community depends on whether or not owners perceive the positive, personal value that the association represents. It also depends on the condition of the community, the results of unit owner interactions with the management and governance structure, and the degree to which unit owners feel embraced and enfranchised by the community. Vibrant and successful communities enjoy engaged and informed homeowners, equitable governance policies, prudent financial operations, and well-counseled board members who are free to focus on their true role of strategic community leadership.
Therefore, the operating policies and governance of the association should not be a collection of rote and inflexible protocols, buried deep in the minute books. They should encourage and enable dialogue and communication and foster an environment where caring and empathy are considered natural and important parts of the deliberative process.
Of course, the association may sometimes be required to impose the less pleasant and expensive enforcement elements of the rules. However, a community where most of the members view the association as an equitable and approachable partner will have less need of rules enforcement, collection measures, etc.
David L. Burman
Aegis Community Management Solutions, Inc.
As a management company in today’s digital world, it is important that communities understand that paper managing is basically a thing of the past. With so many available “cloud bases,” it is easy for communities to build their storage of records on a cloud-based system, thus no longer having the responsibility of physically storing all of the important papers that associations now have to maintain in their record systems. Building a cloud base is as simple as 1-2-3, and with a little time and patience, short work can be made of scanning information and developing a digital filing system. Once completed, access is easy via file folders, and hard copies are just a push of a button away. New technology can be an amazing timesaver!
Carl J. Forrest
FPMC Management Corp.
In today’s technologically-focused world, Lang is always searching for system advancements that will positively affect its valued customers. Through Lang’s IT Team, increased abilities from upgrades and system enhancements have improved time management efficiencies for community board members and its management personnel. Research-ing and securing the right “in the field” technology is paramount to any contemplated improvements. After trying out multiple systems, Lang is pleased with its implementation of SmartWebs. Our key personnel can access associations’ membership, view its violation histories, and submit new violations by hand-held devices. SmartWebs can even track architectural review board (ARB) applications, foreclosures, rentals, and special landscaping requests. Lang is so confident of this new software’s abilities that SmartWebs will also be made available to boards for monitoring the process of violations and ARBs. Boards can easily log on to a website to view a map of homes, color coded to reveal the violation and ARB history of each home. SmartWebs provides instant feedback and issues are often resolved in less time than it takes a letter to arrive in the mail. Fully integrated with our community association management software, this amazing tool is an across-the-board winner.
Key components for understanding the overall financial condition of an association are budgets (operating and reserve), proper insurance needs, delinquencies, and allowance for uncollectable fees (bad debt). It is the responsibility of the management company to educate the board members and guide them to make informed decisions for the well-being of their association.
Additionally, the boards need to be apprised of potential, long-term consequences for some of their decisions. It is common to focus only on the task at hand without consideration of what else it may affect. By putting off “too costly” maintenance or performing the work for the “lowest bid” just to save money, the property value of each condominium or home may be jeopardized.
Management companies know when to advise the board of the need to engage the services of outside industry experts for the preparation of bid specifications, evaluation of proposals, and even recommendations for awarding a contract.
Most management companies have standardized financial software and accounting departments to generate financial reports. It is imperative that their managers are familiar with those reports and are able to explain their financial significance to the board.
Greystone Management Company
More than 25 years ago, MAY Management Services, Inc. opened its first office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. We now manage 155-plus communities in the Northeast Florida region, and, to this day, the one fundamental tool that I continue to practice and teach each of my team members is to listen.
That’s a lot easier said than done! To be an effective listener takes a lot of practice. It takes work to genuinely hear and focus on what another person is saying. By listening effectively, you can understand what the other person is saying much quicker, eliminating the need to have the speaker repeat himself. Actively listening demonstrates that you have a sincere interest in their needs and shows your intention to resolve their issues.
In an industry directly related to identifying and resolving a resident’s problems, listening is the chief component to effective communication, as well as to maintain and build the quality of our client relationships. Community association management can be very difficult at times and very frustrating when things don’t go the way you’ve planned, but the proper communication can take you ten steps ahead in the game.
I advise my team members to concentrate, move aside all other thoughts, listen, and then ask questions. Typically, this only takes a few minutes. If you are intent on listening and watching the non-verbal cues, you’ll have a far better understanding of what the other person is trying to convey. Personally, I find what a person doesn’t say is equally important. More times than not, just listening eases tension and can strengthen the relationship or possibly build a new one.
MAY Management Services, Inc.
We asked our managers—what is the key to dealing with angry residents? This was the consensus:
Dealing with upset owners and residents can be one of the most challenging parts of community association management. Your home is your castle. When you have a problem with your home, it’s not unreasonable to expect that people may get upset and emotional. Follow the steps above, and you might be able to resolve their issue and allow them to become a happy homeowner once again!
Campbell Property Management
There are numerous systems and technologies that can be implemented to increase efficiency and improve the management of an association. However, it takes truly great people to unlock the potential of the aforementioned items. Identifying great talent begins at the recruiting and selection stages, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Employees must be engaged with their work, encouraged to identify creative solutions, and offered an ability to grow their own skill set.
At Castle Group we’ve created an online educational forum, which we have named “Castle University.” This Web-based repository of information not only helps unlock employee potential through standardized training programs and testing, it also allows an inquisitive employee the ability to explore other areas of our business. This information, which has been made easily accessible, allows employees to become more well-rounded, keeps them engaged, and helps them reach their full potential.
Community association management is an industry laden with records and ever-growing masses of paper. While industry-standard record retention guidelines dictate three categories for documents—retain forever, hold three to seven years, and destroy at will—most associations will find this filing system inefficient and cumbersome. At Leland Management, we have employed a digital records management system that allows us to store association records as a digital copy in our main database. This not only keeps associations records more secure and organized, but it also makes them quickly available when needed, including the ability to access the records remotely.
Our document imaging department receives paper copies of association documents each day. These documents are fed through two high-speed bulk scanners set to capture double-sided images. The scanned documents are then saved in pdf format and stored in folders where they are electronically fed through a dedicated program. This program relies on optical character recognition, a process of electronic conversion of scanned text into machine-encoded/searchable text, to separate the pages into individual files. The individual electronic files are then validated and imported into our main database, Document Locator, based on file type. The original hard copies are then filed away and placed into secure storage.
Leland community managers have immediate access to relevant files, such as vendor invoices and payments, lease agreements, deeds, gate access forms, and much more, via the use of their mobile devices. Our accounting managers also benefit from the same immediate access, allowing them to instantly track transactions, whether made with check or online, and overall community financial histories.
In addition, the community enjoys reduced costs associated with paper, ink, and toner as well as improved customer service.
Gary van der Laan
Leland Management Company