Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place

Caught between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Adam Snitzer, CFO / Published September 2021

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I know a lot of condominium association board members, and it’s always struck me that they have one of the worst jobs in South Florida. Think about it. Condominium association board members have real accountability but little real authority. 

     That’s because condominium bylaws dictate that most major decisions—especially those involving a lot of money—be put to a vote among the unit owners. And if you think people tend to vote their pocketbook in political elections, believe me—this is in a league of its own! Between their mortgages, real estate taxes, insurance coverages, and monthly maintenance fees, most condominium unit owners feel they’re already paying enough. The last thing they want is to fork over more dough for building repairs and upgrades.

     For decades, that crack in the parking garage wall or that protruding rusty rebar in the balcony ceiling or that dangling chunk of broken concrete all looked expensive, but nothing to worry about, at least not for now. 

     That’s all changed. Since the tragic disaster in Surfside, those same cracks, protruding steel rods, and loose chunks of concrete are causes for immediate concern. Instead of kicking the can down the road, panicked unit owners are making different demands, asking their condominium board members for reassurances that the community can sleep safely at night and for any needed repairs to be done right away.

     Politicians and government officials are jumping in as well. After years of lax enforcement of building inspection requirements, they’re starting to take things seriously, publishing lists of buildings that are past due for review and in some rare cases condemning buildings altogether and forcing their residents to find alternative shelter.

     As a result, now more than ever, condominium association board members are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have fiduciary and statutory responsibility to properly maintain their buildings. They’re entrusted by unit owners to guarantee safety. And they’re held accountable by a corps of government officials who don’t want to get caught looking the other way.

      All this is at a time when the cost of building supplies is rising, and experienced structural engineers and competent general contractors are busier than ever.

Source: Detailed analysis of company financial documents of projects costing $10 million or more.

     A job that used to be merely hard and frustrating has now become truly daunting. While many association board members are accomplished professionals who are experts in their own fields, most of them aren’t engineers or general contractors. So, they aren’t fully prepared for the complexities and problems that come with every construction project because they don’t produce building projects on a regular basis. What’s more, they don’t have the time to run a big, complicated project without sacrificing other responsibilities or excessively infringing on their personal lives.

     But there is way out of this mess, and it can actually save money for condominium communities. 

      Associations should consider taking a page out of the playbook of big companies and government agencies. These organizations typically rely on professional project managers to handle complex projects. Their role is to 1) protect the owners’ interests and 2) complete the project on time and within budget. 

      Good project managers are masters at organizing the team of people who will work on the project, coordinating their efforts, scheduling work and logistics, identifying and solving problems, handling documentation, controlling the budget, and communicating with everyone concerned.

     The ideal firm should have the following three key ingredients:  

  • Outstanding project management skills
  • Ample experience and subject matter expertise in all aspects of construction, including engineering and design
  • Deep understanding of association governance, politics, and the unique challenges of executing a disruptive and dirty construction project in a fully occupied building.

     A project management firm that has these three ingredients will be able to do the following:

  • Speak the language of architects, engineers, and contractors
  • Review, understand, question, and improve upon project specifications
  • Identify opportunities to save money and maximize project efficiencies from start to finish
  • Understand the importance and the nuances of the bidding process to protect the community’s investment and keep costs in line
  • Protect the association from paying inflated prices
  • Ensure the project scope does not spiral into something much larger and more costly than anticipated
  • Apply expertise to logistics, scheduling, and purchasing to keep the project on track
  • Communicate frequently and in plain language to the board of directors and to the homeowners
  • Keep dust, noise, and lifestyle disruptions to a minimum
  • Motivate and lead the project team of designers, contractors, and subcontractors to successfully deliver the project

      These services may sound expensive. But hiring a qualified project manager is among the best investments an association can make during a large renovation or restoration project. 

     At DSS Condo, past clients have saved millions of dollars due to our tight fiscal management. As the chart in this article shows, project management companies like DSS Condo save their clients money in four distinct ways: success in negotiating with vendors, ability to identify alternate means and methods in the construction process, tight control of change orders, and strict verification of payment applications. In many cases, construction costs are lower by so much that communities save multiples of their project management company’s service fees.

     The job of a condominium association board member will always be hard, but with the right kind of help, it just might get a little easier. 

Adam Snitzer

Director of Client Services for DSS Condo, LLC

     Adam Snitzer is the director of client services for DSS Condo, LLC, South Florida’s only project management/owners’ representative firm specializing in serving condominium and homeowners communities. “What I love most about my job is the many ways we save money for our association clients,” says Snitzer. He can be reached via email at For more information about DSS Condo, please visit