By Bobbi Patti / Published November 2021
You know from the moment you see their eyes meet and you hear their sighs of delight and some relief that your real estate clients have finally found that “perfect home” in the perfect neighborhood. You witnessed the love affair beginning when you drove through the beautifully landscaped and maintained front entrance, which led into an immaculately kept neighborhood as you approached their soon-to-be new home. First impressions of a community should translate into “love at first sight” and enable the buyers to be able to view the interior of the homes with an already positive attitude. Everybody loves walking into a beautifully renovated home, but if that’s not exactly the case, prospects are much more open to overlook some cosmetic deficiencies if they are already in love with the neighborhood. They know that a good contractor and/or a good decorator can transform the house’s interior into their dream home and feel secure that the HOA will continue to maintain and enhance the common areas, thereby ensuring increasing property values.
Association managers and their boards should always be planning ahead so that when they reach that annual budget meeting there is already consensus on the priorities for the coming year and also a consensus regarding long-term beautification projects that might require funding from reserves and/or outside financing.
For instance, all landscaping operating lines need to keep up with increasing inflation rates that will, by necessity, be passed on to the association from their landscaping vendors. Skimping on any landscape necessities (even fertilization or irrigation), which may not be immediately visible, will only add to the next year’s remedial work. Plant replacement lines cannot be stagnant year to year because as the community ages, the number of replacements must increase just to maintain the original curb appeal.
Every community will eventually need a major “facelift,” such as new entry features, new fencing or wall restoration, new landscape design, etc. to modernize and revitalize those important features to avoid becoming dowdy and outdated compared to that shining “new” development being constructed up the road a mile. Setting aside funds incrementally for these projects that may not take place for several years is prudent and will make the eventual expense that much less painful when the time arrives.
Even the most astute managers can suffer from tunnel vision when they are driving through a community that they have managed for some time. Inspection reports that list streetscape items as well as landscaping needs are a crucial tool for making walk-throughs or drive-throughs productive.
The following examples are a few of the items belonging on a weekly inspection report:
Associations that have taken over the maintenance of mailboxes from the homeowners follow a healthy trend set by newer HOAs. Inspections should always note mailboxes needing repair—flapping and damaged mailbox doors, fading paint, and leaning poles—as these are a huge turnoff and detract from what could be an otherwise immaculate home site. Older communities’ real estate values will always benefit from the addition of classy and uniform mailboxes that will always be maintained in pristine condition.
Constant maintenance is needed to keep the signage throughout the community looking fresh, legible, and totally upright. Cleaning, power washing, and painting where necessary are such basic tasks and yet often overlooked, except by the eyes of a future homeowner. Prohibition signs such as no swimming, no trespassing, no parking, pool rules, playground rules, etc., are a safety necessity but should be as attractive as possible when not a mandated county/city sign. “Welcome to our Neighborhood” should be the first sign visitors see rather than a bunched-up group of ugly metal warning signs. It’s all in the details, details, details.
Curb appeal doesn’t stop counting when the sun goes down, and in fact many visitors as well as many hardworking homeowners only get to see the community at night, in addition to the hundreds of cars that may pass by the entrance and perimeter. Creative lighting design can add a special ambience to the community, which can separate it from the boring entrances and perimeters of the neighboring properties. Show off that magnificent landscaping and your majestic trees, while always making sure that the monument signs are lighted in the most welcoming manner. Lighting checks within the community ensure that homeowners and visitors won’t find themselves on a spooky, dark street unable to read those fanatically clean street signs.
Because it only takes that “one” homeowner to ruin the curb appeal of the entire neighborhood. A perfect example of this fact comes from my experience of managing an older but beautifully maintained neighborhood. Unfortunately, the first house past the entry gate was always in a state of disrepair, resulting in constant complaints from neighbors and constant negative comments from visitors. The initial positive impression that the visitor or future homebuyer had experienced at the entry was immediately impacted negatively by viewing the “neighborhood” disaster. After years of trying to enforce the many outstanding CC&R violations, the association prevailed, and now there is a completely renovated home sitting on that site that has added a “wow factor” to the entire community. While this was an extreme case, there does always have to be that objective eye, spotting lots that are not in conformance with the covenants of the association and reminding the homeowners to do their part in maintaining the aesthetic standards of their community. Homeowners are much more likely to comply with the recommendations when they see that the association maintains the common areas in a first-class manner.
Treat a realtor to a special lunch in exchange for their riding in the passenger seat through your communities. You might be surprised at the number of valid suggestions derived from their experience and objective eyes.
Barbara “Bobbi” Patti
President, Hawk-Eye Management, Inc.
Bobbi holds both Florida real estate and CAM licenses, and this combination of disciplines allows her to critique the curb appeal of neighborhoods through realtor eyes and enhance that curb appeal through best practices of association management. For more information, call (561) 392-1600, visit www.hawkeyemanagementinc.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.