Maintenance and Construction. Fact or Benefit?

By Bob Gourley

Did your community get a new roof this year? Was your parking lot repaved? Was the pool filtration system overhauled? Were your decks replaced? Chances are pretty good that your community either underwent or will soon undergo a major construction or maintenance project. Don’t miss this opportunity to tell the story of your project or you may just be leaving money on the table!

I am often asked about the difference between a fact and a benefit as it pertains to preparing a community newsletter. As a former sales and marketing guy, you can bet I know the difference between a fact and a benefit. In construction and maintenance issues, the facts often describe the tangible details of the project such as the cost, the materials used, the contractor chosen to perform the work, how long the project will take and things of that nature. While those items are newsworthy, they won’t help you win over critics or skeptics. For that task, you will need benefits.

Benefits, quite simply, will help you tell your maintenance and construction story in such a way as to show your residents what is in it for them. Benefits are far less tangible but far more effective in explaining the need for a project and the reason to spend the association’s money. If you think about the last major purchase you made, you will most likely remember that why you bought the item is more important than what you paid for it or what you even bought. The same mentality applies to maintenance and construction projects. Here are a few examples:

Item – New Roof Installed
Fact – Shingles carry a 30 year warranty
Benefit – Interior of home stays drier

Item – Blacktop Sealing
Fact – Creates a waterproof barrier
Benefit – Underlying pavement lasts longer

Item – New Pool Filtration
Fact – More fuel efficient
Benefit – Saves money

Item – New Decks Installed
Fact – Made of Artificial Material
Benefit – Lasts longer, looks better

In many instances, money spent on today’s maintenance and construction project benefits all members of an association with lower costs in the future. Any time you maintain, protect, or enhance common elements of your association, you should do so for the benefit of your members. People want to “know” the facts but they “buy” the benefits. Use the power of benefits to keep your residents happy and informed about all of your construction and maintenance projects. You won’t just build a better property. You’ll build a better community!

Are you listening to me?

By Bob Gourley

How many times have you tried to get an important message across to your community members only to find yourself frustrated with the feeling that nobody is listening?

I hear many listening-related complaints from condominium management professionals. These are the items that ail them. Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms?

The community website is rarely accessed.

The association newsletters aren’t very well read.

Mailed notices are going unnoticed.

Posted signs are being ignored.

Meetings are poorly attended.

Apathy is a sure sign that your community is not listening.

There are more sources of information bombarding your audience then ever before. TV, radio, billboard, newspapers, internet – our society is filled with a seemingly endless supply of banter aimed at getting the attention of your community members. You are competing with all those distractions when you try to get your message across. To be effective you must be creative.

What can you do?

Take a cue from the world of corporate advertising. Your message needs to stand out. Differentiate yourself from the crowd. Tell your story well and tell it often. Make your messages fun or dramatic. Develop a flare for promotion. Get help if you need it.

Think about some of the more successful communication stories in the world today and learn from them. “The Apprentice” has become a top-rated TV phenomenon. Even if you’ve never watched the show, you probably know who Donald Trump is and have you heard the show’s catchphrase “You’re fired!” way too often. Bad hairdo and oversized ego aside, Mr. Trump is a master of self-promotion. Yet you have something over him when it comes to communicating with your homeowners. You know where they live, how to reach them, and the specific items that they will find interesting. It’s time to put on your game face and show “The Donald” whose really got the right stuff.

I am not suggesting that you invoke the wrath of homeowners in your communities by firing anyone. What I am suggesting is that you learn how to compete with their other interests and speak to them in ways that they will take to heart. If you have not already done so, this would be a great time to take a look at branding your message. Branding is the concept of message consistency in all of your communications. Can you imagine any Donald Trump project without his name all over it? He wouldn’t stand for it because he knows the images invoked by his name help sell his products. Your branding efforts should be just as strong and consistent. Advertising agencies base entire campaigns around this concept and corporations pay millions of dollars for it. You can do it for free! Take that, Donald!

No one wants to be lectured to. Make sure your communications are upbeat. Take your cue from the political “spin doctors” out there who turn lemons into lemonade for a living. Let’s take that age-old problem topic for community associations everywhere – pet waste. Sure you can lecture until you’re blue in the face about fines and pooper-scoopers but it may not solve your problem. One association I work with recently addressed its pet waste problem with a friendly reminder mailed to home owners. The letter reads, “We love your pets but not their waste. Please clean up after your pet. The best way to have good neighbors is to be a good neighbor.” That’s a much nicer way to ask pet owners to behave responsibly than the stern warning of “Pick it up or pay a fine!”

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you are saying if nobody is listening. If nobody is listening, you should reconsider your message and your message delivery methods. You can make a difference and your message will be heard. Are you listening to me?

Keeping It Legal – The Story of Your Community Association’s Attorney

By Bob Gourley

Comedian Milton Berle is quoted as saying “Attorneys practice law because it gives them a grand and glorious feeling. You give them a grand and they feel glorious”.

While attorneys may be on the receiving end of many jokes, the contribution they make to your community is no laughing matter. Depending on the size of your association and the challenges you are facing, chances are you have one or more attorneys performing crucial work on behalf of your association. Telling the story of the important work these professionals perform on behalf of your association is crucial to helping your community cope and thrive in the face of legal challenges.

Attorneys that specialize in the legal issues and challenges facing community associations are relatively abundant. The attorney you have chosen to represent your community is an important member of your team and a vital asset to promoting a healthy and harmonious community for your residents to enjoy. If you’ve ever taken the time to read through your community’s covenant, declaration, by-laws, and rule and regulations documentation, you have a first-hand appreciation of how complex those documents can be. In the litigious society in which we live, can you imagine having to stand by your own interpretation of those documents in a court of law?

Since 1993, Community Associations Institute has recognized excellence in the practice of Community Association Law. That is when the College of Community Association Lawyers, more commonly known as CCAL, was founded. Membership in CCAL is quite exclusive. Of the thousands of attorneys that practice community association law, less than 150 have been granted membership.You can learn more about the College of Community Association Lawyers at the CAI website – http://www.caionline.org/career/designations/ccal/Pages/default.aspx

What will your typical homeowner want to know about the attorney you have chosen to do the important legal work of the Board? Ideally, you will want to provide a biography from the attorney that details his or her involvement in the world of community association law. Many of these attorneys will be happy to provide articles of legal interest that can be included in your newsletters or posted on your website. Quite often, it is beneficial to have the attorney appear before the membership at an HOA meeting to address legal concerns held by members of the association.

In describing lawyers, John Quincy Adams said “Whoever tells the best story wins”. I couldn’t agree more. Choose your community association attorney wisely if you want to be the winner when your community’s story is told.

Outsourcing your Homeowner’s Association Operations, and Why It Makes Sense

Whether your community is large or small, successful management by the homeowner’s association is crucial to a smoothly running residential community and growing property values. And the governing board is often left with a long list of responsibilities for members that already lead busy lives outside of their community. Regardless of the number of board members in your HOA, there’s almost always an endless “to do” list.

From taxes and assessments to repairs and beautification, an HOA member’s job involves many different types of property management duties. A significant aspect of these responsibilities includes the duties that fall under the operating budget. These are the regular tasks that are part of the property’s ongoing maintenance such as landscape management, building exterior repairs, and property taxes.

Seeking Assistance with HOA Operational Duties

A handful of the duties that you may handle as a board member of your HOA could include collecting dues from community residents, arranging for landscaping and repairs, fielding questions and complaints from homeowners, and determining how dues are allocated. Not all your board members may have experience dealing with these issues, and sometimes there can be too many tasks to be managed by the board.

A new trend emerging with HOA boards is the process of seeking assistance with these ongoing, time consuming operational duties. By outsourcing some of the regular tasks that face the board, while still retaining key management duties, the HOA can focus their attention on long term strategy and decisions for the property that require more planning and discussion, or anything that will affect the reserve budget.

What Duties Are HOAs Outsourcing?

As a board member, you may have never thought of outsourcing the operational duties of your HOA, but it’s becoming more common than you think. HOAs are finding that by off-loading some of the more mundane or regular tasks, they can focus more on the relationships with residents and carefully making the long-term decisions for the community. So, what tasks exactly are HOAs outsourcing to third parties?

HOA Dues Portal – Reputable companies that manage HOA duties offer secure portals for homeowners to pay their HOA dues, which can be directly deposited into an association’s account. It can automate a, sometimes archaic, process and offer a bit more convenience for homeowners.

24×7 Maintenance Support – One of the more frustrating responsibilities of an HOA board member includes late night phone calls from homeowners with maintenance emergencies. Some third parties offer call center support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to field those emergencies, to help over phone, and to engage your local contractors or maintenance personnel to make any needed repairs.

Homeowners Portal for Community Discussions – For non-emergencies, homeowners are always looking for a place to voice their concerns, or continue a discussion from a recent board meeting. Some third parties are assisting HOAs in setting up online portals for homeowners to engage in discussion and potentially self-resolve some issues outside of board meetings.

Running a Successful HOA with Outsourcing Support

Property helpers like Hands On Tap can offer the kind of expertise and support that most HOAs never get the opportunity to benefit from. Leaving many of your regular HOA duties to a team of professionals with longstanding careers in property management results in less stress on your board, well cared for homeowners, and more time to focus on the future of your community.