By Bob Gourley
I fielded a question recently about the effectiveness of community newsletters. It came from a property manager who claimed he spent many hours every month preparing a newsletter for his community that “no one ever reads”. After reviewing the newsletter, which was little more than a collection of rants about trash, dog waste, and parking violations, I agreed with his summation of the newsletter’s effectiveness. I certainly wouldn’t read this newsletter or look forward to the next issue. He asked what he could do to improve his ability to communicate with association members in future issues. Here is a checklist we developed to help steer him toward producing an effective newsletter.
The Refrigerator Magnet Test
I use a phrase to describe the appeal a community newsletter should carry. When a child brings home a great grade on a spelling or math test, it usually gets stuck on the refrigerator door with a kitchen magnet. A great community newsletter should have the same appeal. It should look good enough to be worthy of the honor and the content should be relevant enough that a community member should want to keep it close at hand.
The Golden Rule
First, and foremost, remember the Golden Rule of Community Communications – “Speak Unto Others as You Would Like to be Spoken to Yourself”. If you are going to use your newsletter to simply admonish and threaten those who violate the rules, you can expect a highly ineffective result. Every community has rules broken from time to time. The rule breakers usually represent a very small portion of the community. Why not celebrate the actions of those that follow the rules and thank them for being such good citizens? A pat on the back feels better and is more enjoyable to read about.
Positive versus Negative
Think about some of the great communicators of our time. They know that a positive message is better received than a negative message. Use positive energy throughout your publication and you will end up with a newsletter that is both highly read and enjoyed by the community. Use negative energy and you will end up with a largely unread newsletter that does little more than waste resources both in its production and its effectiveness.
Content is King
If you want to draw readers in to your newsletter, you must provide something that they want. My experience with communities has taught me that its members want to know what is going on, especially those items that effect their pocketbook. If the Board of Directors is discussing plans for a major capital improvement project, association members want to know how the improvement will benefit them and how much it will cost. Nothing draws readers in like learning about the new swimming pool they will be enjoying in one year’s time or the new parking lot pavement project that will get rid of the potholes they drive through every day. The more interesting your content is, the more your readers will look forward to learning more in the next issue.
Facts and figures aside, community members like to feel as though they are part of something more than a housing system. Don’t be afraid to add some human interest by sharing knowledge that will intrigue your readers. Who is new in the community? Who just celebrated their 50th anniversary? Who has a new baby in their home? These news items may seem a little trivial at first but they can become a very interesting topic to community members who are more social in nature.
Looks are Important
Making your newsletter look its best is critical to making it effective. If it looks like the person preparing the newsletter doesn’t care about how it looks, it is likely to be received in the same manner. Spelling, grammar, and design are all elements that require attention. If your community can afford color printing for its newsletter, it will carry a higher value by your audience.
Creating an effective newsletter requires attention to detail and knowledge of how to create a winning publication. If your publication highlights only negative items about the community and does nothing more than provide a platform to admonish readers about rules violations, don’t be surprised if no one ever reads it. If you take the time and effort to create a positive experience for your reader, you will be rewarded with an effective tool for communicating with your community members and they will actually look forward to each new issue.
By Bob Gourley
Just as flowers bloom and verdant greens return to the grass and trees, community associations stop worrying about winter’s challenges and get ready for an exciting season of Landscaping, Beautification, and Recreation. Before you plant that first flower, power wash that first deck, or raise the net on the tennis court, I suggest you take a minute to tell the story to your members about why it is so important your community put forth all of the time, effort and money to make it such a beautiful place.
Most communities go through several phases as they mature. The first phase of community is development and construction. New associations benefit from the vision of the original architects of their community. Freshly paved roads and curbs, beautiful landscaping, amenities in tip-top shape are all signs of how desirable a community association will be to live in. That’s curb appeal and that what sells units.
I like to call the second phase “lived in”. This is when a community is still new enough that everything still looks pretty good but maybe not as good as it once did. The developer is no longer part of the community and the Board / Property Management company is responsible for all aspects of how the property looks and functions. Proactive communities will take charge here and keep everything looking as good as it did when the community was first built. More often than not, this is where communities begin to lose their once beautiful curb appeal.
Finally, many communities devolve into a third phase, which I like to call “it is what it is”. Cracks in the pavement, decks that need replacing, overgrown shrubs, and general weathering of the common grounds and/or buildings. Take a good look at your community and ask yourself, “Which phase are you in?”
There is a reason a good-looking community has more value than one that has crept into the “it is what it is” phase. Quite simply, when a potential new buyer visits the property, that buyer is looking at how desirable a community will be to live in or invest in. Poorly landscaped, unattractive properties do not attract buyers. Further, they drive prices down for all existing owners. That’s just bad business.
Part of the mission of the Board of Directors is to maximize property values for all owners. One simple way to do that is to invest in a positive effort at beautification efforts, including landscaping and recreation areas. Keeping external curb appeal high is of tremendous value to existing owners as well as prospective new members to the community.
Use your newsletter to explain this concept to all of your unit owners. They are less likely to gripe about how expensive it is to keep the community looking its best when they understand that it is in their best interest to do so. You’ll be rewarded with a great-looking community and higher property values as a result. Beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder, it’s also good business.
By Bob Gourley
Condominium newsletters are useful and necessary communication tools for condominiums everywhere. Condominium unit owners require they be kept informed and aware. With a great condominium newsletter, a condominium association Board of Directors will spend more time governing and less time explaining.
Creating a good-looking and effective condominium newsletter is no simple task and should not be left to a condominium association volunteer. In addition to writing, editing, and graphic design skills, a successful newsletter editor must be adept at ferreting out the important news of the condominium and then have the time to compile that news into an effective newsletter. In my many years of producing condominium newsletters, I have seen some beautifully produced newsletters produced by volunteers. However, the beauty of that newsletter fades quickly when the volunteer leaves the community or decides that the time required to produce the newsletter is not worth the reward.
MyEZCondo is the correct choice for expert production of your condominium association’s newsletter. Our skilled writing staff and talented graphic designers work together to produce great-looking condominium association newsletters for condominium association all across the country. Contact us today to see how much better we can make your condominium newsletter.
By Bob Gourley
Since I work closely with management professionals, one of the more difficult questions I routinely face from community association leaders is how the community should go about the process of selecting a new community association manager. It causes me great concern when I first hear that a community is thinking of changing managers as most of them I know are conscientious and hard-working individuals who truly give their all for their clients. My first reaction is to ask the board members why they are even considering changing managers. Among the more common answers I hear are:
Too many residents complain of the manager not getting back to them after an issue is reported
Projects aren’t getting done on time
This manager is charging us too much for the service provided
It just isn’t working out.
The follow-up comment I usually get is to “please do not tell the manager” that we are looking to replace him. While I understand this sentiment, the secrecy between board and community association manager highlights the much larger problem to me. Quite simply, there has been a failure of communication between all parties involved. Unfortunately, it is often the association manager who becomes the scapegoat for this communication failure and will lose not only a client but also valuable income for years to come. That is why it is in every association manager’s best interest to be proactive in his managed communities’ communication efforts. A well-informed client is a happy client.
Communicating with board members is simple enough. Association managers already attend numerous board meetings, annual meetings and even committee meetings. However, with the exception of those homeowners who attend the annual meeting, most residents are largely unaware of the professional who manages their association. Worse still is that the only communication some residents ever receive from their association manager is a notice of a rules violation or a fine. That is why communication tools such as letters, e-mails, newsletters, community websites and even social media are vital to helping association managers properly communicate with the vast numbers of residents whose communities they manage.
Of course, there are numerous other advantages to establishing and maintaining great communications within the communities you manage. Better informed residents tend to be better behaved residents. You can use your communication efforts to build civic pride and create a better sense of community. Perhaps, most importantly, successful communication efforts create loyal clients. Wouldn’t you rather have the board come to you to discuss management shortcomings such as those listed above instead of going out shopping for a new manager behind your back? Of course, you would!
Taking the time to produce great communications is not always at the top of a busy manager’s “To Do” list. Understandably, there are numerous distractions and emergent matters to deal with. However, if you neglect a community’s communication needs, don’t be surprised to learn your clients have been secretly looking to replace you. You can avoid that disappointment by making communications a top priority. If you need help telling your story, don’t be afraid to seek out an expert. Communicating with your clients is the best way to assure they will stay loyal to you for years to come.
Bob Gourley is founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as board president of his local HOA.
By Bob Gourley
For years, I have been writing about the importance of communication as it relates to community association living. I have stressed how important it is that you tell your story well and that you tell it often. Newsletters, letters, websites and any other tools used to communicate need to educate readers about what is happening within their associations and why.
As recently proposed legislation across the nation has shown, there has never been a time when communication and education efforts between Board Members, Property Managers, and unit owners have been more important. Community Association Volunteer Leaders at recent programs in my state of Connecticut have indicated there seems to be a vacuum of education between Board Members and unit owners regarding the responsibilities of each as it pertains to creating and maintaining a healthy and vibrant community association.
Let’s Begin at the Beginning
Educators have long asserted that the learning process begins at birth. The birth of a community association resident begins when they purchase a unit within your association. What can we do to begin the education process when a community association unit is put up for sale?
Currently, there are few or no regulations requiring the education of realtors as to the rights and responsibilities of folks who choose to live in community associations. In their profession, realtors are compensated in the form of commission which is only earned upon the successful completion of the sale. They are not required to notify the potential buyer of their rights and responsibilities prior to the completion of the sale.
Potential buyers are generally interested in the appearance and upkeep of the unit and the overall look and feel of the community. Again, there are no regulations regarding their education about their responsibilities once they become unit owners. In fact, as is often the case, their first dose of education often comes when they violate a rule or regulation resulting in a violation letter or fine. In a worst-case scenario, this can create a potential long-term conflict between the community association and its residents. At the very least, it can create a poor start to a new unit owner’s experience.
CAI has published a two-page pamphlet called “Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities
Principles for Homeowners and Community Leaders” that is available, free of charge, at http://www.caionline.org/info/readingroom/Publication%20Excerpt%20Library/rights.pdf
If a community were to adopt these practical guidelines and distribute them freely to realtors and potential purchasers, I think many of the problems that surface because of poor initial education efforts could be avoided. As a disclaimer, CAI says: “Like many worthwhile endeavors, community living cannot be free of conflict. Utopia does not exist. With all of their inherent advantages—and there are many—community associations often face difficult issues. While adopting Rights and Responsibilities will not eliminate all conflict, its adoption can stimulate communication, promote trust and cooperation, clarify expectations and build a greater sense of community. CAI urges you to take advantage of this opportunity.” And so do I.
Education is an Ongoing Process
Education, by its very nature, never ends. It is an organic and ongoing process. It also takes work and commitment. As a leader within your community, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to assume that all of your community members are educated as to the efforts of the Board of Directors and/or Property Manager. In fact, it is far better to assume that they don’t know what decisions you are making or why. Educating them as to what is happening and why is an excellent use of your time.
Recent regulations are aimed at providing unit owners access to the business proceedings of the Board. I suggest you take it a step further and engage your fellow unit owners with education about the challenges facing the Board and the decision-making efforts being made on their behalf. Dedicate a portion of your newsletter and website to education on a regular basis.
Commit to unit owner education. Reward yourself with a better community!
By Bob Gourley
The image of Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Rod Tidwell screaming at Tom Cruise as the titular character in the 1996 movie “Jerry McGuire” is a powerful cinematic moment that launched the catchphrase, “Show Me The Money”! Thirteen years later, I barely remember the movie but the catchphrase lingers as virtually everyone I know has said “Show Me The Money” at one time or another. While it is taken entirely out of context here, you had better believe that condominium residents expect you to show them where their money is going. How well you tell that story can be the difference between ending your story with “…and they all lived happily ever after” and “… and so the hull of theTitanic lies sunken on the ocean floor”!
Let’s begin with the state your community’s finances are currently in. Hopefully, they are in good order with all of your residents paying their fees and assessments, all of your vendors being paid on time, a healthy reserve fund, and no lingering financial clouds of doom. That is an easy story to tell – everything is just fine – happy beginning, very little drama in the middle, and a happy ending. While I wish such an ending for each and every community, the reality of hard times has jumped from the national headlines and landed in many communities across the country. If your community is experiencing financial challenges like so many, may I suggest that you get in front of the story and use your communication skills to keep residents informed and avoid adding to the problems by not telling your financial story.
The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is that light may be further away than most of us would care for. Many economists are convinced that the days of bailouts, Bernie Madoff scandals, high unemployment, etc. are set to scale back, meaning a lull in the bad news which may allow the economy to stabilize before rebounding. Many associations find themselves facing the unenviable task of taking action against residents – late fees, liens against property, even foreclosure. While these actions may seem harsh or drastic, many BODs find they are bound by their governing documents to take these actions in order to protect the rest of the citizenry. This is a great time to explain to residents how the system works. They can read the full details in the condominium documents but it is a great idea to reiterate the basic concepts so they can fully appreciate what actions are taken against their neighbors. This can go a long way to alleviate fears that the association finances are about to collapse or that some homeowners are being unfairly targeted by the Board.
Many associations are opting to borrow money to meet their financial responsibilities. Again, there is a very positive story to tell about such action. Borrowed monies ensure that the business of the association continues, even though the current economy appears sluggish. Borrowed monies are repaid over a period of years. Surely, all of us have lived through the ups and downs of the American economy before. There is no reason to think that things are not going to get better. A loan is simply an investment in tomorrow being a better day.
Finally, it is a great time to talk about your community’s accounting efforts. Bookkeepers, auditors, CPAs and others are constantly working to assess and manage your association’s finances. Choose a few selected items from your balance sheet and see if there isn’t a positive story to be told. In my community, our insurance premiums DIDN’T go up this year. After several years of increases, I thought this was a story worth telling. We locked in a two year agreement with our property management company so those fees won’t be going up this year either. These may not seem like big deals but for me they were the difference between ending our last newsletter with a listing of delinquent commons fees (where we sink to the ocean floor) and a happy ending (where we all live happily ever after). Look for your happy ending when telling your community’s financial story. And don’t be afraid when they say “Show Me The Money”. Offer them your thanks for continuing to pay their fees and assessments and look forward to your own happy ending.
By Bob Gourley
I went to see a fortune teller recently. She took me into her reading room and asked me to gaze into her crystal ball. She then predicted my future. “I see wear and tear on your buildings. I see a new roof will be needed. I see aging windows that need replacing. I see… a depleted reserve fund!”
Silliness aside, it really doesn’t take a fortune teller to predict that common elements in any community are going to age and need replacing. It also doesn’t take any magic to predict that communities with more amenities are likely to incur greater expense when maintaining and preserving their community’s assets. So, why is it that so many communities are so far behind in their goals for achieving a sound reserve fund for tomorrow’s expenses?
There are many reasons that reserve funds are not at their proper levels. First and foremost, in my opinion, is the fact that the “here and now” expenses are far easier to comprehend than tomorrow’s expenses. Has your community undergone an assessment recently? Was it for an emergency or one-time expense or was it for a routine expense that could have been easily predicted 5, 10, or even 15 years ago? The term “deferred maintenance” has become all too familiar in the language of community associations. Simply put, when a community doesn’t have the funds available to handle a routine maintenance item, they defer the maintenance until such time as the funds are available. Provided a plan to raise those funds is executed, that may or may not be a problem. More times than not, the path of deferred maintenance leads to the slippery slope of unfunded capital reserves.
How do you steer your community away from the path of depleted reserves and heavy assessments for routine items? The first step is to develop or review your association’s reserve study. Ideally, this job will be handled by a professional reserve study analyst. If your association does not have or cannot afford a reserve study, the Board of Directors should appoint a committee to take inventory of those items which the community holds in common. These items include common elements like grounds, paved roads, amenities (pools, tennis courts, club houses, etc.) and items routinely handled by the association (i.e. – roofs, building exteriors, windows). These items will vary by community so there is not a “one size fits all” approach to this. Once all of the items are inventories, the committee should evaluate each of those items to determine the element’s useful life. A roof that lasts fifteen years that has been in place for five years, still has ten years left. Roads that were paved 25 years ago may need replacement sooner rather than later. This list will ultimately yield the items that a reserve should be able to fund. For communities that have never done this exercise, the results can be a real eye opener.
The next step is to begin to estimate replacement costs for the common items. Inflation will have taken a toll over original costs so be prepared to factor that in. At the conclusion of this process, a realistic budget for a reserve will begin to emerge. At first glance, many of these numbers may seem too large or unmanageable. My advice is to use a technique called “reduce to the ridiculous” to help make the accounting a little easier to swallow. A reserve study that calls for $20,000 per unit to be raised over the next five years may sound better at $4,000 per unit per year or better yet at $333 per unit per month or $77 per unit per week.
The final step is to sell the concept to your fellow homeowners. None of them want to live in a rundown, outdated community. Poorly funded capital reserves will not only affect the quality of their lives but it will very likely damage their ability to attract buyers should they decide to sell their home. Community members need to be “told and sold” the value of a healthy capital reserve and a long range plan of how those reserves will be used. Tell them about the plans for how the money will be used and sell them on the idea of how it is in their best interests to keep the reserve fund healthy. You will be rewarded with a fiscally vibrant community that is never caught off guard without the funds it will need to flourish.
By Bob Gourley
You may recognize the above quote from the English poet, John Keats. Condominiums weren’t around in the early 19th century, so it is fair to say that he wasn’t referring to your community’s newsletter or communication efforts. Nonetheless, I hope you will let his words inspire you as you contemplate transforming your communication message into “a thing of beauty” that will be “a joy forever”.
Take a look at the communications you’ve delivered to your community members and how you chose to get that message out. Were your notices delivered on professional stationary? Did your newsletters have the look of polish and professionalism your community deserves? Was your website maintained, kept current, and made beautiful? Were your communication efforts a thing of beauty? Or would Keats take you to task and challenge you to do better?
Are your communication efforts consistent? Have you committed to telling your story often and telling it well? At the heart of any successful communication strategy is a commitment to excellence and consistency. Image and message are both important. Always use professional stationary for notices. Always use a professional-looking newsletter to deliver your news. For the average community member who does not serve on the Board of Directors, the communications they receive are the only official contact they have with the association. Poorly written or delivered messages don’t carry the same impact as a professional presentation.
Have you developed a budget for your communication needs? A casual attitude towards your community’s communication needs will come back to haunt you. Newsletters, websites, etc. cost real money and should be addressed in your annual budget. If your property management company does not expressly offer communication services, you should develop a plan to handle the communication needs of the community in another way. Don’t leave it to chance.
Finally, avail yourself of the tools that Keats didn’t have in his day. Parchment paper and quill pens have been replaced with keyboards, ink jets, and web pages. Modern software conveniences, like word processors and desktop publishers, make communicating far easier today than it was in Keats’ time.
The poems of John Keats have left us much beauty to enjoy forever. It is hard to believe that he lost his father when he was 8 and his mother when he was 15. He wrote three books of poems before his death at age 25. Almost 200 years later, he is still considered a literary great. You may not have the same fortune as the poet but surely you can draw some inspiration from him the next time you set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Once you have mastered the tools, creating beauty is simply a matter of effort. Craft your message well and you will be rewarded with a thing of beauty that will be a joy forever.
Condominium Newsletters from MyEZCondo Keep Condominium Unit Owners Informed and Involved in Their Communities
By Bob Gourley
Frequent and open communications are often indications that a condominium association is being run by leaders who strive to create a connection between the Board of Directors, the Property Management Company, and the condominium unit owners who reside in the condominium association. These leaders are not just building properties. They are building strong, well-connected, and vibrant communities. They have learned the secret power of the condominium newsletter to be more than a throw-away piece of paper with warnings and fines and violation notices. They have embraced the power of the condominium newsletter to unite their communities and foster a bond that encourages neighborly behavior and can even call volunteers to action from projects as simple as a Spring Planting Day to as important to finding new community members to serve on the Board of Directors.
Why is it important to provide information and connectivity to condominium unit owners? Quite simply, the stronger the bond between condominium residents to their community and to each other, the more likely they are to behave in ways that are positive for themselves and the community. A positive and vibrant community carries other benefits as well, including increased property values and a strong sense of civic duty and awareness. When condominium unit owners take pride in their community, they are much more likely to report problems, suspicious activity, and other problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Printed condominium newsletters are a simple solution. However, more and more condominium associations are embracing technology such as email and websites to distribute their materials. Whichever method of newsletter distribution you choose the challenge of creating a top-notch, good-looking newsletter remains. That’s where MyEZCondo comes in. Our talented writing and graphic design team members will work hard to make your condominium newsletter look fantastic. It takes a fantastic-looking newsletter to get your readers’ attention. A MyEZCondo condominium newsletter will be well-read and well-received by your condominium association members. Since 2004, we’ve been “building better communities through better communication”. Contact us today and we’ll produce a great-looking newsletter for your condominium association.
By Bob Gourley
Did your condominium make the list? Take a minute right now and find out!
Enter the following web address into your computer’s web browser:
The web page you see before you allows you to sort through the thousands of FHA-approved condominium communities across the nation. You can leave most of the fields blank except for Zip Code. Enter your zip code and click on the Send button. The list you are now looking at is the list of FHA-approved condominiums within your zip code. Is your condominium on the list? You can breathe a little easier if it is. If it isn’t, it may be time for you to take action. Either way, I have some ideas on how to explain the impact of FHA approval on your condominium’s economic viability and the ability of unit buyers, sellers, and owners who choose to refinance to obtain future mortgages.
I can’t imagine anyone not being aware of our nation’s banking crisis. How could anyone have missed the headlines about questionable lending processes that lead to risky mortgages that ultimately failed and threatened to take down our country’s largest financial institutions? Fallout from these failures and bailouts continue to be front page news. But there is a local element to this story that can be easily overlooked. Forgetting to tell this story can mean big trouble for your condominium association. Here’s why.
Congress created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934. The FHA became a part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Housing in 1965. The best source of FHA information is the official HUD website which you will find at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD. This is an official government site and, after spending an hour or so on the site, I can report it is a typical government website with lots of facts and statistics. It is a good resource, albeit a not very exciting one.
So, where should you go for useful information for your condominium association? I may be bit partial to the Community Association Institution as I am a member but I find their “Mortgage Matters” section of their website particularly useful in keeping up with the changes and how they affect my community. The website address is http://www.caionline.org/govt/MortgageMatters/FHA/Pages/default.aspx. Here you will find an array of useful articles that can help you explain the importance of making and keeping your condominium association eligible for FHA-approved mortgages as well as other relevant and timely articles on FHA and its impact on condominiums. Be the first to know important news that affects your community!
Like it or not, FHA approval for mortgages to buyers and owners of condominium units is likely here to stay. What’s worse is that the rules of qualification are likely to get tougher for condominium associations. Should you decide to dismiss this important information, don’t be surprised when you find unit owners asking why FHA approval was never sought. You can imagine the anger that will be caused when mortgages are denied based on the property’s lack of qualification, not the person seeking the mortgage.
This story will be told in your community, one way or the other. My advice is to get in front of it and get your condominium on the FHA approval list now, before you find yourself defending your lack of approval, or worse, defending the fact that the condominium never even sought approval.
I want a newsletter!
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