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?
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.
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
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
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
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”! All these 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.
I want a newsletter!
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