Communications and Community Governance

By Bob Gourley

“That government is best which governs least” – Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and dubbed “Father of the American Revolution” by historians. He was born in 1737 and lived a remarkable life that spanned the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and life in France under Napoleon’s rule. His communication skills were legendary and he largely influenced many Americans to take up the cause that became the American Revolution. So important were his writings, we still talk about him today.

Community Association Volunteer Leaders (CAVLs as they are designated by CAI) would do well to heed the words of Thomas Paine. In too many community associations, the cry for revolution can be heard. Has your community ever faced a massive turnover or group resignation from its Board of Directors? Does your Board of Directors govern too little or too much?

Community Association Volunteer Leaders are the lifeblood of community association governance. They serve on the Board, they serve on the Committees, and they participate in their communities. But as volunteers, they are not necessarily skilled in politics or communications which can lead to big problems in communities.

Thomas Paine went on to say: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

In his day, Paine had the power of the printing press on his side. None of today’s communication marvels were available to him. Can you imagine how many friends he would have on his Facebook page or how many Twitter fans would be following him? Facetiousness aside, it is fair to say that most Community Association Volunteer Leaders can communicate far better with their community members today than Thomas Paine could back in his day. Is your association using its communication tools to govern best? Have you created a government that is a necessary evil or have you created an intolerable one? In other words, is your community a better place for your leadership?

I have long held that a community that sheds as much light as possible on its governance is a community that is far more likely to thrive than one that operates in secrecy. Lack of transparency in how their association is being run is the chief complaint I hear from disgruntled residents of associations from around the country. Communities that fail to communicate fail to create harmonious, prosperous living conditions for their residents. The lack of effective communications has made the very people that elected them to see their leaders as an intolerable evil. The irony is that in most cases, those who are governing the association are doing their level best to serve their members.

I hope you will take the words of Thomas Paine to heart when you consider how you will govern your community. The promise of America was little more than a dream when he was a young man. He understood that the challenges facing the fledgling country around him would be met by men and women of great conviction and virtue. He was a master at rallying support for his ideas and building a consensus upon which to proceed. He wrote “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” in describing what lie ahead for the Colonies as they prepared to declare their independence from England. While governing our associations may not be as great a challenge, we can certainly draw inspiration from his heroic words. Combine your communication skills with well-intentioned community governance and create a successful community.

Manager Licensing and Your Community; A Story Worth Telling

By Bob Gourley

I have had the honor of serving on the Legislative Action Committee for CAI-CT for a few years now. I have watched various bills come and go, insurance regulations debated, the implementation of the Common Interest Ownership Act (CIOA), and much more during my stay on the committee. No bill has had me more optimistic about the future of Connecticut’s community associations than the Manager Licensure bill. It is a major step forward in protecting communities and the professionals that manage them all across the state. Even if your community is self-managed, this important legislation will have an impact on you. It is a story your community association members should hear and they should hear it from you.

In the past, just about anyone could apply for a community association manager license in our state. There were no educational requirements or professional licensure maintenance standards. The license could be revoked by the state but there was little in the form of prequalification to attract qualified applicants to the license. That doesn’t mean previously licensed property managers were unqualified. It simply means they weren’t required to prove their qualifications. All of that has changed with the implementation of the new law. And that’s good news for condominiums and the professionals who manage them.

The National Board of Certification for Community Association Managers (NBC-CAM) was created in 1995 by the Community Association Institute (CAI). CAI created the program in response to a need for stringent professional standards of community association management. Prior to the State of Connecticut requiring certification by NBC-CAM for community association manager licensure, several other states had already recognized NBC-CAM certification as the “gold standard” by which community association managers were judged. In 2012, only 74% of the applicants passed the initial exam, meaning more than 1 in 4 candidates were denied the opportunity to become licensed because they failed to achieve the required score on their examination test. Certification from NBC-CAM is no easy task. It requires coursework and dedication to learning best practices with regards to community association management. I commend our state legislature for taking this giant step forward in elevating the profession and the management standards for our state’s many community associations.

At the local level, this means that, in short order, licensed property managers who have not already done so will need to earn their certification from NBC-CAM. If you are not certain if your property manager is NBC-CAM certified, you should ask at once. If they are not certified, ask them if and when they will be. If they have no intention of becoming certified, you may need a new property manager. While experience counts, certification matters. The investment of time and money required to become certified by NBC-CAM isn’t just the law; it’s a commitment to a property manager’s clients that their manager is fully trained and maintains that training with ongoing continuing education as outlined by NBC-CAM.

NBC-CAM has provided an online search tool to help communities find property managers with certification. Point your web browser to http://www.nbccam.org/hiring/search.cfm and begin your search. Hiring a credentialed property manager has always been a best practice supported by CAI. In Connecticut, it’s now the law. When you hire a NBC-CAM certified property manager, you have employed a best practice for your community. That’s a story worth telling to all of your residents so they know that they are in capable and certified hands when it comes to their community’s management.

(Editor’s Note: NBC-CAM is now known as CAMICB. More information is available at http://www.camicb.org/)

 

 

Capital Reserves and the Future of Your Community

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.

Condominium Newsletters are Useful and Necessary Communication Tools

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.

Failure to Communicate Can Lead to a Manager’s Failure

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.

As originally appeared in CondoManagement Magazine

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.

Informing Unit Owners About Painting Projects: A Colorful Story!

By Bob Gourley

Five years ago, my HOA decided to take on the project of changing colors and painting all 20 units in the association. We are a modest community consisting of four buildings built back in the late 1970’s. Brown on brown was the original color palette and the board decided that those colors were not truly reflective of the nautical nature of our Long Island Sound shore side community. The challenge of changing color palettes was tricky but with a proper action plan to aid us, we were able to win over most residents and pull off a smooth transition.

The first order of business was involving the unit owners. Over the years, owners had seen their buildings painted several times. For a brief time, before I was a member of this community, the buildings were painted a shade of brown and grey that I can only describe as the color of an army barracks. Apparently, the painting contractor “got a deal” on some surplus paint that the sitting board agreed to let him apply for a discounted price. That was a bad idea that cost a few board members their seats and a mistake the current board would not repeat. We set out an action plan to assure success. Here’s what it looked like:

  • Announce the building painting project
  • Inform unit owners
  • Select colors
  • Inform unit owners
  • Send out bids for work
  • Inform unit owners
  • Hire contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Plan the work with the contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Get status reports from contractor
  • Inform unit owners
  • Finish job and Celebrate!
  • Inform unit owners

You may have noticed a step that was repeated throughout the project. Informing the unit owners is the single most important step to assuring a successful painting project. While the contractor was only on property three days applying the paint, more than 12 months went into the plan and execution of the painting project.

Thrusting a painting project upon owners without their consent and involvement is a sure way to thwart your painting project’s success. Even if every other aspect of the project goes smoothly and as planned, if you fail to inform and involve unit owners, you will very likely have freshly painted buildings and freshly minted animosity towards the board and manager for not properly communicating all aspects of the project.

I should point out that this painting project was a major financial undertaking for the community, as I expect a project of this scope would be for any community. We took a potentially divisive issue and used it to unite the unit owners. We also purchased a new entry way sign to reflect the new colors and nautical theme of the buildings. Painting buildings gave us better curb appeal; communication and involvement between board and unit owners gave us a better community.

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.

As originally appeared in CondoManagement Magazine

Condo Residents Demand – Show Me The Money!

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.