Are you listening to me?

By Bob Gourley

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

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

The community website is rarely accessed.

The association newsletters aren’t very well read.

Mailed notices are going unnoticed.

Posted signs are being ignored.

Meetings are poorly attended.

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

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

What can you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Assistance with HOA Operational Duties

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

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

What Duties Are HOAs Outsourcing?

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

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

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

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

Running a Successful HOA with Outsourcing Support

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

"A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever"

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.