By Jeremy van der Heiden
To many Americans, living in a homeowner’s association is a new concept. Since 1964, homeowner associations have become increasingly common in the United States. With one in six homes in America now in a community association, many homeowners have less than positive things to say about management companies or homeowner’s associations in general. A lack of education can lead to misconceptions and misinformation. What are these, and how can you combat them?
Where did this Violation Come From?
Much of the negativity coming from homeowners has to do with the fact that they received a violation letter from the management company, sometimes associated with a fee, and they are upset about it. However, the management company did not make up the rules. Even the current board probably had little or nothing to do with the rules (which are typically set by the developer before the community isturned over to the HOA) These are the codes, covenants and restrictions that were decided within the community itself. It is the community manager’s job to facilitate these rules and take proper action with a notice, late fee or whichever apply per their contract.
Where is My Money Going?
In the homeowner’s mind, why should a management company receive money to simply apply fees and send letters informing of wrong-doing? What most homeowners are unaware of is where their money is actually going. Running an HOA takes a lot of time, money, manpower and education. Someone needs to do the inspections of the homes, mentioned above. An account needs to be employed to prepare and execute budgets, manage accounts payable and receivable, take homeowner’s dues, manage collections, monitor vendor services and work orders, manage special assessments for upkeep. Budget transparency is a necessary aspect of a functional community.
The Community Association Impinges on my Rights
More and more frequently we are hearing the opinion that community associations impinge on the constitutional rights of the members (homewners) because the association has restrictive covenants. This is quite simply not true, and those few associations that have tried such things have quickly been slapped down by the courts. Many homeowners do not understand that community associations are regulated by many federal and state laws and neither the board nor the manager operate in a vacuum.
My Board is Petty and Power Hungry
Many homeowners think the board is filled with power grabbing tyrants who just want to lord their position over other homeowners. While this has been known to happen on rare occasions, the vast majority of community association boards are just regular people trying to do the right thing for their community. Homeowners who are unhappy with the current leadership should be encouraged to join the board or at least volunteer on a committee. It’s the fastest form of education, and a great way to turn the problem into the solution by effecting change from within.
There are many misconceptions about Community Association Management. How to combat these misconceptions? One of the single greatest tools in your arsenal is homeowner education.
Combat Misconceptions with Education
Relatively minor changes to your communications strategy and the incorporation of a few new projects will go a long way toward boosting your CAM company’s image in the eyes of current and prospective owners, all the while ensuring that board politics are handled properly and intelligently.
Many management companies conduct educational seminars for homeowners. This serves a dual purpose of not only training your homeowners, but also getting the opportunity to mingle with them – you can get to know each other. The problem with educational seminars is quite simply time. Most homeowners are not inclined to spend a day or even an hour learning about their association before they are exposed to the value.
People react to very few things as well as free pizza and libations. Consider hosting a forum of sorts on a monthly basis to go over some of the finer points of association ownership and other matters that might interest your clientele. This will not only help to boost their knowledge of ownership, but will connect them with one another. When friendships are built in an association, chances are people will be less likely to cause trouble.
Websites & Portals
A Community website or portal can serve up a multitude of helpful resources for homeowners. You can create one that owners can use to quickly search for information they need completely autonomously. Your portal can also serve as a conduit to further communications between the association manager, the board and your homeowners.
Whether it is printed, posted or emailed, a community newsletter can be an excellent passive avenue for improving homeowner education. A monthly newsletter that is concise and informative can help to educate owners while keeping them abreast of current goings-on in the association itself.
Many times when a new homeowner joins the association, they either know nothing of community association living, or they have been burned by a poor experience they or someone they know has had in the past. To overcome that perception, you need to show that living in a community association can be a positive experience that enhances their neighborhood and ultimately makes their lives better for living there.
Your welcome packet provides new homeowners with an overview of how the community is governed, provides them with an understanding of the rules that they will be living under in the community, gives them plenty of useful information to help them get settled in their new home, and presents them with productive ways to contribute to the community.
Perhaps the most effective technique you can use to further homeowner communication is to actually listen to what they have to say. Give your homeowners an opportunity to voice their frustrations andactively listen and identify their pain points. Often even the angriest homeowner can be appeased when they know that you are hearing their concerns and taking action based on that.
If homeowner education is a major issue facing your CAM business, chances are you are not properly communicating with your clientele. Communication is among the most important assets you have, and that goes for both internal collaboration with colleagues and external discussions with owners. If you want to build a sense of community and combat homeowner misconceptions, you need to focus on communication as a major priority.