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Finding your Cinderella in a Sea of Stepsisters: Perfectly Pairing With the Right Management Company for your Community

By: Melissa Merritt-Darden, CMCA, AMS, PCAM – Associa Carolinas

yellow_umbrellaThe tale of Cinderella is hundreds of years old and has been re-told (and remade) many times over. The defining moment of a young, forlorn girl believing in herself and her dreams and living happily ever after, against all odds, is classic because we all want to believe that hope leads to change and change leads to happiness.

Change can be positive on many levels so long as there is a direction in mind. If you are a homeowner that serves on a Board of Directors, then change is something you are familiar with and probably long for in your community. Most board members join the Board of Directors because they wish to provide valuable voluntary services to their community and change the neighborhood for the better.

Now, what if your board is functioning well, but your management company isn’t quite the perfect fit? Or, if you’re a newly developed board that’s unsure about the road ahead?

Here are four questions to consider to help you reach your happily ever after:

  1. What do you want from your management company vs. what are you getting from your management company?
  2. Have you reviewed your management company contract, and are the services provided in line with your expectations?
  3. If not, why not and how do you amend?
  4. Where do we go from here?

What do you want from your management company?

It’s important as a board to have a priority list in place, whether the list starts or ends with accounting reports, billing, delinquencies, meeting attendance and preparation, project management, vendor management, customer service, or anything in between. Know thyself!

Are you looking for a lifestyle director but continue to work with an operations manager? Or, perhaps your community association manager is an amazing task-master with up-to-date action item lists, project plans, resources, and time management skills, but the accounting reports are difficult and less than timely? Perhaps the accounting functions are easy to understand, and the reports are transparent, but you lack guidance on audits and reserve studies.

Have you reviewed your management company contract, and are the services provided in line with your expectations?

Management contracts are no more of a joy to read than the governing documents for an association; but it needs to be done in order to understand who, what, when and where. Does your HOA need additional services that are outside of the scope of the contract, and therefore are not being provided? Or are services being provided that were necessary at the time of the initial contract but are now unnecessary? For example, maybe weekly drive thru inspections were previously set up when the community was in its infancy, but now many years later bi-weekly or even monthly inspections would suffice as the community has settled. Ask your management company to provide a PDF version of the contract in order to search and find specific terms that are important to your board.

If not, why not and how to amend?

Many times the management company is willing to review expectations at any time of the year; but it is often best when the board has a set annual meeting with the management company to review and clarify the expectations – whether that is in the contract or as an addendum to the contract.

Where do we go from here?

If the concerns amongst the board are beyond calling a meeting with the management company, for whatever reason, they need to review the terms of the contract and begin putting together a Request For Proposal (RFP) to locate a new management company. General rule of thumb in association management is to obtain three bids for any contract so that you have a well-rounded pool of candidates. Word of mouth is a good place to start - check with your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family if they know of a management company in your area. Then check that information against the BBB ratings of those companies, as well as the websites of those companies to ensure that the candidates have the appropriate qualifications and service options.

There are many RFP examples online, but the best place to find resources would be Within your RFP it’s important to know what services you require (full management, an onsite manager, accounting only, etc.), and provide a solid timeline (when will the RFP go out, when do you wish to receive proposals to review, when do you want to interview the final candidates, what is the start date of the new contract, etc.). The clearer and more defined your RFP is, the better the results you will have in finding the best management company match for your association.

Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Homes, wrote, “The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.” Consider your community and the direction in which you are moving. Has your association found their Cinderella?


Melissa Merritt-Darden is the Vice President of Associa Carolinas.