By Mindy Baxter
Your neighborhood has recently organized into an association, but who should handle this excited, diverse group of neighbors?
Managing the day-to-day operations of a neighborhood is often too much for a board handle. It’s time to hire a community management company.
Debra Warren, vice president of client relations for Associa, says hiring the right company is one of the most important decisions a community's board can make.
“It is important for the board to assure the management company and its community managers have the qualifications and experience to serve in this capacity,” Warren said.
Warren recommends asking if the staff has received the Professional Community Association Manager Designation (PCAM) issued at the Community Associations Institute (CAI). Also consider what technology the company will use and if your information will be protected. What sort of assistance can the company give board members hoping to work effectively? How can the company help enhance the value of the community? Does the company leverage technology, making it easy for the board and homeowners to pay online and access account information online? Is the company involved in the community?
But before a management company is hired an association needs to be established, says Frank Rathbun, vice president of communications for CAI, a 32,000-member organization. For that, you’ll need to hire an attorney and establish the association.
Once your association is in place, you can consider how you want it run and what needs an outside management company might be able to meet.
Start by defining your needs.
“How can the company help your community?” Rathbun said. “What can they do to make your community better?”
For example, will you want a full-service company that can offer everything from an onsite manager to active management of finances? Or would the board of your association want to handle those things, leaving room for a less-involved community management company?
Would a small, niche company best meet your needs? Or a large national company?
Also consider property maintenance, communication, personnel, governance and other things you might — or might not — want your community association to handle. Rathbun recommends clearly determing what you need even before seeking proposals.
“What exactly do you want?” Rathbun said. “Start by defining that clearly.”
Just like hiring any professional, ask for recommendations — and then talk to them.
“You’re going to want to talk to people with the same kind of association you have,” Rathbun said.
The management needs of a large golf course community will be very different than those of a condominium complex, and it’s important to know the company you want to hire can handle your unique needs.
“Do they have the strengths and experience you need?” Rathbun asked.
For example, if your association is dealing with financial problems or an aging infrastructure, you might need advice and guidance on how to handle those problems. Finding a company that’s dealt with those issues in the past could ultimately make your community stronger.
“How has the company handled these problems for others?” Rathbun asked. “That’s important to know.”
The company’s references can also give you and your board an idea of the company’s experience and pricing.
Rathbun also recommends meeting the lead contact you’d be working with at the company and walking the neighborhood with them. Are you confident in that person? Can you communicate well with them?
“Ultimately, a company consists of its people, and you want to know you can get along with that person,” Rathbun said. “Sometimes you go with your gut.”
Defining price was an initial step, but will the company you hire be able to stick to its pricing structure? Sometimes, the cheapest option may not be the best, Rathbun points out.
“What can your association afford?” Rathbun said. “Obviously, price is an important concern for any association, but price isn’t the only thing to consider.”
Bring your board together
Once your company’s hired, start off on the right foot by assigning one person to communicate with the community management company.
“When the company’s getting calls from five or six different people, it will inevitably lead to misunderstanding,” Rathbun said.
Hire the right people
Finally, make sure you’re hiring a community management company, not simply a property management company that would only maintain facilities.
“There’s a world of difference,” Rathbun said.