When I became president of my homeowner’s association, I knew changes had to be made – the budget was unbalanced, residents were angry and the community was suffering. It wasn’t just time to make a few adjustments; it was time to give our operations a total makeover.
After our makeover, not only was our community back on the right track with our budgets, but we had a surplus, and now we're able to provide all the necessary services to residents and build a true sense of community.
Whether your community is in a tough situation, or you’re simply looking for ways to optimize your operations, the ideas below will help your community fulfill it’s potential.
1. Read Every Document
If you take nothing else from this article remember this: read everything. If you haven’t already, sit down and read your governing documents in their entirety; the information will help you be more effective and efficient in your role, and you also might be surprised by what you find. In addition to governing documents, read the fine print of every service contract, whether it’s from a new vendor you’re considering or one that the board has worked with for a while. Know the terms the board agreed to in the past so you can work with them, and evaluate new contracts to ensure good terms for the community before you sign.
2. Evaluate your budget.
Whether your finances are in disarray or you’re trying to take them from good to great, get familiar with your budget. What specifically is the community spending money on and how much is it spending? Are you covering all your mandatory expenses? Are you in a deficit?
If the community is spending too much, balancing the budget as soon as possible is an urgent priority. During your deep dive into the budget, discuss with the board whether you can table any budget items and which items you can reduce -- or get for free! Here are a few actions our board took to cut down our spending:
●We scheduled much of our major maintenance during October when vendors are charging less because it’s the offseason.
●We took advantage of support offered by our local government. Through a local program, we were able to have all the light poles painted with no expense to the community. We also did an energy audit to see where we could save on utilities.
●We took on some work ourselves. I had vendors teach me how to do a variety of tasks, which allowed us to save $10,000 on service calls.
●We created local partnerships. By speaking with a restaurant opening down the street, we were able to get a food donation for our Halloween bash. And residents who worked for a large beverage company facilitated a donation of 32 cases of drinks.
●We referred vendors. Not only did this help vendors get more work, sometimes the vendors reduced our bills.
3. Build Vendor Relationships.
When vendors come to your community, take time to build a relationship. Walk the community with them and talk. Many of them have extensive experience working with associations and they often have valuable insights about how you can get your community back on track, at least from a maintenance perspective.
4. Lean In.
While you might be overwhelmed with the role you’ve taken on, especially if many aspects of your community need improvement, embrace being a board member and serving the community. Get involved beyond the basics by getting organized, implementing a system for getting things done and communicating well with other board members. Check your email regularly. And help homeowners with the little things, which will go a long way toward showing that the board cares about the community.
5. Document Everything the Board Does.
Using a spreadsheet or other tools, record exactly where money was spent, how much has been saved, how reinvestments were used and how many volunteer hours were spent on everything the board does. This ensures total transparency with homeowners while showing the value of the board’s work, all backed with documentation.
6. Educate Residents.
If you’re trying to work with angry residents, two of the best things you can do is to educate them and get them to open up about their problems with the community. Through a townhall meeting we held, we found out that many new homeowners didn’t know about basic maintenance processes and rules, so we made a quick reference maintenance guide. Our homeowners have also been receptive to classes we’ve taught to show them how the association works and the benefits that result. Just by educating and reaching out to homeowners, we reduced touches to management by 98 percent.
7. Hold Social Events.
On the other hand, many homeowners don’t like meetings – but you can still give them a way to give your board valuable insights. I booked a food truck to come by the community, which got people out of their houses and into the neighborhood to socialize. Through that simple event, we got homeowners to give us feedback unofficially as we talked, neighbor to neighbor. It’s another unexpected way that social events build a true sense of community.
If you apply these tactics in your community, you’ll be well on your way to creating smoother operations and improving the community living experience for you and your homeowners well into the future.