The Eyes & Ears Of Your Association
By Selena Chavis, Condo Owner Magazine, Volume 19, Issue 2
Homeowner associations play a critical role in protecting an individual owner’s condominium investment, but managing the day-to-day operations and staying one step ahead of state regulations and requirements for a condominium complex can be a significant challenge. This is especially true for complexes where the vast majority of owners live outside the local area or state, which further complicates the situation, making the option of hiring a property manager attractive for ongoing support of operations.
“Since most of our associations are made up of owners that rent and don’t live in a unit full time, and all board members are typically out of town, [condominium associations] need a manager to make sure the property functions effectively on a day-to-day basis,” said Daniel Craven, a Gulf Shores attorney who has worked with associations for more than 18 years. “They are the eyes and ears of the association board.”
Association managers are integral to the successful operations of many condominiums and often become the central hub for communications between board members, owners and contracted vendors. While some larger condominiums may consider hiring a manager full-time, it makes the most sense for the majority of properties to hire management companies that work with a portfolio of condominiums in order to keep costs down.
What to Expect
While condominium association management contracts vary by property, industry professionals said that the following expectations are realistic of a good manager.
While expectations about such parameters as after-hours calls and time spent on property should be clearly laid out in contract negotiations, the bottom line is that a manager needs to be available. “Being available is an easy thing to say but a hard thing to do sometimes,” Craven said, pointing out the many property managers in today’s market are working with multiple properties. “If an owner has a problem, the property manager is who they call to get it resolved. When you get 20, 50 or sometimes 100 calls a day, you have to be extremely well organized and have a good system for making sure things ultimately get accomplished.”
Patty Madaris, co-owner of Madarinn Group in Gulf Shores, said that time on property and office hours will often vary depending on the size and needs of the property. “We may go in one day and spend an hour walking the property, and the next day, it may take only 15 to 20 minutes,” she said. “The main thing is to maintain that the manager or someone from the management office be on the property a certain number of times per week.”
- Partners with the Board
Kathleen Cresse with Southern Association Management in Destin pointed out that the relationship between the association board and the manager is critical, and managers have to understand the personality of each board they are working with. While every board will expect consistent enforcement of rules and regulations, the approach may vary. “Some want strict enforcement; others want more leniency applied,” she pointed out.
Madaris emphasized that the board must have a clear understanding of the manager’s duties and the role that professional will play in the day-to-day operations. In tandem, the manager must understand the big-picture mission and objectives of the board.
“If everyone is not on the same page, you are not going to be able to accomplish anything,” she emphasized. “You have to have a chain of command.”
- Well versed in state regulations and legal requirements
From inspection schedules to insurance requirements, condominium associations must keep up with the legal aspects of maintaining a property. According to Debbie Hughes, senior association manager with Compass Association Management in Destin, this is where a manager can be a great asset.
“Florida was one of the first states to require that condominium association managers be licensed,” she said, pointing out that part of the continuing education requirements for licensure cover state codes and laws. “We guide them to make the best decisions.”
- Oversee finances and vendor contracts
To maintain the common areas of a property, most condominiums will contract with a variety of vendor companies including landscaping, pool maintenance and someone to take care of general repairs. These contracts must be maintained and enforced on a day-to-day basis, according to Cresse, who pointed out that a manager should be able to relay information to the board about how each vendor is performing. Along with ongoing oversight of contracts, a good manager will also be able to pool from available resources to find appropriate vendors when needed. “Ultimately, it will be the board that chooses a vendor, but a manager should be able to put good companies in front of them,” she emphasized.
A good manager will also have the accounting and finance savvy to keep board members up-to-date on budgets and financial matters, said Hughes. “Board members come from all walks of life, and some have never seen a financial statement,” she said. “We have to be able to educate them and guide them through understanding the financial condition of a property at any given time.”
- Effective communicators
The manager essentially acts as a liaison between the board and its owners, according to Madaris, making effective communication paramount to a competent manager. “We attend all board meetings, keep all of their minutes and send out all communication about meetings,” she said. “We have to be there to answer questions and relay information.” One way Madarinn Group does this is through an owner’s web page. Rather than having to contact everyone individually when something important arises, Madaris says they can post there and get the information out quickly.
Cresse noted that often communication will need to be provided through a number of methods to reach everyone. “Not everyone reads their email regularly, and not everyone opens their regular mail,” she said.
As managers have a tremendous amount of responsibility and power in the oversight and management of a condominium complex, it’s important to choose a professional or a company carefully with clear expectations laid out and understood by all parties. “If someone is taking care of your property, they should care about it,” said Cresse, adding that she tries to take as much pride in a property as the owners would. “Make sure you find a manager that really wants to do a good job.”
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