One of the things that all association members can agree on is that they want their Association to look nice. The common name for this is “curb appeal,” something that real estate sales agents emphasize when marketing homes for sale. In an association, the individual homeowner has little control over the curb appeal of his or her Association. By default, the maintenance task is the responsibility of the board of directors.
Landscaping is the most immediately visible area impacting curb appeal. Can you rely on your landscape service provider to accomplish this task for you? The answer is no. While that service provider is a very important part of the process, somebody needs to have overall control of the management of the maintenance process. This process involves looking through two different lenses. One lens deals with day-to-day maintenance and upkeep issues. The other lens focuses on the long-term maintenance plan of the Association, which should be reflected in its reserve study. Having the ability to see both the short-term and long-term aspects of Association maintenance is not something that can be expected of any single contractor or service provider – with the exception of your management company, which generally has a team of people involved in the management of your Association. If no management company is involved, you generally rely on an experienced on-site manager.
While it is possible that one or more board members, or the board as a group, may possess the ability to perform this task, you then have to ask the question – is this board going to be here one year from now, three years from now, five years from now? The answer is, probably not. The most common solution, then, is to hire an outside independent management company or on-site manager for the overall management of the Association, including oversight of both the short-term and long-term maintenance plan. While working with other associations, experienced managers have already dealt with most of the issues they are likely to encounter. They bring this experience into play for the benefit of your Association.
Several aspects of this truth have already been explored in other articles published in HOA Pulse. The manager is primarily beneficial to the Association in knowing:
- what to do.
- when to do it.
- who should do it.
- how to design specifications for the request for proposal.
An experienced manager will also provide on-site supervision and inspection, an important part of the Association management process. S/he can perform regular inspections of each building and property common areas, as well as evaluate on-site equipment. The goal of these activities is to provide the board of directors with enough information so that they can make repairs earlier rather than later, when the expense could be greater. Preventative maintenance is the name of the game. It is the best course of action for the board to take to both keep costs as low as possible over the long term while also keeping the curb appeal as high as possible.
One struggle that affects many associations is the fact that keeping long-term costs under control may require expenditure of more money in the short run. This seems to be a particularly difficult situation for board members who have campaigned to get elected to the board by promising to reduce costs and keep assessments low. Too many times, that short-sighted attitude results in larger overall costs in the long run.
The manager can also provide useful insight to the board regarding normal degradation of facilities which inevitably occurs over time. Because s/he has a number of business contacts, s/he knows which contractors are reliable, have good pricing, and possess the specific knowledge needed to accomplish a given task.
Because neglected short-term maintenance can lead to much larger expenses in the long-term, it is important that the current operating budget be adequate to perform the maintenance tasks that are needed. It is also critical that the reserve funding is adequate to perform the long-term maintenance tasks when necessary. Even new properties require maintenance that must be completed on a regular basis. An Association is wise to create a maintenance plan that is designed to both maintain and improve the quality of the community. It must consider both current day-to-day activities, as well as long-term major repair and replacement activities that are commonly funded in the reserve plan.
We find that too many associations are under the impression that the reserve study is in fact their maintenance plan. It should not be. The reserve study should be a reflection OF the maintenance plan that the Association has put in place.
Curb appeal is important to the satisfaction of members of the Association and often determines whether they are happy with their lifestyle or if instead they constantly complain to management and the board of directors regarding the Association. More importantly, everybody is ultimately hit in the pocketbook if an association is not well-maintained.