You may need a management company to handle only financial matters for your association. Or you may need it to oversee everything from maintenance to finances to debt collection. Be sure your budget matches your appetite for service. “Boards don’t realize that association management isn’t a high-margin business, and the cheapest bid isn’t always the best bid,” says Ginsburg. “You get what you pay for. If you want to pay your manager the least possible amount, you’ll get the least possible amount of service. You may have to pay a little more to get the service you require. There’s a balance between successfully negotiating fees with your management company and paring down your budget to include a management fee where the company can no longer perform effectively for you.”
2. Set clear expectations.
Create goals for your association, and be sure to convey those to your management company. For example, if you’re tired of running on thin reserves and your goal is to tighten the budget so that you can build your reserves, let your management company know that so you’re working from the same playbook. Also, be sure your contract outlines who’s responsible for making which decisions. Then don’t micromanage. “Once the association has dictated what the management company is responsible for, step back and let it do its job,” advises Ginsburg. He speaks from experience. In just one example, an owner complained to Ginsburg that he didn’t like the way the landscaper was cutting the grass. “The owner said, ‘The guy on the
tractor is doing circles,” explains Ginsburg, “and he should be doing straight lines.”
3. Hold the manager accountable.
“A particular source of frustration for associations occurs when management companies bundle services and push you into using contractors they have relationships with or that they own. When that happens, you’ll get big upcharges,” says Ginsburg. “Be wary when a management company is pushing very hard to use certain vendors. Instead, a management company should have an open bid process for all your work. It should do a request for proposal, get three to five bids, make sure the bids compare apples to apples, and then choose the best contractor together with your board.”
4. Listen to the advice you’re paying for.
“Management companies are experts in managing condo buildings and residential communities, so listen to what they have to say,” recommends Ginsburg. “In some cases, residents who don’t have a particular level of experience with an issue try to push the management company toward a decision they believe is right, and then nobody is satisfied with the results.” Case in point: You’ve got a big project to complete—such as window replacement. Your manager has several bids from reputable contractors. But a dissatisfied, penny-pinching board member gets an additional, lowball bid. The board—against the advice of the manager, who expresses doubts about the company’s competence—chooses the least expensive
company to complete the work. When problems arise, board members complain that the manager should have provided more guidance.
“Remember that the manager is there to help you, and you should work together,” says Ginsburg. “That’s a much more pleasant process than butting heads.”