Association Insights Leadership

Back to the Basics of Common Interest Community Management

As a Community Manager it is expected that you manage the day to day operations of your community flawlessly, that repairs are done within moments, that you never miss a deadline, that you never get flustered and that you do it all with a smile and ample time to chat when owners stop by to say hi.  Unfortunately, this is far easier said than done.

Community Managers are charged with taking care of someone else’s home, their safe space, their relaxing space and likely their largest financial investment.  There is significant pressure to ensure all goes well and sometimes it is too easy to get overwhelmed.

Having and maintaining the right tools will help you stay organized, ensure work is completed on time, able to quickly answer basic questions and know who to contact and when. Although it sounds too simple, the first tool is to know your community better than anyone else and have a plan for the next month/quarter/year to manage each part of your community.

Gather the Information

The Community Manager should know the physical asset as well as what is needed to make it all work.  Walk your community and document important items such as the location of all utility shut offs, lockboxes, mechanical systems, common storage areas and an inventory of items stored in those areas, locations of downspout discharge, parking assignments, etc. Also note care requirements for each of these items such as “exercise shut off valves annually, services HVAC equipment semi-annually, etc.”  Documenting this information ensures it is quickly available when needed during an emergency, for regular service or to develop a regular preventive maintenance schedule.

Set time in your schedule to perform regular, comprehensive inspections of all common areas. During this inspection, gather a list of items that will likely need attention or may present challenges soon. This would include the door that is starting to stick, the swale that drains slowly, trees and bushes that need trimming, areas that need touch up paint, signs to be replaced, etc.

Also document all service providers that assist in the care and maintenance of your community.  This list should be reviewed and updated regularly. Be sure to include your primary point of contact, account numbers, contract terms, etc. Quickly knowing the phone number of your HVAC service provider or the account number for the water company will help ensure efficiency in the future.

Know the Documents

The Community Manager should also be the most familiar with the requirements and restrictions set forth in the association’s governing documents and your contractual obligations. Perform a document and contract inspection in the same fashion you performed a physical asset inspection. Note important items such as timing requirements for adoption of the annual budget, mailing of the annual meeting notice, owner maintenance requirements such as dryer vent cleaning or HVAC inspections, contract renewal dates and contract termination notice requirements.

Also review your reserve study, the association’s social event calendar and other timelines for which you will need to be prepared.

Set Plans, Goals and Important Milestones

Using the information you gather, lay out a plan for the next month/quarter/year. Advanced planning ensures nothing slips through the cracks and allows you to work on items before they become urgent.

Your annual plan should include preventive maintenance items such as systems inspections, filter changes, gutter cleaning as well as seasonal work such as power washing, window washing, street sweeping, etc. It should also include deadlines for performing the administrative tasks such as preparing the budget or meeting notices and planning/executing social events. Your monthly plan should include addressing the sticking doors or scheduling the touch up paint and budget requirements for each of these items. Your plan should detail who will perform each task and necessary budget requirements.

Review your plan with the Board of Directors, appropriate committees and/or owners. This review will ensure that everyone knows what to expect in the coming months and will help you budget for this work accordingly. Once reviewed and approved, schedule service providers or notify the affected parties well in advance of items you may need from them.

Utilize Your Resources

The Community Manager is often expected to know everything and to be an expert on all subject matter.  In reality, you should be an expert on when to say “when”.  If you don’t know the best tree for a space, ask your landscape contractor or an arborist.  If you need assistance to understand something or to develop a rule seek advice from the appropriate provider or legal counsel. Know your limitations and respect them, this includes requiring Board Member execution of contracts, timely invoice payments, and seeking recommendations from actual experts.  CAI also offers a number of resources on their website for finding professionals in various fields.

Address Emergencies Immediately

Unfortunately, emergency situations will arise regardless of how carefully we plan for the future.  Having your plans in place for non-urgent items and scheduling this work well in advance will help your community run as a well-oiled machine allowing you time to manage the emergencies as they arise.  Documentation of who to contact and property details (that list of shut off valves) will help you quickly handle these issues with grace.

Communication and Customer Service

Finally, and likely most importantly, communicate!  You have spent the time and energy reviewing all aspects of your community, planning work well in advance and preparing.  Now take the time to let everyone know what is happening and when to expect it.  Use the communication tool that is most available to your community whether that is publishing in a newsletter, email blasts, announcing it at regular meetings or mailings.

And, there will be questions! Remember, you are managing a community that is someone’s home, they have a very vested interest in what is happening and how it will affect them and their investment. Take the time to listen to and understand their concerns and consider suggestions they make. While we can’t always make everyone happy, we can certainly provide the customer service they deserve.

Ensure you follow through with your promises and respond to questions in a timely manner. Lack of communication and customer service is one of the biggest complaints in many communities.

With a little advanced planning, a complete and thorough knowledge of your community and a well communicated plan, you are now prepared for the basic management of your community. Now time to bring on the big challenges!

By April Ludtke Meza, CMCA, AMS, PCAM

April is the director of association management at National Realty Partners, LLC, AAMC. She has worked in the common interest management industry for 15 years managing a variety of communities. She is involved with CAI and has served on several committees.

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