It’s your first day at your new community as an on-site manager and you walk in ready to take on the world. You sit down at your desk. You look to your left and see unfiled papers. You look to your right and you see a stack of invoices. Your staff comes in with questions and they need a response. The final straw is when you look down and see several open work orders that need to be completed and you ask yourself, “Ok, what now?” What do you do first? What items are most important? How could you possibly have the answers to questions on which you yet know nothing about? It is your first day on the job; where should you start?
Often, managers will acquire a new community with no roadmap and no indication of where to begin. Not to mention, the new client expects you to hit the ground running and solve all of their problems yesterday. Although each Management Company should have a protocol on how to transition an on-site manager onto a new property, it can be extremely intimidating walking into your new community and lead one to feel overwhelmed and underprepared.
The good news is that there is an answer and a process that can be used for any community that any manager takes on! Here are 10 items to get you started and headed in the right direction, which is success!
Hot Topics: Your initial priority should be to discover the issues you need to tackle first. They include the items that need your immediate attention and cannot wait. I highly recommend taking the time to speak with the Association Counsel. They are an extremely valuable source of information to help understand and better prioritize your to-do list.
Governing Documents: “What do your Governing Documents say?” That is the question we as managers are asked all the time. When you first start, it is a question you should ask yourself. It is so important to get your hands on your Governing Documents and to make sure you have a copy of any amendments and policy resolutions. It will take some time to really know your Governing Documents, but if you have them handy you can research whatever you may need.
Management Contract: Reading Management Contracts is so fun, said no one ever! However, it is critical that you find your Management Contract and read through it carefully. You may have special requirements, obligations, and deliverables unique to that property and if you don’t read it you won’t know. Read your contract and make highlights and notes on items you think are important so that they are easy to reference in the future.
Walk the Property: As Managers, we must familiarize ourselves with our properties; what better way to do this than walking the property? Start walking the grounds. If you have staff on-site, have them give you the tour. Otherwise, take advantage of the historical knowledge longtime Board Members or owners may have to pass to down. You will want to know where the common areas are and what areas are the responsibilities of the Association. While you are doing your walkthrough, take notes and pictures. This is a good time to also check on your landscaping and general appearance of the property, and to ask yourself “How is the curb appeal?”
Contracts: Knowledge is power and the more you know about your community, the more successful you will be. Start looking into what contracts the Association has in place and what they are for. This is a great time to set up meet and greets with your contractors. You will want to get to know them; it is always great to put a face to a name and build a rapport. Have the contractor explain their contract to you and make sure you have read over the contract first just to ensure you are all on the same page. When reviewing the contracts, and if one is not already created, create yourself a spreadsheet just to track your property’s contracts. You will want to note the account representative for that specific contract, start and end date, contact information, cost of the contract, and any other important notes you would want to stand out.
Staff Meeting: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Anonymous
Getting to know your team is a must! If you have staff, you want to plan a day in your first few weeks to meet with them. In this meeting you will want to not only introduce yourself, but also get introduced to your entire team. I like having “brainstorm” meetings where we gather to go over any items that are pending and need my attention. This is a time for them to have your undivided attention, which is very rare in this fast-paced business; take advantage of it!
Delinquencies: You can’t improve on things you know nothing about! Grab a copy of your delinquency list and go through it carefully, line by line, to see how the community is doing collecting assessments. How much is owed and what do the balances look like? Are they small or large? Work with your Accounts Receivable representative to see when the last time notices were sent out. I personally like to send friendly email reminders for all balances owed once a quarter. This also applies to any accounts that have been sent to legal for collections. Get with your legal account representative and go over your accounts. You might be surprised just how much you can learn by having a 10-minute conversation.
Organize: “For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” – Anonymous
Organizing your office should be the center of your attention for the first couple of months. Go through your office and gather any and all loose paper. Get that filing done, get those documents scanned in, and organize your office and workspace. It will take time, but trust me it is so worth it.
Speak with your Board: Whatever way of communication works best for the Board and you make sure you are reaching out. You want to be aware of what the Board’s expectations are and what they see as the highest priorities. This will begin your action item list! You will want to keep the Board updated on what’s happening at the property. Trust me; they will want to know how your first few weeks are going!
Take a Deep Breath: We all know how stressful this business can be, but the important thing to remember is to always stop and take a deep breath. If you get stuck on a task, put it down for a moment and go to something else, then try again later. If you need to call for help, don’t be ashamed. There is no such thing as a bad question. Utilize all the resources around you and ask away! Keep in mind that CAI has an amazing research library on their website which has a plethora of information that all CAI members should be taking advantage of.
“Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” – Frank Sinatra.
We all encounter different situations and challenges every day and no one property is the same as another! These helpful tips will get you off to a good start. In whatever you do, just remember to own it and do not be afraid to make a mistake. Each mistake is a learning opportunity.
Shayla Love, CMCA, AMS
Shayla is an Onsite High-rise Condominium Manager located in Alexandria, VA. She has been with Cardinal Management’s team since February 2017. Shayla received her Certified Manager of Community Associations designation (CMCA) in 2016 and her Association Management Specialist designation (AMS) in 2018, she is currently working towards her Professional Community Association Manager designation (PCAM). Her strong work ethic and eagerness to learn is what drives her day to day.