When looking for the right experts for your community association there are many places that you will have to search, much like the game of Hide & Seek you might have played as a child. To help avoid wasting time and energy, the Association should develop a strategy to help find the professionals that are best suited to its needs.
The first step is to identify the requirements of the community. Once the requirements have been identified, the community should explore how an expert might be able to assist the association. To help focus the effort, establish why an expert is needed, what is needed from the expert, and when the expert is needed. A variety of tools may be used.
A reserve study conducted by a reserve specialist will highlight capital repair projects that need to be undertaken to avoid escalating repairs bills and hazardous conditions. The nature of these projects will determine whom you go to next. A concrete repair project might dictate that you will require the services of a licensed architect / engineer who can assist you with the production of repair drawings and specifications.
A community’s preventive maintenance schedule will determine the type and frequency of routine and preventative maintenance. A maintenance schedule helps to maximize efficiency, useful life and avoid potentially expensive repair bills. Often times an association may realize the need to contract with a plumber to rod kitchen waste lines, or an HVAC specialist to fine tune the heating and cooling plants.
Local ordinances and state laws will often dictate inspections that have to occur to ensure that appropriate safety controls and maintenance programs are put into place with a specified frequency. Examples might include life safety inspections, ventilation inspections and elevator inspections. Such ordinances and laws will dictate the need to engage the services of a life safety professional, a ventilation professional or an elevator inspector.
A survey to determine the wants and the needs of the owners will define the services that are required to maintain the lifestyle that a community offers. The survey might identify the association’s desire to upgrade gym equipment, or give the common area an update.
Putting Together a Plan
A reserve study and local laws will likely help you to define the services that are required and will be useful when putting together a request for proposal (RFP). Surveys and preventative maintenance schedules might not provide enough scope and detail to help put together an RFP, and further consultation may be required. For example, when determining the community’s landscaping requirements a survey might identify some of the wishes of the community. This can then be reviewed in conjunction with the previous year’s contract to determine whether the current service levels remain appropriate. This is useful when you are determining the initial scope of work that is going to be considered. A building and grounds committee might then be able to recommend any changes that are required to best suit the needs of the association.
A request for proposal helps an association in many ways. It is a good method to solicit many bids from a number of vendors in a uniform manner. Each vendor will receive a concise and detailed description of the services that are required and a lot of ambiguity will be eliminated. The RFP will let all bidding vendors know that you are soliciting numerous proposals and that the process is going to be competitive, which will help ensure that the Association receives the best possible value for the services required.
Finding Your Experts
Now that you have the strategy set – the requirements of the community have been established, the scope is understood and the RFP has been prepared – you are ready to solicit bids from experts, you are ready to ”go seek.”
The important thing for an association to remember when searching for professionals is that you are not on your own. A search, when done right, should feel like a collaborative endeavor. Consultants who specialize in vertical transportation, for example, will be able to identify and recommend elevator companies that can maintain and repair your elevator machinery. The association’s current vendors might be able to make recommendations to help assist the community. For another example, your accountant might be able to recommend banking professionals and law firms that clients may have used over the years. Professional maintenance staff and property managers will likely have worked with a large number of vendors over the years and will be able to make a good number of recommendations to committees and boards. As a rule of thumb the community should be looking to find at least three vendors who will then be invited to submit a proposal that will fulfill the association’s RFP.
Once the appropriate number of bids has been received the association must now evaluate and choose the “winner” or the right vendor for the community. Interviews might be useful to aid the board in its decision as the interview may offer information that may not be readily apparent in the RFP. Factors that will contribute to the board’s decision will include the price for the services, the strength of the references provided, the experience that the expert has with regard to this particular area or task, and the time frame to complete the necessary work or task, to name but a few factors. A formal bid analysis process should be used to evaluate the bids. Just because a bid is the least expensive does not mean that it is the best one for your community. If a garage restoration project is 5% less expensive but takes twice as long to complete, then you will come to realize that some bids may have hidden costs that do not necessarily have a monetary value. It may be helpful to a board to see all factors summarized and side by side.
Finding the right experts is always an important exercise for any community. By following these steps, a lot of the guess work will be reduced and the right professionals will come out of hiding and be easier for your association to seek.