In today’s modern, social media-centric world, reputations can be built up or destroyed in an instant. A video clip captured on cell phone of a good Samaritan pulling a trapped puppy to safety from an open drainpipe goes viral and instantly propels them to hero status (at least for their 15 minutes of fame); while a drunken celebrity shown sprawled out, eating a cheeseburger off the floor can knock him down to the D-list instantly. The internet is a virtual wasteland of pages devoted to the appreciation – or denigration of – celebrities, “normal” people, products and yes, even homeowner associations.
A terse phone exchange between a resident with an issue to report and a property manager can quickly be recounted in a Yelp post and blow up into a drawn-out gripe fest against an entire community. While Hollywood agents will tell you that “any publicity is good publicity,” we know that this is not so for common interest realty associations.
So what can an association or board do to turn opinions around and create a positive image for their community?
Communication is the key.
A frequent complaint that board members will hear from homeowners is that their association lacks transparency; they want to know where their money is going and how it’s being spent. To this point, board members should remind everyone that they are all homeowners in the community as well – they are equally impacted by budget increases and spending; as such, they are watching out for the best interests of the association. Boards should strive for honesty and openness in everything they do. This will create an environment of cooperation and trust.
One effective means of achieving this is to provide a breakdown of expenditures. An analysis of the association’s budget can be graphically illustrated in pie chart format, making it easy to visualize the line items or categories and the percentage of total operating income being spent on each. For example:
Monthly assessment for the calendar year = $200
o General & Admin – 27%
o Maintenance – 14%
o Contract Services – 32%
o Reserves – 27%
The best method for communicating this type of information is a community website. An association website is an essential communication tool that can be utilized to create goodwill and a positive reflection on your community.
- In the above example, a detailed write-up by your board treasurer explaining the budgeted expenses could accompany the pie-chart visual, helping the homeowners to understand the process and alleviating concerns.
- Improvement projects completed throughout the year (new trees planted on the property, monument improvements, roof replacements, clubhouse redesign, tennis court resurfacing, a fishing pier installed on the pond, etc.) can be showcased in a photo gallery.
- Individuals participating in committees can be recognized for their contributions to the betterment of the community.
- A monthly column or bulletin by your property manager is a great vehicle for providing project updates to help keep homeowners informed.
- For those communities with a clubhouse and a complete calendar of events, a social committee or social coordinator can keep the website updated with current activities taking place.
Most homeowners nowadays are fairly computer savvy, but you may still have those holdouts who prefer to remain “old-school.” If you find there is a lack of interest among residents in a community website, another viable option for keeping homeowners informed is a monthly newsletter. Don’t have the time to produce one? More than likely, someone in the community with the skills and talents in this area would be willing to volunteer their time; or perhaps a committee could be established. Ad space made available to local vendors not only provides the necessary revenue to fund the project, but this also provides your homeowners with helpful contact information for services and amenities – another plus for the association and its image!
An additional means of keeping the community in a positive light is allowing for flexibility in the way board meetings are run. While it is recommended that boards follow Robert’s Rules of Order or their governing documents in regard to running a meeting, allowing homeowners an opportunity to interact and ask questions of board members goes a long way towards fostering a solid relationship between homeowners and the board. Of course, much of this will be dictated by the individual personalities of the board members and/or the current topic of discussion. But all in all, a more informal approach allowing give-and-take between owners and board members can help move the association from the D-list to an A+ rating.
Further, on the topic of meetings, the board should take into consideration that some homeowners in attendance may be new to the process; this could be their very first homeowners’ or condominium association meeting. We all know the importance of first impressions. A brief overview of the meeting process and board member introductions could help create a positive experience for those new to the community. It would give them an understanding of the structure of the proceedings and stress that a portion of the meeting will be devoted to homeowner concerns and questions. People want to know that someone is listening.
Also essential in keeping up a good reputation is responsive customer service. Respond back to all homeowner messages in a timely manner. Even if you may not have an immediate answer to a request, it is better to let the homeowner know that you’re looking into something than to not respond back at all. While some calls from homeowners may be more challenging than others, the overall goal in communications should be to remain professional, patient and respectful at all times. This can help set the standard and be a reflection of how all people within the community should communicate.
To homeowners, the management company and association are interchangeable, so adhering to the above practices and advising your boards of these recommended measures can help establish and solidify a positive tone for your community. While you may not please all of the people all of the time, keeping the lines of communication open with your homeowners will surely go a long way toward putting your community in a better light.