Property Management – What it is and what it isn’t.
I have been reading some of the comments and letters made on the Leewood web site about a property management company being involved in the Architectural Review function for Leewood. Since I have done this for a considerable time, both with and without a property management company, I think I am qualified to discuss some of the pros and cons of having an outside group manage this important function for our community.
A lot of people think that a property management company will come in and take this function over and everything will be done on time and be administered correctly. This could not be further from the truth. Let me give you some insight into what can (and has) happened when a property management company was involved in this process in Leewood.
Maintaining a good community database. Included in this database should be all of the current homeowner names, their addresses (including off site owner’s addresses) and this should be organized to allow for tracking of all Architectural Review letters that are sent to a homeowner for violations by date. When we had our last property management company doing this, we could not get them to keep the database up correctly. We would send in changes of address or add new homeowners when homes were sold and they did not get entered into the system or were put in under a different address. It was very sloppy and even after a lot of complaints, we always had little issues come up with this simple task. It was very frustrating for everyone and we repeatedly had to discuss this with the property management company. Someone from this community had to constantly be checking this database to make sure that the firm did it correctly. This took a lot of time and effort on the part of the Leewood Board and ARC committee members.
The conducting of the spring and fall walk through. When we had our last management company, they were to conduct the spring and fall walk through. We thought that this would bring consistency to the process. When they did the first walk through, we checked to see what they wrote up to assure they were doing the job we were paying them for. They had left so many violations off, we had to correct a lot of their letters and ask them to redo many of them. They also cited other violations which on close inspection of the premises, we could not find. They did not even seem familiar with our guidelines. When you employ one of these firms you have to supervise what they are doing. Nobody, and I stress NOBODY will care about doing the walk through thoroughly like a conscientious member of this community. We had so many issues with the results of the walk through that we ended up performing the ensuing walk throughs ourselves. Then we just got the information to the management company to send out the letters and put in the database. This way we had a thorough walk through, maintained consistency with our guidelines and were able to be consistent with the homeowner.
Responses to homeowners responding to violation letters: Many times when a homeowner receives a letter they respond by asking for extensions, asking for recommendations of contractors, or some guidance on solutions. Someone has to be able to help them from the community. The management company does not make these decisions or recommendations. They will then pass them to someone in ARC who must respond to help the homeowner. This should be done in a timely fashion – if not it stresses the homeowner and they will ignore the process. Having a middle-man did add more time to the process – some people minded and some did not. There will always have to be someone (or a committee) that will make decisions on behalf of the community. The management company will not make decisions, they just are the messenger – and they will get back to the homeowner for the committee.
Community approvals and questions. Part of the responsibility of an ARC committee is to be available to the community to act as a resource when people have questions about the guidelines or need approvals for changes. The process we had with our previous management company was the requests for approvals went to the management company in writing. They were supposed to send a "we received your request" letter, and then would respond after getting approval from someone on the committee. One would hope that in this day of faxes and email this would not slow down the process. However, it did, causing delays and frustration on the part of homeowners because usually they are planning to do the work pretty shortly after they get approval – and in many cases they are ready to go just waiting for approval. Once again, a committee member has to be involved in those decisions.
Reporting: We had contracted with the management company to get monthly reporting of activity on our account and have a board package prepared that would be sent to the head of ARC and presented at the board meeting. This packet would include correspondence with homeowners, questions and concerns on behalf of the management company and the results of the walk through when performed. This seemed to be totally beyond their capabilities, and we got our board package perhaps 10% of the time. The ARC and board need some documentation of what this group is doing, if for nothing else to assure that they are getting the job done for the money they are being paid. In the same vein, the company would send out notices without copying the ARC chair or the Board of these notices. As they managed to have errors in many of the notices, then the Board/ARC would receive irate telephone calls from residents and be blindsided. All that could be said was "I will look into it".
POA inspections: The Association is obligated to respond to a request for a POA packet in 14 days. In it is a very important re-inspection of the property. Any violations not mentioned in the packet are considered forgiven for eternity. Our property management company was so slow on getting back to the POA representative that he found himself beating off the realtors who were anxious to get the packet. Worse, however, is that they would send him information based on an inspection that was 6 months old or more. In order to protect Leewood, we had to remove this function from the management company completely and have an internal person do the POA ARC inspections.
Violations that do not get corrected in a timely manner. As you know, when people do not correct violations, Leewood will begin a legal process to enforce our ARC guidelines. This includes imposing monetary charges against homeowners who do not comply. The management company prepares the paper work (including copies of all the attempts to get the violation corrected) but, someone from the ARC committee must present this package of information to the Board for action. The Board votes on sending this to the attorney with instructions on how the Board would like to proceed. Any action against a homeowner is initiated between the ARC committee and the Board – not an outside management company.
We terminated our last management company and I think you can see where I am going with this. A management company is not the end all and be all to solving ARC problems – and in some cases can make things more complicated. I have always felt that having someone who is really snappy at handling databases, available to do administrative support work and is conscientious – even if we pay for those administrative services – is almost better than contracting with a management company and assuming they will save us from our own responsibility. It just won’t happen. Also, I have to say that even though there is a lot of work and you do have to take calls and be available for people when they need help, it can be rewarding. I have met so many really nice people doing this job – and when the neighborhood really looks good in the Spring with all the flowers and trees blooming, it is very satisfying. And, people are really appreciative of the work the ARC committee does (well most are…).
Lastly, my understanding is that this board is thinking of giving more than just the ARC function to the management company. They are looking at "total property management services" for our community. First, we are not that big of a community. Many property management companies that will bid on services for us will charge us a heftier price since we do not have a large number of units. The big companies either will not bid for our business or if they do, our organization will get lost in their client base. What we could end up with is an inexperienced management company learning the business on our time (and money). Secondly, the Board still is responsible for the actions of the management company. The board needs to understand and accept that they are responsible for overseeing the quality of the management company’s performance since they represent us and elected to spend our community money for this service. This movement to a management company should be explored very carefully and, the community should be kept involved in the process through regular communications to all homeowners at all times. Moving to a management company is not always the best move – and can create a lot of headache and confusion as evidenced by our past experiences.
by Pam Stover
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