Community Association Communication During the Development Period

Probably the most important element in the success of any community association is effective communications. Especially during the developer control period, a successful communications system can forestall the development of cliques and factions, can enable the association to provide services that owners want, and can help owners develop a sense of trust in the developer, thereby reducing or eliminating the acrimony that often follows the transition to owner control of the association. An effective communications system is comprised of several components, each of which is an essential part of the program.

Homeowners

Homeowners often feel that there is safety in numbers and consequently only speak up in a crowd - like at annual meetings when, for the first time, the developer, the manager, and the world find out about a leaking roof, a soda can rusting under a bush or an unreturned call from management five months ago. To avoid the angst caused by disgruntled owners, start communicating with them even before they move in by leaving information about the roles and responsibilities of the community association in the sales office. Invite them to a new owner orientation meeting. Encourage them to participate in a welcome committee to personally greet their new neighbors and introduce them to the concept and operations of their community association. Urge the creation and support of a newsletter committee to frequently inform the owners about what's happening in their community. Help them activate a social committee to begin the process of creating a unique community culture.

Realtor Onsite Sales Force

Real estate agents often provide the first impression of the community to a prospective owner, so they certainly need to get their facts correct. The sales material should contain all information required by law as well as material that promotes a sense of community. Holding quarterly open houses for real estate agents at which the community manager discusses specific aspects of the community association's obligations to the owners can focus them on the need to apprise the owner of both his and the association's responsibilities to each other. Real estate agents must clearly explain the association's existence and purpose. It is certainly better to learn beforehand of the restrictions established by the governing documents.

Community Manager

As the professional community association expert, the manager is expected to educate and guide the developer and the owners through the maze of association regulatory laws and rules. It's not a one-time effort, but rather a continuing program to remind existing owners and introduce new owners to their community culture. The first deed restriction violation is the start of that relationship. A phone call goes a long way to establish a warm, personal attitude toward the residents, much more so than a form letter that, no matter how much thought went into its language, will offend the recipient. What about a homeowner who blames the association and the management company for a construction problem with his home? This can be a sensitive situation for the manager who wants to help the owner without antagonizing the builder who may be planning more new developments in the future. However, the manager's responsibility is to the association, and one of the indications of a truly talented manager is the ability to speak frankly to both parties about their obligations to each other. The manager cannot expend association funds on items or services clearly the responsibility of the developer or builder, and the developer and builder should not ask the manager to jeopardize his or her reputation or ethics by misappropriating association funds.

Developer

The community association developer has tremendous influence on what will directly impact the current and future operations of his community. He or she can ensure that the documents are crafted to create a responsive, successful association or, just as easily, a community ravaged by polarized groups who distrust not only each other but the manager and developer as well. No developer wants to leave a legacy like the one just described, but many don't understand how to prevent it. It's really not difficult - here are a few tips:

  • Make sure the sales force clearly explains to prospective purchasers about the maintenance and administrative responsibilities of the owner and the association.
  • At least monthly, send a communication to all the owners, if only a postcard letting them know how sales are going. If funds are low or concerns about maintenance personnel or quality of work on common elements are expressed, respond immediately or refer the owner to the manager and request immediate follow up.
  • Implement group closings, an owner orientation program, or a welcome committee all of which are designed to educate and involved the owners from the outset.
  • If an owner reports a construction-related problem with his or her home, fix it immediately and cheerfully.
  • Create a Homeowner Advisory Committee so that owners feel that they have a real voice with the developer. This Advisory Committee can relay comments and questions from owners to the board, and relay information from the developer back to the owners. While they may have no legal authority or power, the members of the Advisory Committee can significantly influence the mood of the community towards the developer after transition. Keeping them informed about both the good and sometimes the bad news establishes trust with the committee members and consequently with the other residents in their community. The Advisory Committee can also be an incubator for future board members after transition - board members who understand the developer's efforts to turn over to them a community association already established as financially sound and responsive to its members.
  • Hold quarterly town hall meetings to flush out issues that can grow into marketing nightmares.
  • Create a website to provide constantly updated information about sales and community activities.
  • Encourage homeowner involvement in committees to groom potential homeowner board members as well as to demonstrate willingness for collaboration.

Attorney

More than any other individual, the attorney can single handedly determine the success or failure of a community association. Rather than using decades-old language for the governing documents, take advantage of enlightened wording shared by many community association law practitioners. Provide the framework within which homeowners can construct a community association that reflects their preferences. Don't create documents that are so rigid and intractable that they are too difficult to amend to reflect changing times and environments. Rather, craft documents that are customized for each community so that there are no references to an elevator in a garden-style condominium, green belts in a high rise, or dumpsters in a single family subdivision.

The word "communication" has the same root as "community" for a reason. A community association is dependent on frequent, frank, open communication among and between everyone involved in its creation and existence in order to thrive and provide the quality of life expected by its members. The developer's goal should be to create a community of residents who are proud of their homes and their neighborhood and who view the developer as part of the team committed to the operational success of their community association. Such attitudes foster amicable transitions and fewer lawsuits, reducing or eliminating the additional expense and time that transition litigation consumes.

Source: Association Times
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