Communication with HOA and Condominium members is always a hot item. Maybe it’s just climate with all that’s going on in 2020, but it’s been a topic of much discussion. So let’s get into some background before I share my opinions on this topic.
First, let’s clarify the terms when we talk about members. Members are lot or unit owners who have voting rights defined in your Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. For simplicity, members own property and hold a stake in the common elements and the costs to support them. All members should make themselves familiar with their governing documents as well as the state statutes that apply to their homeownership when it comes to their homeowners’ association or condominium. While this list is not comprehensive and there are some exceptions, some areas of interest are:
- Chapter 55A North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act
- Chapter 47F North Carolina Planned Community Act
- Chapter 47C North Carolina Condominium Act
The board of directors is, elected or sometimes appointed, the leadership of your community. You may not realize it, but your community is a nonprofit corporation. The board of directors decides how that business happens while observing the statutes mentioned above and in compliance with your Bylaws and Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. How your community functions can vary a bit from one community to another, but the fundamental principles are typically very similar. Your board is there to ensure the community runs as it intended in the original scope of development and to make decisions. The scope of development is what you are sold when you decided to move into your neighborhood; for example, your community has a gate and fifty homes. These are the facts of your community. Some boards of directors have a lot of latitude in making decisions for your community; that’s why it’s important who you elect.
Community managers are third parties who assist the board of directors in handling the day to day affairs of your neighborhood. Directors are almost always unpaid volunteers. By engaging the services of a qualified management company, the board of directors can maintain their personal lives and their role as directors. It’s tough at times to juggle being a member, neighbor, director, and friends. Management can help in many ways, from overseeing some contractors, handling financial matters, collecting assessments, assisting with collections, compliance with governing documents, and communication matters to the membership. The list goes on. Your manager and their organization work directly for the board of directors, not the members, which is a common misconception among lot and condo unit owners. In truth, members’ assessment goes toward paying the management fee, but its the board of directors that determine the best course of action and the application of those services. Management may perform operations on the board of director’s behalf, but only with their guidance, management cannot act alone.
So now we get to the real point, communication with members. Member’s questions, comments, and concerns are very important. Bottom line. In that same vein, effective handling of communications from members is just as important. When members communicate with their managers or management company, they are technically communicating with their board of directors with management functioning as their proxy. At least in North Carolina, the guidance is that communications to the board of directors should be in writing. Requests or concerns put in black and white have a far lesser chance of being misconstrued. They are also easier to track for both the sender and the recipient and to reference later.
Phone calls or voice mails, on the other hand, are one way until the other party can respond. Phone calls also limit when management can respond. Who wants a 7 AM phone call because this is when the manager can return your call about an account statement. Items like this are much easier to handle via email and electronic means. Email also has the advantage of greater accountability. Its pretty simple to look up when you sent a message and to whom you sent it. If it bounces back, then you probably know about that too. Emails allow managers to handle multiple items at once while they reference documents related to your requests, as they sometimes need to. Most managers have to manage numerous communities with many members to keep management fees affordable. Imagine for a moment that a manager gets ten calls in a day, each of those calls takes around 15 minutes from start to end, which is a very conservative estimate. Even in this conservative scenario, the total is 2.5 hours. That means over 30% of your manager’s time goes toward communications that may also require additional action to complete, not necessarily helping operate your community.
On the other hand, with an email, your manager knows what you need and can act on it in a much more efficient manner. Your manager may also need to refer this item to other team members, such as the accountant or maintenance team to get all the answers. Email is much more collaboration friendly and is simple to share with other team members and your board of directors.
Phone calls are, sometimes, immediately gratifying; however, they are often counterproductive to getting what you need quickly. Phone calls require managers to focus all their attention on the acting of making a call rather than getting the members the responses they need. Logistically they are counterproductive for collaboration. Yes, there are times when phone calls are necessary, emergencies, and items that require quick reactions to things that may impact the ultimate costs to the community. While it may feel that emails go into a black hole with no certainty of a response, phone calls are much more likely to be lost in the multitude of day to day tasks. We all appreciate the human element of a conversation, but that also tends to complicate requests. Sometimes managers aren’t ready for that conversation, and sometimes legally, they can’t discuss a topic until the board of directors has had a chance to review it. A simple, straightforward email puts your needs in front of us without lousy reception or garbled voice mails, especially here in the mountains.
Our team uses a system called Done Done, and we love it, and so should you. This also why we encourage email communication whenever possible. When members send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, the Done Done system opens up a new time-stamped task for our entire team, not just your manager. This system allows our team to jump in where possible and help speed the process along. While being more efficient, managers and team members can respond with documents, images, or copies of account statements to the requestor’s email address. The task itself stays in our system even after it’s resolved so we can reference the task and its outcome in the future. Think of it like a switchboard that doesn’t require the operator to connect the call to the party you are looking for; it goes to everyone on our team. There is no wait for someone to listen for five minutes and decide they need to transfer you. This is also we do not employ a receptionist. In my mind, there is nothing worse than spending time talking to someone you know can’t help you while waiting for them to find someone who might.
In summation, phone calls are appropriate at times where emails are generally more effective. We invest in systems that help make us more efficient and better equipped to handle the needs of our boards of directors and their members. None of this makes us perfect. Mistakes happen, but troubleshooting those mistakes and addressing problems is much easier when you can see the process as it unfolds. So next time you are about to call your manager, think about your own time and how valuable it is. In the same timeframe as it takes you to stop what you’re doing and place a call, you can fire off an email that let’s management know what your specific request is.
Charlie Meek, CMCA®, AMS®
CEO/Senior Community Manager
R and P Property Managers, Inc.