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Return of the Snowbirds

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
 
By “return of the snowbirds,” of course, I am not referring to the orioles and red-breasted grosbeaks appearing at our backyard feeders, but rather to the unit owners coming back from southern climes to their homes in Vacationland. Maine has a significant population of condominiums along its rocky coast and mountainous regions serving as primary or secondary homes for bi-latitude unit owners.
 
These mobile association members present both a challenge and an opportunity for the property manager and the Board. Effectively run condominium organizations have long recognized the need for good communications and relationships. Communities with long-term absentee owners need to pay particular attention to this fundamental principle and be sure they are sending the right “message” throughout the year.
 
“Wish you were here!” Absentee owners want to feel that they and their interests are being included in association life just the same as when they are present. While they may be too busy with their life away to “write you back,” they will certainly appreciate being kept in the information loop, so be sure to keep your mailing and emailing lists updated with summer and winter addresses.
 
Good communications build good relationships. When a Board makes a decision it can not only have a significant impact on the owners’ financial well being but also their quality of life. Each owner may be affected differently. For a Board to be effective it must have the owners’ trust. This is especially true with owners ‘from away.’
 
This trust comes into play when owners’ votes must be cast long-distance. Though many Maine condominiums host their annual meetings in August to net the largest attendance possible, various types of owners’ participation may be required in other parts of the year. Confidence in the Board is essential to make this work. The most certain way to communicate the Board’s effectiveness is by clearly demonstrating the use of proven management controls and tools. 
 
“We’re holding down the fort!” One of the most effective tools in managing an association’s assets is a reserve study. A reserve study provides a clear plan on how the condominium’s common elements will be managed into the future, how much that will cost, when the funds will be needed, and how those funds will be raised. When reserve studies are followed and are kept up-to-date, an absent owner will feel that his or her interests are being looked after. The owner will know that deferred maintenance will not be piling up, that the good reputation of the condominium is being maintained in the real estate market, and thus the owner’s investment is being protected.
 
To make the most of such a tool, it is important to make its value visible to the owners. Some associations produce a large copy of the reserve study’s listing of future repair projects. This poster-sized time-line projection is then posted in a highly trafficked locationsuch as the club house or laundry room and the status of each project is noted with color markers. This presents a very visible reminder that the Board is doing its job.
 
“Welcome back!” If yours is a community with unit owners living elsewhere for part of the year, many may own a condo in another part of the country. These owners have experiences with how other condo associations handle issues, which can be invaluable to you. To not take advantage of this resource, or not use this networking possibility with other boards, could be costly in lessons missed.
 
One idea is a “Welcome Back” social/business meeting for hearing the experiences of your returning unit owners with their other condo associations. The positive stories can provide you with best practices input. The negative anecdotes can serve to increase owners’ appreciation for how well you are managing their Maine association – and perhaps provide reinforcement of why it is important to “stay the course” in areas where necessary decisions may be unpopular.
 
Committee participation is another way to draw owners into the workings of the association. Though short-stay owners may not want to get too involved, subcommittees can be developed to allow them to handle seasonal issues such as outdoor activities, summer ground maintenance, etc.
 
When some owners complain that they want to know more of what is going on, invite them to the next Board meeting or, better yet, ask them to recommend a communication method that would work for them. Turn the problem into the solution. The goal is to let the owners get as involved as they wish – or feel comfortable enough to just kick off their sandals and enjoy a Downeast summer.
 

© CRITERIUM ENGINEERS 2009