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Two Keys to Keeping Lines of Communication Open: Early…..and…..Often

The second of the five key attributes to a happily  managed community is to maintain regular communications. We all know how a lack of communication can wreak havoc on any relationship, and it’s no different for communities.

Owners rely on their elected boards to  work on their behalf and to inform them of progress on the stated yearly goals. Boards rely on community managers to do the same. Community  managers rely on the contractors and professionals. And so the cycle goes. A break in any piece of the chain can result in increased tension and a host of other issues. Board members are non-responsive. Managers don’t hear from contractors or other professionals. Owners are left in the dark. So often, because of one reason or another, the parties that need to be communicating ‘early and often’ are the ones most likely to be silent. And that, for sure is a recipe for disaster in any relationship. Whereas, simple communication – a note, a call, a text, a visit – goes a LONG way in keeping relationships healthy.

Close-up of a telecommunications tower with dramatic clouds

Close-up of a telecommunications tower with dramatic clouds

It’s paramount for community managers to lean into communications as a priority, and a positive tool to managing communities. They must have a system that helps them stay on top of the information and disseminate it clearly and timely, early and often. These days, the best way for managers to do this is through email. But sometimes, the tone and texture of an email is misconstrued and can create problems.  Or, the string is so lengthy that the issue and conversation is lost and ultimately unclear. That’s why it’s so important for community managers to lead with effective communication in all its forms. All have a role in the operation of the community. And the manager’s role to foster a sense of community starts with a wheelhouse of communication strategies  – identifying and responding quickly to owner needs; addressing complaints and yes, diffusing anger; disseminating clear communications through notices and newsletters; practicing some public relations; and, preparing materials that are always clear.

At Sterling, the managers use these techniques to sustain and  improve relationships. It all comes back to creating that mutual vision for the community, building loyalty and trust and setting a course that involves everyone’s buy-in.  It’s the only way to enable the board to make the best decisions for their communities.

Community Association as Corporation

A Sterling colleague and I recently attended one of the Community Associations Institute’s (CAI) member educational meetings. As noted on its website, the CAI has more than 33,500 members dedicated to building better communities, and works in partnership with 60 chapters to provide information, education and resources to community associations and the professionals supporting them. Our instructor did a terrific job of representing the group and more importantly, the profession.

Lightening_MediumThere was a moment in the session where a thought struck me like a lightning bolt — community associations are corporations. Now, don’t laugh at me.  You say, “Of course they are!” Okay, you already know this. I confess I have for many years been involved in communities as an association member, even as a board member, but, it’s only after working these last few months on the management side of this business that I realize there’s little difference between managing a community and managing a corporation.

What does that mean?

To me, it suddenly became clear that managers are operating mico-corporations.  They live inside the “articles of incorporation,” or some might call them “governing documents.” They are coordinating the efforts of people to accomplish the goals and objectives of the community. They are using available resources to their greatest (and sometimes herculean) effect. They orchestrate the plan. They organize, staff, lead and direct the multitude of partners and contractors assigned to a community. They deploy the resources, whether human, financial, technological or natural, to keep the organization (oops, community) operational. And they have their clients to whom they are accountable.

Then I thought of this – a board member is a BOARD MEMBER!  I worked many years for large corporations, so hence, the lightning bolt. As a former employee of a Fortune 100 company, I saw and know how much goes into board meetings. Everyone is totally, unequivocally prepared. The agenda is planned well in advance. Calendars are set. Documents delivered. Financials studied. The meeting is run like a machine. The chairman presides.  Numbers are poured over. Every presentation is polished. Every minute is accounted for. Board members are super-prepared, attentive, thorough, thoughtful and decisive. Issues are resolved…..

It’s truly dedicated people doing important work to inspire professionalism and effective leadership on behalf of the communities they serve. Together, boards of directors and the community managers are the c-suite of the community. To me, a striking thought.

The Importance of Setting Clear Objectives for a Well-Managed Community

The first of the five key attributes to a happily  managed community is to validate that the management company and the association have agreed upon objectives. Although it seems simple enough, clearly defined and articulated objectives can be overlooked when developing a relationship or on-boarding a new community. I’d like to illustrate why this simple exercise is so important, not only for the management company personnel to deliver quality service, but for the associations to recognize the parameters by which a successful community is run.

CommunityRecently, one of our managers visited a prospective community to meet with members of its board of directors. Prior to the meeting and while walking around the property, he saw that some buildings were in evident need of repair, and there were other maintenance concerns around the common grounds. Not knowing the full status of that community, he can only speculate why.  Perhaps the association has good intentions to repair damaged or aged property, but these physical issues can’t be undertaken until financial issues are resolved. After all, if assessment income (owner maintenance fee collection) has fallen way behind, how can new projects be undertaken?  Or, perhaps the association’s board were never presented with a plan to maintain the property and therefore never created a thoughtful and planned maintenance program.  Either way, it’s the responsibility of the manager to provide counsel and present realistic objectives he or she believes are most pertinent for the good of the community. If Sterling becomes this community’s management firm of record, that is exactly what we’ll do. If the community’s board of directors agrees, then the plan is executed and the community benefits.

Objectives should be clear and not conflict with the community’s financial ability to carry them out.  A well-managed community comes only when the property manager and community’s board of directors work together from the same set of objectives. Then, everyone understands clearly their individual responsibility to the community and their contribution to its success.

Successfully Finding a New Property Management Firm

Community association trustees, when looking for professional services, search for partners who will deliver deep industry knowledge and expertise for their community, turning in superior work at a price that matches commitment. With lawyers and engineers, association trustees understand the premium paid for retaBusiness hand key to successining the best in the business. The same level of consideration should be afforded when selecting a property management company. After all, the property management company serves as the association’s agent on all things related to the community.

Great property managers work on everything from the mundane to the critical, and spend the required time on site to make sure the property is managed properly. They see around corners and work to support the best possible outcomes to complicated property issues, interfacing daily with owners, trade professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, and state and municipal government agencies, among others.

So, cost alone shouldn’t be the motivation in finding the best property management firm for your community.  Aside from the standard business due diligence, association trustees should ask themselves the questions that only they can answer honestly before searching for a new or different property management firm. Here are a few to consider:

“How much attention do we believe we require?”

“Do we like the idea of a big firm or a smaller boutique that might provide more attentive service and consistency of managers?”

“Are we willing to pay a little more for that consistency and focused resolution of our issues?”

“Are we open to the management firm’s proposals once they’ve done an assessment on our property, or do we have a rigid set of plans we need the firm to implement?”

“Are our financials in order or do we need a firm with an accounting black belt to get us in shape?”

“Which firm has the best cultural fit for us?”

Don’t underestimate that last question, because so often associations overlook a property management firm’s culture and the relationship that it brings. Culture is truly the difference between being satisfied or totally frustrated. Take a little time to fully consider your needs, then find a property management firm with a culture that fits yours. It’s the key to a longstanding and happy relationship.

 

Five Key Attributes to a Happily Managed Community

A lot has changed in the 20+ years since Sterling Property Management began serving New Jersey commercial properties, homeowner associations (HOAs), condos and co-ops. We’re proud and honored to work as property managers for Sterling’s client communities. First and foremost, thank you for entrusting your community’s success to Sterling. Here are five key activities we believe help us to do that.

Bethany commons

Bethany Commons, Hazlet, NJ

1. Clear goals, communicated and agreed upon by all.

An Association’s Board of Trustees and its management company should have one sole purpose – to act for the good of the community. Objectives should be clear and not conflict with the community’s financial ability to carry them out. The property manager and an Association’s Board work from the same mindset, whether it’s as simple as painting a common fence, or as big as raising a community’s capital reserves.

2. Regular communications between the manager, Board of Trustees and homeowners.

As industry professionals, property managers are responsible for giving trusted counsel to Boards on decisions that affect a community’s well-being. They interact with homeowners and a multitude of professionals including contractors, municipalities, lawyers and engineers, and are accountable for keeping the lines of communications open between all of these parties. It’s the only way to enable the Board of Trustees to make the best decisions for their communities.

3. Thorough and regular site maintenance. 

For communities where managers aren’t on site, an Association needs their management company to keep abreast of maintenance needs through regular site visits and inspections, as well as good working relationships with contractors. A great property management company will have a list of trusted, licensed contractors that do quality work at a fair price. Whether its regular upkeep or large infrastructure projects, it’s important for the manager to vet and find the right contracting professional that can handle work efficiently and within the agreed upon time frames.

Quarry Cove, Jamesburg, NJ

Quarry Cove, Jamesburg, NJ

4. Investment in industry specific software – Why is this so important?

A property management company brings to a community deep industry knowledge and professional service. Spreadsheets or off-the-shelf accounting software aren’t strong enough to keep communities on track. Property managers need stellar accounting and automated workflow to use for communications, violation and work order tracking, income and expense handling and homeowner account/delinquency review. Sterling invests in one of the industry’s best and most popular, TOPS community management software.

In addition, using data analytics through property management software allows managers to see patterns which alert them to issues that may require further investigation. For example, a spike in work order volume on a specific issue like roof or basement leaks can lead to fast preventive action for the entire community.

5. Commitment to a community’s financial health.

At Sterling, the financial health of a community is of utmost importance – that role falls on both the management company and each community’s Board of Trustees. That means

making sure a community’s budget and maintenance fees are appropriate, and its reserve account is funded properly. It means delinquent unit owners are aggressively sought after. It means making tough financial decisions to take care of major projects that come with aging structures, unexpected natural disasters and other things that affect a community’s vitality.

Together with the Association Board of Trustees, we work hard to keep communities strong and running smoothly.  

How Sterling’s New Jersey Communities Prepare for Winter Storms

In New Jersey, we’ve been lucky so far, it’s mid-January and the weather’s been mild. But, as we brace for the first big winter storm, I thought it might be a good time to help people understand how our property managers prepare for the bad weather on behalf our client’s communities.

Cold weather preparedness is an important element in a property manager’s responsibilities. Rain and snow, freezing temperatures and damaging winds all impact the properties we serve, so there are several things we do in advance to know the communities we serve are as prepared as possible for bad weather.

Here are a few things we do before a major snow storm:

  • We are in constant contact with each Association’s Board of Trustees in our portfolio. The Board makes the decisions on alerting, informing and executing plans ahead of bad weather. That simple check-in sometimes results in email or phone communications from Sterling’s managers to property owners.
  • We assist the Association’s Board in communicating snow procedures and owner responsibilities, like removing vehicles from the main road, leaving areas like walkways clear for contractors to remove snow properly, and the like. Owners are reminded of the policy on when and where the removal will commence (most communities usually wait for a 2” accumulation).spreading_melt_sidewalk
  • On behalf of the Association, we keep snow contracts fully updated; executing them in the fall, so that there’s no question our clients will be serviced when the weather hits. The commercial properties have zero tolerance, so these sites are cleaned up immediately, and inspected for re-freeze conditions. Contractors then take appropriate steps to keep the property clean and safe.
  • We ask owners to report any damage, ice or other conditions that would make the property unsafe.
  • With the Jersey shore properties in our portfolio, like Nautilus, early in the season we assist the Association in preparing a newsletter reminding owners of the simple things they can do before the winter.  The ConEd “Stay Warm and Safe” is a great video with tips to protect your property from the cold.
  • After a big snow event, maintenance crews inspect our client’s common properties and also their roofs. Just by design, some roofs are more susceptible to snow drifting and some can have inadequate drainage following a storm. Roof collapses from excess ice and snow accumulation are often reported after storms, so it’s important to inspect those properties where these problems persist.

The key to being protected in a storm starts well before it actually takes place, with regular maintenance and constant inspection of your property.

The Role of the Property Manager

As agents for the homeowner associations and commercial properties we manage in New Jersey, Sterling’s property managers are often seen by owners as the full decision-makers for the properties we serve.  Nothing can be further from the truth.

As much as a property manager has influence, he or she has no authority without the consent of the Association’s board of trustees. Whether its to enforce new rules and regulations or to hire contractors, the decision is never ours. Presenting to the Board smart thinking, advice and counsel is our key objective, but in the end, they make all of the decisions regarding your community.

Our property managers are extremely hands-on and expert at seeing around corners for your community. We do our best to guide Boards to be fiscally responsible, to adhere to association By-laws, to be transparent with owners, and most importantly, to have the whole community’s best interests in mind.

Through our Concierge Services, we provide our clients with trade professionals that have gone through our vetting process, are fully  licensed and insured, and are some of the most professional in their trade. When our clients use our suggested and approved tradesmen, complaints are rare.

Associations are bound by the community’s By-laws, each having very specific rules and regulations to which the community must adhere. Some are simple, others extremely complex. A keen understanding of your By-laws is a great way for you to understand the constraints and freedom by which your Association works. If you own a property in which Sterling manages, and you don’t have a copy of your Association By-laws or rules, then please contact us at queries@sterlingpropertymgmt.com.

Don’t Let Your Maintenance Issues Slow Down Your Summer

Summer is finally here and as always, moving along very quickly. As you enjoy time outside, those projects and plans you had intended to undertake in April seem like an impediment to your summer plans

Whether it is power washing the patio, painting the deck or just cleaning up, it’s on your brain and not really what you want to be spending your time doing. We know how these projects can take away from your summer time fun, so we’re here to help with some tips and suggestions to make the most of the long, leisure summer days.

Set aside time to assess what is truly necessary to do to make your home or condo a hub of entertainment, enjoyment and relaxation.

Divide what is easily accomplished and tackle those projects first. Whether it’s cleaning up the patio or terrace. or washing the lawn furniture, it will take you little time for a lot of return on the investment.

Then. decide whether those larger projects should be done by you or a professional landscaper, maintenance expert, carpenter or mason.

Give our Concierge Services a call to schedule a maintenance assessment on the more complicated jobs that have been on the “to do” list a lot longer than you’d like to admit – our team will work with you on scheduling the most convenient times to get them done, and in the meantime, you can enjoy those burgers on the grill, long walks on the boardwalk, summer concerts and the great New Jersey shore!

Happy 4th of July from the associates at Sterling Property Management!

Sterling Property Management Launches New Website

Sterling Property Management announced the launch of a new Website today. The site is clean, modern and also mobile friendly. The site contains a wealth of knowledge about the company’s services as well as links for tenants to request building maintenance services.

Sterling is a full service property management company headquartered in Red Bank, New Jersey. Sterling Property Management Services provides the full spectrum of high quality property management services to homeowner associations, residential and commercial condominium associations, commercial buildings and office parks.

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