After 15 years working side by side with homeowners associations throughout Utah, I’ve spent a lot of time considering the idea of “the perfect HOA.” It may sound like a pipe dream, but it’s a very real goal to strive for–one that would increase property value, simplify the home-selling process, reduce board member workload, minimize frivolous lawsuits, and provide a level of peace to your community. In this series of articles, I talk about what an HOA needs to be perfect both on paper and in practice so that all of these results can be seen in your community.
The end is in sight, folks! We’ve spent a lot of time discussing what it takes to create “the perfect HOA.” A strong foundation made up of governing documents, knowledgeable board members, engaged homeowners, and emergency planning is the basis of that achievement. So what’s the final piece of the puzzle?
Keeping your homeowners blissfully content.
The Perfect HOA Has (Mostly) Happy Homeowners
Happy homeowners are the proof in the proverbial pudding that your HOA is at the lofty heights of perfection. Especially in times like these, with an ever-rising rate of inflation, cost of living climbing right alongside it, and the looming global health threats we seem to be facing down, happiness can be a pretty tall order.
On top of the general struggles people face in their day-to-day, HOAs tend to be viewed poorly–there’s a lot of negative stigma out there! And a fundamental failure to understand that every HOA is a business, not just a place to call home.
As a board member in the perfect HOA, you have some opportunities to drive homeowner compliance, and help your members better understand and appreciate their HOA through education and good policy-making:
3 Educational Tools that Contribute to Homeowner Happiness
When thinking about ways to make homeowners happy, don’t get sucked into the gimmick trap. Rental communities might be able to generate momentary happiness with food trucks and pool parties, but your homeowners are there for a good time AND a long time, and short-sighted fun won’t go the distance you want.
Cultivating happiness in a community of homeowners is about simplifying the homeownership experience through support and empowerment and instilling fair treatment of homeowners at all times. When something inevitably goes wrong, or when your homeowner needs help, the steps they have to go through should not add to their struggle, nor should they feel like others are being given special treatment. Here are a few tools your community can use to give a sense of control to your homeowners and ensure seamless homeowner compliance:
First and foremost, you need a website that the board has some level of control over (either directly or through your management company). You may be shocked in this day and age by the number of community associations that either do not have a website at all, or have one, but it is not under the board’s control. If a group of residents or the developer control your community’s website, the board has no say in the content that is there, even if that content spreads misinformation. A website is a critical tool for sharing information with your community members and potential buyers.
When new members join your community, is your board giving them the tools to succeed? A welcome package is your best tool to do just that. Your welcome package shows new homeowners not only what kind of community they are joining, but also how they can contribute in a positive way. The welcome package doesn’t need to be the proverbial fruit basket. Even a simple email can suffice if it has links to the resources and information new residents need to succeed, and to help foster homeowner compliance long-term. This can include information on how to request emergency services, how to place a service request, ways they can volunteer to help the community, and where to find information on the rules and regulations of the community. In an ideal world, a new homeowner would have already received the CC&Rs at closing, but it never hurts to make sure!
Rules & Regulations / FAQs
We mentioned these in the first article in this series about governing documents. Your CC&Rs are incredibly thorough…and only a seasoned lawyer will likely understand them perfectly on the first read-through. A cheat sheet of sorts, like a Rules and Regulations FAQ page on your community’s website and in your welcome package, can go a very long way in promoting homeowner compliance. Giving your homeowners a tool that helps them understand basics about their community–like guest, rental, and parking policies–means they don’t have to dig through dozens (or hundreds!) of pages of legal documentation or feel like they are bothering board members about trivial things.
This will also serve as a great first impression for potential future residents. Regulations like pet restrictions are important for prospective homebuyers, and easy access to that information off the bat is a great way to start a new neighborly relationship, greasing the wheels for future homeowner happiness!
3 Policies Your Board Needs to Improve Homeowner Compliance and Satisfaction
The governing documents for your community association are vast and most likely decades old. Now is a good time for the board to review and update them as necessary. Three policies in particular can help promote harmony and consistency in your community:
*Note: Your community’s governing documents are legally binding, and thus, we recommend that you have your association attorney review any changes you are considering prior to committing.
Violation and Fine Policy
This doesn’t sound like a happiness factor for homeowners, but it’s an incredibly useful piece of knowledge to have available that helps alleviate friction in a difficult moment. Every community is different, so every community has a different way of approaching challenging situations. Most communities have this information somewhere in the CC&Rs, but it is worth checking to make sure your policy is easy to understand and implement.
Your board should document the policies pertaining to how and when violations are issued, how long after that violation it will begin to accumulate late fees, and how all of those fines and fees can be paid. Making that kind of information easily available is one way to bolster homeowner compliance, help homeowners will feel empowered to handle their own business, and eliminate the potential for volatile interactions with the board.
Architectural Control Committee (ACC) Policy
It’s not enough to have rules. To be effective, they need to be enforced evenly and fairly across the entire membership. That is why in the perfect HOA, the board has appointed a permanent standing committee that can review violations of the CC&Rs as well as architectural requests (when homeowners want to make a change to their property, such as adding a fence or painting their home.) Your community’s ACC, sometimes called an Architectural Review Committee (ARC), is in place to uphold aesthetic consistency within the community. Curb appeal is one of the biggest selling points of living in an HOA, and an ACC committee helps cultivate and maintain that appeal.
Nobody wants to think about debt collection, especially when they first buy a new home! But by outlining the steps your community will take should a homeowner fail to pay, you can remove uncertainty and ensure a fair experience. A collection policy should outline, in detail, what is expected in regards to the payment of assessments (late dates, fees, interest, etc) as well as what actions will be taken when a homeowner fails to pay.
This isn’t a tool that will make homeowners happy, it will probably make them uneasy and anxious–again, no one likes to think about debt collection! But, your community is a business, and it’s critical that this information be determined and documented. Even though the idea of debt collection is stressful, it will be reassuring for homeowners to see so plainly that their community has a plan in place if others aren’t paying what they owe.
When drafting your policy, be sure to check the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)–the federal regulatory act that sets the standard for collection efforts. It protects homeowners from predatory debt collection practices like harassment, and complying isn’t just good for the homeowner, it protects your board from liability as well.
Building Blocks for Success
The perfect HOA isn’t just wishful thinking. HOA Strategies has 15 years of experience guiding and supporting community associations to help them achieve success. If your community needs assistance empowering your homeowners, contact us today for a free strategic evaluation. We’re ready to help you achieve perfection.