Does your Houston condo management company have tenant screening?

Tenant screening is more than just a process, it is a must for physical and fiscal security of your condo property and every condo management company in Houston should have experience in this area. Screening protects the residents, be they owners or tenants and protects the property in terms of fiscal matters.

Does your condo management company know how to legally screen tenants?

Tenant screening when done properly and by professionals like the staff at RISE, a Houston condo management company, is completely legal and provides the protection and security you deserve. There are five basic areas that good tenant screening covers and you will find this to common across the Houston area when talking with a condo management company.

  1. Request an application and have an application fee
  2. Run a credit check
  3. Run a background check
  4. Call past rental or mortgage references
  5. Verify employment

A good condo management company knows that tenant screening when performed in this manner with standards in place that perspective tenants are aware of such as a 600 credit score, or 3x monthly rent in income per month are sound ways to perform tenant screening. Check out this article from the American Apartment Owners Association for best practices https://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/tenant-screening/best-practices-use-tenant-criminal-history-to-screen-tenants/

When should my condo management company start the screening?

Most condo management companies, like RISE in Houston will tell you tenant screening really does start with that first contact, be it by phone or in person. Pre-screening questions can be woven into the general conversation and any red flag can be addressed later in the process. You might ask questions like:

  • What’s bringing you to make a move?
  • How long have you been in your current home?
  • What do you like best about where you’re living now?
  • Is this closer to your job?

Condo management companies find these little conversational questions can be a real asset in tenant screening. Companies like RISE have professional staff trained in screening potential residents.

How does a condo management company use tenant screening to protect fiscal security?

The condo management company knows that tenant screening doesn’t just provide physical security, it also provides fiscal security. Anyone who has ever owned rental properties can tell you how expensive and time consuming it can be to evict a tenant for non-payment or excessive damage to a property. That same person will also tell you that tenant screening is the key to getting sound tenant who meet their fiscal obligations, yep, they pay their rent!

Want more information on condo management company techniques for tenant screening?

This is just a low level view of tenant screening the advantages, find out more by contacting RISE Management. Give RISE a call and explore what RISE can do for you in providing tenant screening and more. You can visit their website at www.riseamg.com or request a quote by contacting RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected].

Preparing for severe weather is a Texas tradition. A tradition your condo management company should know by heart

Preparing for severe weather is a Texas tradition, because as the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait a minute and it’ll change.” Those sometime erratic changes lead to excessive wind damage, flash flooding and tornados just to name a few. That is why your condo management company needs to know this tradition and the disaster protocol by heart. Remember this recent headline in Houston:

“Houston Swamped by Flooding; Cars Stranded, Dozens of Water Rescues Reported”

So, preparing for severe weather means keeping the trees trimmed, right?

If your condo management company thinks all they need to do is trim the trees in preparing for severe weather, then you may need a new management company. Trimming the trees is just a very small part of it all. Your management company should have a comprehensive risk management plan that includes preparing for severe weather, particularly flooding in areas like Houston where this is common. This two part plan also has a contingency side for after the event.

Just think back to past flooding in the Houston area, and the damage there was. Companies like RISE management protect you; they start their relationship with you by doing a comprehensive analysis of your property both financially and physically. That means, when preparing for severe weather, there is already a plan in place. Remember, “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” It really is that simple.

What’s in a plan when preparing for severe weather?

Plans like these are three part:

  1. Financial-When preparing for severe weather, you need to know any financial implications are covered. These can includes making sure insurance is adequate and premiums are up to date. Money is allocated in the reserve fund or budget to address the cost of prepping the property prior to a disaster to protect it; as well as to clean up and maintain after the disaster.
  2. Pre-Event Planning-Preparing for severe weather in the pre-event stage can mean many things depending on the weather event. Severe wind it may mean securing items that can be dislodged by wind and cause physical damage; moving people from first floor units if there is concern over flooding; cleaning drains, boarding up windows, etc.
  3. Contingency Planning-Preparing for severe weather also includes contingency planning, what if the buildings are uninhabitable; how do you protect the belongings of the residents, where do they live, do you have resources out there. How soon can you get the insurance company in to review the damage and pay out. What things can be done prior to their arrival.

Where do I start in preparing for severe weather?

From a personal standpoint, there are numerous websites by local, state and federal government that tell you what to have on hand when preparing for severe weather. Items, like water, canned food, blanket, flashlights, cash, full tank of gas, etc. Here are a few to check out:

Give RISE a call and explore what RISE can do for you to help prepare for severe weather. You can visit their website at www.riseamg.com or request a quote by contacting RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected]. Enjoy the Texas weather safely.

Condo insurance preparedness; because no one likes an “Oops”

Condo insurance is that bet you make with your insurance company that the “oops” will happen. Even if the “oops” doesn’t happen, you need to be prepared. Condo insurance is a little different then insuring a single family home, so let’s see what you need to look at. Don’t understand insurance, contact one of the many fine insurance agents int he Houston area to review what you may need in condo insurance.

What condo insurance does the condominium association carry?

The good thing about condo insurance is that it is normally less expensive due to the cost being spread across multiple owners. Most condo insurance policies carried by the condo association itself cover studs out and common areas, plus liability for the common areas. That essentially means that anything inside your unit is NOT covered. So, if you get a water leak and it damages your carpet or flooring, your condo insurance is responsible for the loss. If you don’t have a copy of the master insurance policy, ask for one from your condo association and review exactly what they are covering. In rare cases, there is an All-In policy that covers the entire property inside and out (remember, even All-In policies do not cover your personal belongings. Also look at the deductible on the master policy and encourage your condo association to keep that deductible in reserves for the condo insurance; again, planning is always your best bet.

What you need to cover

If the condo insurance policy handled by the condo association is a ‘studs out’ policy, then you will need to have a policy that cover:

  • Damages within your unit (studs in)
  • Your personal belongings in case of loss
  • Liability to cover a guest who may be injured inside your unit-(If you are doing short term rentals with your unit as is common in Houston, this one is important).

It may sound like a lot of condo insurance considering you are paying on the master policy through your HOA dues, but consider the consequences of being under-insured. A typical water leak that damages flooring and cabinetry can easily run in excess of $5000 per incident and those incidents never seem to come at a good time financially. Don’t forget flood insurance if you happen to be in a flood plain; this can be purchased through your state and normally will be mandatory at closing.

Confused yet?

The best recommendation is to have a professional insurance agent review the master policy for the condo so they can confirm what coverage may be lacking and recommend additional coverage if needed. By doing this, you will be certain that one of those little “oops” won’t wreak havoc on your finances. If you’re looking for an agent or would like more information about what is actually covered with a condo insurance policy you might consider Allstate.

Don’t forget to check out what your lender requires

If you are just now purchasing your condo be sure to find out what if any requirements your lender may have regarding condo insurance. Again, a copy of the master policy and a reputable insurance agent should be able to help you out on the rest so there are no budgetary surprises.

So get on the phone and make the call, first to your condo association for a copy of the master policy and then to your favorite Houston condo insurance agent.

Condo Reserve Fund …how much is enough?

Let’s start by reviewing exactly what a condo reserve fund is. The condo reserve fund covers capital expenditures that will occur due to repair or replacement of critical items as they wear out. Your management company or condominium association should have a condo reserve fund study on hand and that study needs to be updated yearly to define what those systems are and the anticipated date of failure with replacement cost. Remember, the elements, heat and humidity, in the Houston area take their toll on these critical systems.

Are there condo reserve fund standards for financing?

Rule of thumb says there should be at least 10% of your annual operating budget in your condo reserve fund at any time. In fact, for FHA insured loans, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans, it is actually a requirement that an amount equal to 10% of your annual operating budget be set aside in your condo reserve fund. Additionally, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae require that no more than 15% of the homeowners be delinquent on their assessments. Click here for more info.

What is the benefit to you?

A condo reserve fund that is equal to 10% of the annual operating budget on deposit helps to ensure that you as a condo owner will not be hit with last minute assessments to address critical failures. So, it should be limited surprises when it comes to maintenance assessments and repairs. This also helps you when it comes to personal budgeting. When you decide to sell your unit, it will also act as a selling point allowing for more financing options and better comfort for the buyer that this is a fiscally responsible property.

Things that can have an effect on your condo reserve fund

There are many things that can affect your condo reserve fund. Inflation is one of them. You may think that the interest you are earning on the deposited reserve fund money will offset this, but consider this: it takes a 13% increase in reserve contribution to offset a 1% increase in inflation.

The age of your complex also has a direct effect on the amount you need in your condo reserve fund. The newer the units, the less needed in reserves, as things are at their beginning of life. However, as a complex ages, you could need as much as 30% more to accommodate the aging items that are covered by your reserve fund.

Your objective in funding also is a factor; if you plan to be 100% funded obviously your monthly amount will be more. If you are using baseline funding, be ready for additional assessments.

What’s the golden number?

For most condominium projects across the country and in the Houston area, the golden number for condo reserve fund assessment is anywhere between $50 and $100 per month. While this might sound like a substantial number, consider this, an assessment of $1500 hitting at the wrong time can be devastating.

Get with your management company and/or condo board today and find out first if they have done a condo reserve fund study and second, if they are meeting the minimum requirements of 10% of the yearly operating budget being assessed for the condo reserve fund. Don’t get caught off guard!

Condominium Leasing – To lease or not to lease

condominium leasing agreement
What you need to know about condominium leasing.

To lease or not to lease may not be the only question if you are considering leasing out your condo. Condo leasing is not as easy as leasing out a home. In fact, you may not even be able to lease out your condominium at all. Let’s take a look at this complicated subject and see where to start.

Condominium leasing – Start at the Beginning

It’s always good to start at the beginning, have your real estate attorney look at your condominium governing documents when considering condo leasing. A declaration is filed when a builder begins a complex that regulates what may/may not be done in respect to the property. Some condominiums actually restrict condo leasing; others have strict rules on condo leasing. Many require permission for condo leasing. Also have that attorney review the leasing laws for your city/state as they pertain to condo leasing. Houston for instance has specific guidelines on balcony railing; height and distance between railings.

Condominium leasing – discovery

You may find only a certain number of units can be leased out at a time due to mortgage considerations; (FHA approved loan only 50% of the property can be rental).Some condominiums require owner occupation for a specific amount of time before condo leasing is an option, this can range from 1 to 5 years. The effect that condo leasing vs owner occupied can have on the insurance premiums for the condominiums master policy may restrict your ability to engage in condo leasing. The declaration or bylaws may restrict condo leasing, as it is an assumption that owners take better care of a property then a renter will. These are just some of the more common items, so do your research!

Items Your Lease Should Cover

If you have determined that you are ready and able to lease do some market research.What are other units in your complex leasing for? What are condos in your general area leasing for? Housing in the Houston area for instance is running anywhere from $1100 per month plus for a 1 bedroom all the way to $1800 plus per month for a 4 bedroom unit (View an example). Are you leasing long term or short term? What is the standard deposit for your area?

Spell out who will be responsible for paying the utilities and monthly condo maintenance fees or any special assessments that may occur during the lease period. Remember no matter what your lease says, ultimately you as owner will be legally responsible if they are in default. Your real estate attorney can make a good recommendation on these items and more pertaining to condo leasing.

Finally, do not forget to spell out in the lease that everything is in accordance with the declaration for the condominium, in accordance with the bylaws and homeowner’s association restrictions and thus are subject to change as dictated by these governing documents and bodies. This should cover items such as parking, common areas, etc.

What about commercial condominium leasing?

Condo leasing can include condos leased out for business purposes such as law offices, real estate office, etc. Be sure that your condominium project allows these types of leases prior to advertising your unit.

So, to lease or not to lease is not the only question, but for the best advice contact a real estate attorney prior to making your decision. If you have a management company running your condominium complex they may be able to offer advice and a reference for a real estate attorney that can keep you protected.

How much condominium association insurance do you need?

Let’s start with what HOA insurance may cover and remember this will differ with each HOA and their members. There are two basic types of condominium association insurance for HOAs which cover the physical structures; one covers the property from the studs out or what is referred to as common areas and the other is an All-In type of coverage which covers common areas and your personal unit. Then there are liability policies which cover the association and its members from losses that can relate to physical injuries on property to acts and omissions of the board members. The Texas Uniform Condominium Act “TUCA” can be read here as well as your condominium association insurance declaration will govern what kinds of coverage are required– however, that doesn’t mean that is all you need.

Property Coverage

This coverage is for property which you own or are responsible for. For most condo or townhome owners associations this includes, but is not limited to, building structures, roofs, exterior walls, slabs, parking lots, elevators, pool areas, entrance gates or other common elements or limited common elements. Studs out is a type of coverage for that covers the building structure but not the contents or anything considered to be a part of the “unit”. Unit boundaries are usually defined in the declaration but if they are you should refer to TUCA above for definitions. Personal property within a unit is almost always the responsibility of a the individual unit owner.

All-In coverage however covers pretty much everything in terms of physical structure, common areas and your physical unit, but, again, normally does not include coverage for your personal property within the unit. This kind of coverage may be required depending on your declaration or whether or not you have stacked units in your association. Associations with horizontal unit boundaries (meaning it is possible for water from one unit to enter another unit from above) are required to carry all in coverage when it is reasonably available.

Often boards will debate whether to obtain “all in” or “studs out” coverage. The truth is, this is generally going to be determined by what your declaration requires. Most condominium association insurance forms will defer to the declaration’s insurance requirements when determining what should be covered. For more questions on property coverage for your condo or townhome please call us to discuss your coverage needs and getting competitive insurance quotes for your association.

Liability Coverage

Another important line of insurance coverage that an HOA must have is general liability insurance. This insurance is generally intended to protect the owners and the association from losses related to bodily injury or other person’s property damage, including lawsuits filed by persons injured in the common area of the property but may not cover an injury someone sustains while in your personal unit. You can refer to the actual policy for details of your coverage. Other types of liability coverage that most associations should carry include: directors and officers insurance, crime coverage, hire and non-owned auto coverage.

The upside to condominium association insurance is that the cost is spread across a group of owners versus just a single individual so many times it can be much more cost effective. Your insurance payment is normally included in your homeowners’ fee, but not the deductible should something happen. You may want to encourage your HOA to keep the minimum deductible in the reserve funds to avoid an assessment at the time of an event. According to bankrate.com deductibles in the past ran about $5000, but in todays’ market those deductibles can run as high as $25000 to $50000. That can be a huge hit at a time when you may be experiencing personal unit damage at the same time.

So what do you personally need to purchase and how do you determine that? When purchasing a condo you should always ask about the types of coverage that are included in the HOA master policy and which are your personal responsibility. Prior to purchase, ask for a copy of the HOA master policy to review with your personal insurance agent prior to closing. Doing this can eliminate surprise cost after purchase that can affect your monthly budget.

For your internal coverage if you are not part of an All-In policy, a simple rule of thumb would be to take half of the value of the unit to determine how much coverage you need. This should adequately cover you if you have to replace fixtures, flooring, etc. If you are uncomfortable with that, have your insurance agent take a look and give you a suggestion. Either way, be certain your agent has a copy of the HOA master policy in hand so they can determine the needed coverage.

One final tip is to know if the property you are purchasing is in a flood plain and if so, does the HOA have flood insurance which will cover not only the common areas, but also your unit. This insurance is normally purchased through the state, and certificates for flood insurance are normally required at time of closing for properties which this applies.

So how much coverage do you need? There is no cookie cutter answer for that but we have licensed professional insurance agent who specialize in condominium association insurance on staff to review your coverage and obtain additional competitive quotes to help you make the best coverage decisions possible.

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