Collection of condo and townhouse management related content.

The more we live together, the more we need a good condo management association.

The more we live together, the happier we will be…okay, maybe not, that’s why you need a condo management association that works to strengthen the community instead of breaking it apart. You have owners who feel like kings, tenants who feel like they don’t have a say (and in most cases, they don’t) and a board who is sure attempting to make it all work is like herding cats. But good condo management companies love herding cats and they’re good at it!

Condo management associations strengthen through financial management

There are several things a good condo management association does to make the community strong. Most importantly, the condo management association starts by making sure the community is financially stable. Communities that are not consistently assessing owners for repairs that should have been planned for will do wonders for the demeanor of the owners and it adds to the overall strength of the community.

That same condo management association can also make financial reporting easily understood for both the board and the owners. Through reserve studies and other tools, everyone understands what their monthly fees pay and how they are distributed to keep unwanted assessments out of the picture.

Condo management associations also are the keepers of the rules

Sad but true, when living in such close quarters, rules are a part of life and a good condo management company knows not only the importance of the rules, but also how to apply them equally. My father would say, the condo management company has no dog in the fight, so they apply the rules and covenants equally across the board. The condo management association removes all indications of favoritism in the implementation and enforcement of the rules.

Interpretation of the rules is also better handled by a condo management associations. Companies like RISE management in Houston deal only with condominiums, so they have experience in reviewing your rules and implementing them; they can even make suggestions should one of them pose an issue.

Condo management association keep information available to all

Condo management associations provide the access to information that all owners and tenants needs. When you have engaged someone like RISE in Houston, there is always someone to reach out to. Owners and tenants have a sounding board or an information source. This added access helps to strengthen the community. Condo management associations keep meeting minutes, budgets, CCRs and accounts all within reach of the owners who may want them.

Condo association management provides an avenue for engagement

Good condo association management understands the needs to engage. They work to provide various committees to bring people together for a common cause. It doesn’t have to be a social cause either, it could be to review an upcoming project and provide owner/tenant input. Don’t forget the tenants either; yes, they are not vested owners, but they do live there and they may have talents that can add to the wellbeing of the community. A good condo management association knows everyone in the complex and knows where those skills lay.

How strong is your condominium community?

Are you starting to wonder how your community measure us against the competition? If your community lacks the strength it should have, contact RISE Association Management today and find out how to strengthen your community through a solid condo management association. Learn more about RISE by visiting www.riseamg.com or request a quote by contacting RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected]. A condo management association that increases your strength.

RISE is setting the bar in Houston condo management.

When you look at Houston condo management, there is one company that stands out above the rest; RISE Association Management Group. Their home page says it all, they sharpen your focus instead of dulling your experience. How do they make this happen? They focus on condo management only, specifically, Houston condo management.

Most condo management groups represent not just condos, but also single family homeowner’s associations. These are two completely different animals and require two completely difference approaches. It’s like this, you wouldn’t have your General Practitioner do heart surgery; so why trust your condo management to someone who provides broad and limited knowledge to multiple market sectors.

What does RISE provide in Houston condo management?

RISE Association Management Group provides management by starting with a staff that has extensive knowledge in multiple subject areas working in teams for your success.

RISE provides a comprehensive program in Houston condo management that includes:

  • CFO Insight Reporting
  • Monthly Financial Reporting
  • Work Order Management Systems
  • Banking/Website Integration
  • Board/Owner Online Resources
  • Risk Management and Prevention
  • Effective Receivables/Collection Management
  • Compliance Enforcement

RISE can provide your Houston condo management maintenance.

We all know that there is more than the financial and administrative side to Houston condo management. For maintenance of common areas and facilities, RISE has a team of specialist that know facility management. They know how to spec, hire, perform and supervise your repairs and maintenance. They real beauty in this part of the RISE Houston condo management difference is you share those facility specialist, so the cost is spread over multiple properties, reducing cost for all. This is Houston condo management done right.

Management; focus and accountability.

Most Houston condo management provided by the broad spectrum guys only provide the status quo. You don’t know where they are starting because they provide no defined baseline. The result, there is no long-term focus and limited accountability. RISE is different when it comes to Houston. They start by evaluating not just your financial condition, but also your physical condition. It doesn’t stop there either, they work with you to define goals, identify weaknesses. The most important thing RISE provides condo management is accountability, with RISE on your side you always know where you stand financially and physically. Monthly reporting keeps you in the loop and provides real time data upping the accountability factor for RISE.

Give RISE a call today and begin your journey to complete Houston condo management. The number is 713.936.9200 or email us at [email protected]. Let RISE sharpen your focus without dulling your experience.

When neighbors fight let the association management company handle it.

A condominium is a very close living situation and can be a wonderfully supportive environment or a war zone if neighbors fight neighbors. Without the right association management company it can make for quick escalation. Every property, neighborhood, apartment or condominium in Houston has one or more of the following in residents:

  • The Noise Maker: normally active on week nights when you have to work the next day.
  • The Slob: they leave their trash bag sitting on the shared landing overnight or sometimes longer until they take it to the community dumpster.
  • The Freak: they have eclectic taste to say the least and they have a very strange group of visitors. (Could be transplants to Houston from Austin)
  • The Pet Lover: little Fido barks all day while they are at work and leaves little gifts everywhere that they fail to pick up.

One of our managers use to compare living in a condo to having your extended family, (the ones we don’t talk about), living with you every day! The savior is your association management company, the association management provides the expertise that is not just a buffer, but a deterrent to these types of situations.

Association management company, in the trenches

An experienced association management company knows that neighbor to neighbor fighting can quickly escalate to an unmanageable situation that can spread and effect an entire community. Mediating these types of situations is most efficiently handled by the association management company. Parties are more likely to listen, as the association has no dog in the fight so to speak.

The association management company only has one charge and that is to provide a comfortable, safe and friendly atmosphere for all to live in.

How to deal with the nuisance neighbor

No one wants to turn their neighbor in for something they feel they did wrong, but no one wants to live in a community with unbearable neighbors, so do you turn them in to the association management company or use one of the following:

  • The diplomatic approach, just reach out to your neighbor and let them know your frustration-see if you can work out a solution.
  • Write a letter to the editor in the association management newsletter for your property. Encourage them to answer and sight policy/rule being broken.
  • Last resort, contact the association management company and let them address the issue. Let them know that you are happy to attend limited mediation if it will help.
  • NEVER retaliate-“Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

No association management company at your property here in Houston, check out RISE Association Management Group; explore what an association management company can do for you. Request a quote by contacting RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected]. The association management company that increases your value and living experience daily.

Reserve Fund Study – Helping you to plan for the future

A reserve fund study is a tool that allows for long term planning by identifying the condition of capital expense items and setting funds aside for those expenses based on their life expectancy. The reserve fund study is made up of two parts: the physical analysis and the financial analysis and is best completed by an independent consultant or an advanced management company who has experience in this area, both are easily found in the Houston area. Normally capital expenses are identified as items where replacement and/or repair is a major long term expense and is not easily budgeted for in your standard operating budget.

Benefits of a reserve fund study

A reserve fund study provides important information to the maintenance department of what major expenses can be expected and even a possible time frame for when those expenses might occur. The reserve fund study also provides owners and perspective buyers a snapshot of the condition of common area critical components and the level of financial prep that has been done to avoid last minute assessments when they fail.

A growing number of states, (30) at this time, require some form of reserve planning or disclosures. While Texas is not one of the states requiring this type of planning by law, it is still highly recommended. Houston condo buyers are savvy buyers who will require this type of planning. In fact, for a condo complex to be considered Fannie Mae or FHA insured loans they must demonstrate that they have a minimum of 10% of the total budget dedicated to reserve contributions plus they may ask the property to provide a reserve fund study that is no more than 24 months old.

Reserve contributions are normally one of the largest budget line items and often account for 15-40% of the total budget. Again, the importance of a reserve fund study to you is the help it provides in making sure your condominium project is acting in a fiscally responsible manner that will result in little to no surprises for you as an owner.

Funding methods for a reserve fund study

There are two basic funding methods for reserve funds and they are “Cash Flow” or “Straight Line”, with cash flow being the most popular due to its flexibility which allows it to operate with all four of the following funding objectives. The four funding objectives being: full funding, threshold funding, baseline funding and statutory funding. Of these four, baseline funding is most likely to have higher probability of special assessments or deferred maintenance.

Types of reserve fund studies

There are actually three types of reserve fund studies and each association needs to determine which better meets their budget preparation and disclosure needs:

  • Full Reserve Study-This is the most complex and involves listing all components and measuring reserve components for Useful Life, Remaining Useful Life and Current Replacement Cost. This will be done by a vigorous onsite inspection of all components. Fortunately, this type of reserve study normally only needs to be done once and a less time consuming method can be used for subsequent years.
  • Update with Site Visit Reserve Study-Performed every two to five years, this reserve study assumes that all components have been identified by a full reserve study and thus is much quicker.
  • Update No Site Visit Reserve Study-This type of study is normally done by just visiting with maintenance personnel, vendors and owners to determine if any conditions may have changed.

What should you do to insure a Reserve Fund Study is in place?

To read in more detail about reserve fund studies click here. Then, call your management company or condo association board today and make sure that they have a current Reserve Fund Study in place and are keeping it current year to year. Make certain the budget for your condo association includes a reserve fund line item that is at minimum equal to 10% of the annual budget. Don’t get caught with high unexpected assessments, when you can act today and protect your property.

Managing Delinquent Condo Association Fees

Managing Condo association fees

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear”. The problem with hope when talking condominiums and condo association fee collection is that we all really want to think the best of our neighbors; we have hope they are good and honest people. We want to believe that old Joe down the hall just let his condo association fees slip his mind and once he is reminded he’ll apologize and cut a check right there on the spot. But alas, hope can be fleeting or misplaced.

Condo association fees are the hope that feeds our present and future

Let’s face it, condominiums while our home are also a business. They must have money from condo association fees to provide for daily operating expense, common maintenance, reserve funding, capital funding and insurance. They probably even have some staff cost, a maintenance man or a management company. It all adds up and then it gets divided and passed on to you in the form of a monthly condo association fee. Then when something comes up unexpected there may be an additional association assessment that needs to be collected.

Most condo associations will admit they are a business and must be run like one, but they have trouble acting when a neighbor is involved. Let’s face it, this is Houston, Texas, people are friendly here and they don’t want to have to be the bad guy, they hope the person just forgot their condo association fees. Well, sad to say, hope is NOT a strategy for collection.

Looking for a strategy?

It may be time that your association board sat down and set up a list of targets for collection of condo association fees. The development path includes investigating how your governing rules state delinquent accounts will be handled. Finally, you have to agree to apply this list to every association assessment and every person equally.

From the list you should create an administrative resolution to set up the policy on collection of delinquent association assessments. Once this policy is enacted by the condo association it should be promulgated to all co-owners and if possible incorporated into the CRR’s. It should simply lay out the process for collection of condo association fees. Things it should include are:

  • Date association assessments are due
  • Grace period if applicable, late charges apply
  • Intent to Lien notice over 30 days
  • Lien recorded after 45 days
  • Acceleration of assessments to end of fiscal year after 3 months
  • Lien foreclosure after 4 months
  • After lien foreclosure, all payment/settlements require board approval

Remember, the process for collection of association assessments has to be in writing and it has to be enforced equally to be effective and hold up in court.

Management companies for third party billing

Another consideration, have a management company do the billing and collections of association assessments. You will still need a written guideline for them to follow in the CRRs, but they provide a buffer that eliminates any bad feelings that may arise out of the collection process.

Contact your condo association today and find out what your policies are for collection of delinquent condo association fees. Find out if they are being followed in a consistent manner; if not, get with your board and suggest changes be made to insure a positive cash flow with all participating. For more information on this subject check here.

Short Term Rentals – A No in Most Condos

Short Term Rentals in Condos

There are very few condominium projects that allow short term rentals like Airbnb. Most of the ones that do lie in the high tourist area sites, like Houston, Texas and have onsite management companies that assist with the functions involved in short term rentals for a percentage or additional fee.

What if I get permission?

As with any rental, you would most likely need to get approval from the condo association to engage in a short term condo rental. Be sure when you do this, you look closely at the terms; most condo rules prohibit short term rental by defining them as anything shorter than 6 to 12 months. This certainly will not accommodate the owner who is looking at nightly, weekend or weekly rentals which are popular with Airbnb in high tourist areas like Houston.

Don’t forget to check local state and city restrictions against short term rentals as well.  Texas’ state should guide you to rules for Texas and the City of Houston can provide local information for that area.

What if I do it without permission?

Many short term rental advertisements you see out there are being done without the knowledge of the other owners of the condominium or the condo association. In fact, some management companies are hiring firms to search for ads offering short term rental that have not been approved and are illegal. Once identified the condo owner is normally served with a cease and desist letter and the attorneys’ fees for the letter; a fine and any other additional attorney fees the condo association may incur. Failure to pay can result in a lien against the unit.

In fact, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law late 2016 that will make it a lot more difficult for Airbnb to operate in the state. New York does not allow rentals of less than 30 days in a multi-unit building if the tenant is not present; something that many Airbnb listings advertise. This new law makes even listing an advertisement for this situation illegal itself, a tool that some think the state will use to go after Airbnb directly.

Why do condominiums dislike short term rentals?

Although many short term renters are just families looking for a little larger place to call home for the weekend, many short term rentals are polar opposites. Let’s face it, in short term rentals owners and tenants alike rarely know who will be staying in the unit much less how they will behave.  Though Airbnb has a unique on-boarding and review based system, can they really discern how people will behave? Will they steal? Will they damage the unit or common areas? Will they intimidate permanent owners?

There is actually documented proof of short term rentals for loud bachelor parties and drug deals. Think about what the increased risk will do to not only your insurance premiums, but also the master policy for the property. What happens to the insurance if one of them slips in the pool area and is seriously injured?

The reality is, when you buy a condo, you buy into a family with common interest and rules that govern the relationships; those rules must apply to all, so if the association rules say no to short term rentals, just don’t do it. Cities like Houston have numerous hotels and business suites available.

If you are unsure what position your condo association has on short term rentals, check your bylaws and rules today. If you still are not clear contact your management company or condo association board member to clarify. To enjoy some dialog on this subject just click here.

FHA Condo Approval – the fiscally responsible option

Pushing your association to go for FHA condo approval can open up many options to you as an owner. This is true no matter if you plan to sell your unit, or if you plan to stay in it long term. A list of FHA approved condos for cities such as Houston is available on the FHA website.

FHA Condo Approval

FHA Condo Approval means a broader buyer pool

When you have FHA condo approval, you expand your buyer pool by 60%. It is a known fact that most American buyers use FHA approved loans, and Houston is no exception. It is also a known fact that most buyers look at your approval as a seal of quality in fiscal responsibility.

FHA Condo Approval means eligibility for reverse mortgages

Even if you don’t plan on selling your condo, consider this, as you age you may want to take advantage of a reverse mortgage. An FHA condo approval allows you to consider a reverse mortgage to supplement your retirement income if needed.

Approval says we are more fiscally responsible

The financial crisis of the past hit the country hard, even Houston felt the heat; increased delinquency and foreclosure rates for many condo associations. Because of the strict rules in place by FHA, FHA condo approval reflects a much stronger financial platform. Reserve fund requirements, rental to permanent resident requirements all build a solid financial platform for your condominium to operate on and give you and any potential buyer or lender peace of mind.

If FHA condo approval is so great, why aren’t all condos FHA approved?

Most condominium projects when new seek FHA condo approval because quite frankly, it makes the units easier to sell. If for some reason there is no approval in place, the condo association normally is not likely to seek it at a later date unless residents overwhelmingly insist.

Oddly enough, most condominium projects would have little challenge in FHA condo approval, but due to lack of interest by the majority of owners, they never seek it.

Requirements for FHA condo approval vary with the type and size of complex, and most of the process actually has to do with acceptable documentation and procedures because protecting residents against financial trauma is really what the approval is all about.

You also should consider that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have condo requirements that are very similar to those of the FHA, so again you can open up financing opportunities for buyers and owners, capturing a larger percentage of the Houston market.

Check with your condominium association today and see if your condominium complex has FHA condo approval, if not, consider being the driving force that gets your complex headed down that path. The pros definitely outweigh the cons and provide financial peace of mind for you as an owner.

Excuse me, is that a capital improvement?

Capital Improvement for Condos

 

The term capital improvement is really an accounting term, (I know because my accountant friend from Houston debated me on the terms meaning) so there is no industry adopted definition as to what a capital improvement really is. Often times a “capital improvement” is defined as the addition of a permanent structural improvement or the restoration of some aspect of a property that will either enhance the property’s overall value or increase its useful life. This definition however can interfere with the boards authority to maintain the common area facilities without member vote.

Capital improvement, can you identify one?

More importantly, can your condo association identify one? Most HOAs have rules in their governing documents such as a spending cap without member approval but they have one common problem, often the term “capital improvement” is not defined. Even in Houston we find this problem today.

Many in the industry think Associations should adopt the following definition:

A capital improvement is any (i) substantial discretionary addition to the common areas, (ii) voluntary significant upgrade to common area materials, or (iii) discretionary material alterations to the appearance of the development

Even this definition has some gray areas in it like a rainy Houston morning, but it would move us forward and that’s the way to go. If the bylaws or rules in your association do not define “capital improvement” it would be best to consider amendment now to avoid future issues.

So how do you pay for it?

Once you have determined you have a capital improvement, then you need to refer to your rules and bylaws to see what they say regarding spending caps, special assessments and other funding options for capital improvement.

Can you use reserve funds to pay for capital improvements? Technically while they are close to the same thing, they are really horses of a different color. A reserve expenditure enhances an already existent feature while a capital item is a completely new item where there was no need prior. Make sure your bylaws and rules, plus your condo association understands and defines both.

There are companies that can finance capital improvements for condominiums that are then paid for by a slight increase in association fees for a set period of time.

You can do a one-time assessment to all owners to pay for a capital improvement. Consider how difficult this option may be on your owners; in an older population many may be on very fixed incomes that limit their capacity for payment of a large assessment.

Plan for the future

The best way to avoid unnecessary burdens and definitions is to plan ahead for capital improvements. Plan 5 years out, reviewing the plan at every meeting so adjustments can be made and have a fund that is earmarked for capital improvements and a permanent part of the association dues.

Talk to your management company, condo association or HOA today so you are ready for funding the future.

Condo Preventative Maintenance

Remember the little Dutch Boy – When I think of condo preventative maintenance and the importance, I always remember the little Dutch boy story. The short version; a little boy on his way to school sees a small leak in the town dam; he puts his finger in the leak and stays there until a man comes along, tells him the about the leak; the man repairs the dam before it fails and destroys the town.

Condo preventative maintenance

Condo preventative maintenance

The idea is to catch small problems before they become big ones, and often prevents those small problems from ever occurring at all. In the Houston area, just the heat and humidity take a toll on property if proper condo preventative maintenance is not present.

Having been in facility management for most of my career and growing up in a family of developers and contractors I know the value of a good preventative maintenance plan. Condo preventative maintenance of will help to avoid costly repairs in the future and will extend the life of your critical systems.

Condo preventative maintenance plans

Plans are easy to come up with and should be a part of any management plan. If you have a management company, be sure they have a preventative maintenance plan in place and are being pro-active instead of reactive. Oddly enough, there are numerous management companies that just don’t operate that way.

Condo Preventative maintenance plans should include items such as:

  • Physical structure
  • Sidewalk, parking lots
  • Pools/Jacuzzis/steam rooms
  • HVAC systems (a Houston Texas must have)
  • Sewer and water lines
  • Roofs
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Electrical systems including exterior lighting

The condo maintenance plan should include records that indicate when items need to be inspected according to recommendations by either their warranty, owner’s manual or as suggested by the professional who installed the item.

Preventative maintenance check list

Inspections should be done by either your onsite maintenance man, project manager or management company representative. The preventative maintenance check list should include a record listing all of the above with dates for inspections. Inspection reports should be compiled at the time of the inspection listing needed repairs, date the repairs are made and who made the repair. These records should be kept with your regular maintenance logs and be available to tenants and/or owners at any time with the most current copy presented at every condo association board meeting. The condo association board should be advised of items that are nearing the end of their life expectancy either based on the inspection or data provide at time of installation at the presentation of that report. Check out this site to download a free template or build your own using a spreadsheet program.

Maintenance Plan Tip

Another great condo preventative maintenance tip is to encourage tenants and guest to report any items they may see, no matter how small. A single faucet that drips only one drip per minute will add 34 gallons of water usage to your overall water bill per year; over the course of time if left uncorrected that one drip per minute will quickly escalate to a consistent stream of water that can add up to 2082 gallon per year to your water consumption. Check out this calculator to check my numbers. This does not even address the damage that may be happening to landscaping, sidewalks, etc. as a result of the same leaking faucet. Amazing, right?

It really boils down to this when you are talking condo preventative maintenance: “A building with good operations and maintenance practices that is poorly designed will often out perform a well-designed building with poor operation and maintenance practices.” (ASHRAE)

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.