Preventing Disaster in Your High Rise Condominium

Champlain Towers South building collapse

Champlain Towers South building collapse

In the aftermath of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, high-rise condominiums across the nation want to learn how they can help prevent similar tragedies from happening. Many are quietly reflecting on the similarities their own buildings share and the challenges in addressing them. While much is still unknown about the exact cause of the recent collapse, many local condominium associations seek reassurance that their own buildings’ structural integrity remains uncompromised.

 

RISE Association Management Group (“RISE”), Houston’s leading high-rise condominium management company, specializes in implementing best practices for condominium associations to prevent disasters like this. “This disaster certainly did not happen overnight. The reality is all high-rise condominiums are in a constant state of degradation” said Jason Delgado, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of RISE. When it comes to high-rise properties, “gravity, water, sun, heat, and wind are all applying constant stress and even corrosion” Delgado added.

Structural degradation is caused by a myriad of factors, some of which are a result of human error, including careless contractors and the use of excessive loads. However, water presents the most pervasive threat as it can compromise structural integrity by causing ponding, rot, freezing, corrosion, soil saturation, and sinkholes.

There are three key elements to preventing a disaster as this and RISE specializes in assisting high-rise condominiums with developing, implementing, and executing on all three. They are Long Range Financial Planning for Infrastructure, Building Degradation Inspections, and Preventative Maintenance.

To outpace degradation, the condominium board must implement a high efficacy plan and be prepared to fund it. However, many condominium boards mistakenly believe that such a plan is prohibitively expensive. “Correcting major issues can certainly be expensive, however, our goal is to catch them early when they’re relatively inexpensive to fix. There are many elements to this plan and some do involve outside consultants and engineers, however, the majority are things your staff, management, and homeowners can do every single day to protect your building and its residents” said Delgado.

Many of our residents are wondering whether their building could have some of the same issues as the building in Surfside. In Houston where we have extreme winds, water, and temperatures it is absolutely critical that your condominium board of directors hire and consult with experts to maintain and manage these types of facilities. The presence of structural degradation mechanisms are easily identified by the right experts but easily missed by others.

said RISE’s Chief Building Engineer, Shaune Greenwood.

A key part of our system is to ensure that trained eyes are inspecting the facility regularly and that we’re implementing our best practices for preventive maintenance and structural degradation identification.

Greenwood added.

The cost of missed signs of degradation can be exponentially more expensive.

Maintaining a building and preventing disaster is something that takes place over the life of a building and requires constant and routine activity as well as a partnership with the residents, staff, contractors, and outside consultants. Even routine observations, when acted on early, can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair costs down the road.

Condominiums Crumble Under Market Pressures

Condominium boards across Texas are quietly reflecting on the parallels between their own Associations and those of the now collapsed Champlain Towers South Condominiums. What has surfaced of a frustrated Board, an abrupt change in association leadership, sparing with the membership, a funds shortfall, and infrastructure worsening by the day paints a picture that could easily be any number of local condominium associations.

As a professional who specializes in preventing disasters like Surfside, I regularly hear from boards who have made the decision to solve a decades-long financial problem that can no longer be ignored. The truth is there are surprising numbers of aging condominiums that face funding shortfalls that will eventually lead to infrastructure failures, and we work with them to fix it, but why is this so pervasive? The same reason our power grid is failing: there is no incentive to take care of infrastructure in condo associations.

Every market pressure promotes short-term interests, deferring large maintenance, keeping costs low to remain competitive with other condominiums. This kicking-the-can-down-the-road approach inevitably leads to a do-or-die scenario: pay exponentially more for overdue repairs or run the risk of a catastrophic failure.

Attempting to raise last-minute funds can be impossible if not unaffordable to the homeowners. Bank financing is no guarantee with stringent underwriting guidelines. The Surfside disaster was caused over the course of forty years and, without change, we will see similar disasters.
However, there is a remarkably simple solution and now is precisely the time to implement it. First, we must understand why condominiums are so vulnerable to market pressures: Association Board Elections.

Condominium Board Members are elected officials with serious jobs. Contrary to a for-profit enterprise, the Board’s prime directive is not shareholder value. They are accountable to their fellow owners to ensure the present and future of their condominium association.

However, often a board seeking to fund reserves through higher maintenance assessments is met with protests and threats rather than thanks. Why? Because higher maintenance assessments drive down the sales price of units and hinder the cash flow of investment properties.

The temptation to maximize return to its members rather than ensuring the financial future of the Association is ever-present. Decisions to defer or avoid necessary financial measures can easily be rationalized through this lens.

Many boards rationalize that selling units for higher prices while underfunding reserves is in the interest of all the members of the association even if not in the interest of the Association itself. Infrastructure maintenance such as roofs or foundations simply does not have the same impact on sales prices for condominiums as it does on single-family homes. Others simply believe they should not be required to pay to fund assets they may not be around to enjoy- a deeply flawed argument.

In fact, the long useful life of infrastructure provides years of cover before being forced to confront underfunding problems during which time a unit may sell several times like a game of hot potato.

Exacerbating matters is the election outcomes which often reflect local politics. Many elections become the battleground to air dysfunctional neighbor relations or misinformation which alienates some of the most qualified from participating.

With serious financial implications such as how to pay for infrastructure determined by-election winners, it is reasonable to want the best and brightest governing the association rather than the person most willing to collect proxy ballots from the absentee owner.

Finally, there is no requirement in Texas that a condominium association obtains or performs any kind of long-term infrastructure replacement plan (called a Reserve Study). These are designed to forecast costs to replace aging infrastructure and are entirely voluntary.

While an Association does have an annual financial audit this does little to forecast its financial future and is not required to be disclosed as part of a unit resale. A condominium association needs both Reserve Study and Long-Range Funding Plan that uses the data to answer questions on when funding will be needed and where it will come from.

Without this most associations are heading toward a financial cliff. Worse still, some may know it is there and are doing little to course correct it. This means it is entirely possible for new buyers to come into the community without any way of knowing of an impending fiscal cliff.
The solution, however, is remarkably simple: require balanced Long Range Plans to be disclosed as part of any real estate transaction. This alone will allow the market to determine the value of a sufficient reserve and sales prices will adjust. This creates an incentive for boards to begin adequately funding long-term reserves when buyers begin to avoid underfunded communities.
If Long Range Plans identify a need for future special assessments buyers can make informed decisions about purchasing into a community and this removes the incentive to delay needed fundraising by the HOA.

My final solution: Run for your board and be the agent of change. Give unpopular opinions. Choose short-term pain over long-term pain. Be a true leader in your community. Choose what is right over what is easy.

In-Office Assisted Learning for Students of Employees

staff helping students of employees learn

Rise Association Management Group Launches In-Office Assisted Learning for Students of Employees

As schools return virtually across Texas and the nation, employees are now beginning to grapple with the issue of how to balance work-from-home with their newly donned duties of Teacher’s Assistant. Recognizing the unprecedented burden this places on parents, RISE Association Management Group (RISE) has decided to take a unique approach: bring your kids to work, and we’ll teach them for you. That is, they have opted to provide assisted learning services for employees at no cost.

Combatting Continued Covid-19 Workplace Challenges

With the new virtual schooling measures, single parents are disproportionately affected and often face the unimaginable decisions of continuing to perform for their job, which is increasingly important as the economy sputters along, or devoting the necessary time and attention to ensure their child’s education remains on track.

Of the decision Managing Partner and Co-Founder of RISE Jason Delgado said, “No parent should have to choose between their child’s education or a successful career. We felt the right thing to do was lend a hand.”

“Our mission is to serve communities of all socio-economic levels and to provide a path to vibrance. We are also part of those communities and part of that path is through education – including the education of our children,” said John Elmore, Managing Partner and Co-Founder.

Prioritizing Team Members

Focusing on its team members has long been at the core of RISE’s success. “If we take care of our team, they’ll take care of our homeowners. Right now more than ever, it’s incumbent upon all of us to be a source of brightness and compassion in the world,” said Delgado.

“With our team members working from home, we have substantial empty office space that permits us to promote a socially distant learning environment while having a parent just down the hall,” Delgado added. “I certainly didn’t anticipate this is how we would be using that space, but here we are.”

Unique Challenges Faced by Houston Condominium Associations

Houston Condominium Associations have been dramatically affected during the pandemic, shifting from in town residences to office buildings almost overnight.

“Our buildings never stop running,” said Delgado. “When this began, our calls jumped up 200%. We have to be innovative in how we’re going to respond to the day-to-day changes and continue to deliver excellence for our homeowners,” he added. RISE has led the way in educating board members of HOAs on what to expect and how to effectively transition its operations during these unprecedented times. Houston condominiums have seen sky-rocketing utilities, and many struggle with paying the bills during a time when collecting assessments has become more difficult.

RISE has been uniquely situated to thrive during the pandemic. With cloud and remote-based technology in place prior to the pandemic, team members seamlessly transitioned from serving community associations and homeowners associations from their office in the Energy Corridor to serving them right from their living rooms. In addition, in September of 2020, RISE will launch a new Homeowner Board Member App to provide additional tools to ensure team members and the communities they serve are able to safely stay connected and productive.

Rise Association Management Group is a community association management company specializing in condominium associations and townhome associations in the greater Houston area including the Woodlands and Galveston. To learn more about RISE’s best practices managing through the COVID-19 Pandemic you view our webinar recording here.

For more information on how RISE helps condominium associations and other HOAs, please send us a message or call (713) 936-9200.

Managing Your Board Through Covid-19

 

A Look at How HOA Boards can Manage the Challenges of Today and Beyond

Though many of our communities have experienced current challenges in their own way, their solutions have been very similar.  We’ve gathered what works best and would love to share with you. The best part is, you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

The video addresses the following:

  • COVID-19 Assessment Collection
  • COVID-19 Maintenance & Operations
  • COVID-19 Deed Restriction
  • Management Tools & Best Practices to Ensure Success During Times of Crisis
  • Tools for Boards & Homeowners

COVID-19 Procedures

In an effort to do our part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, RISE is currently operating under a business continuity plan which allows our team members to service our customer needs remotely. We remain committed serving our homeowners and communities in this time of need. Our team is ready to service your needs electronically via service ticket or phone call. In order to keep both you and our team members safe, we have suspended walk in support for both our corporate and on-site office locations. Please submit your request to start your electronic service request.

The “Love Is” Top Condo Amenities for 2018.

Remember the old “Love Is” series of cartoons? The top condo amenities for 2018 fit well into that cartoon scenario. Let’s take a look at a few of the “Love Is” condo amenities for 2018.

Condo Amenities 2018“Love Is”…Smart home technology.

Condo owners are individuals who like the freedom to do what they want, when they want. They long for uncomplicated lives. They want all the bells and whistles when it comes to their smart home technology. They want voice activation when they’re home, but control remotely for their spontaneous lifestyles. Don’t scrimp here or you’re bound to lose out in 2018.

“Love Is”…High end fiber optics and more.

The discerning condo owner today is looking for high end fiber and more. They want to know the building they’re buying into can support the future advances like electric vehicles and robotic technology and more. It takes sophisticated systems to run the tech side of the building and it occupants, don’t under deliver here.

See where Forbes is setting the expectation

“Love Is”…City views and social spaces in Houston.

In Houston, luxury condos are boasting spectacular city views that can be enjoyed from the comfort of your private balcony or in one of the many rooftop verandas that serve as social hubs. In fact, according to Inman, the social areas one of the most in demand condo amenities in 2018.

“Love Is”…Indoor basketball courts, glass bottom pools and gyms with personal trainers.

Condo dwellers love their walk-about lifestyle and like the over-the-top convenience of never having to leave their buildings to enjoy some cardio. Indoor basketball courts and in-house gyms with either personal trainers onsite or virtual trainers are a must in condo amenities for 2018. The more daring love the new glass bottom pools that allow you feel like you’re swimming in the clouds. It’s all about the snap!

“Love Is”…Personal shoppers, valet trash service, valet car service and more.

The final “Love Is” in this cartoon of must have condo amenities for 2018 is someone who can do everything menial for them. Dad’s birthday coming up…call the personal shopper, let them worry. You just show up with the perfect gift. Ready to leave, drag the trash to the hall, buzz the valet and have your car waiting for you all warmed up.

Make the “Love Is” happen.

These “Love Is” must have 2018 condo amenities don’t just happen automatically. It takes a top of the line association management company to manage this caliber of property. They must have the diversified services and qualified personnel to implement and continue the upgrade of your luxury condo property.

Need that kind of management association in Houston, check out RISE at www.riseamg.com or contact RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected].

Targeting International Condo Buyers in Houston

International Condo BuyersHow do you target the international market in Houston? First, face it, everyone wants to be a cowboy/cowgirl some time; it’s evident in the overwhelming number of international buyers investing in Texas real estate. According to the Texas Association of Realtors, “From April 2016 to March 2017, more than 34,000 homes worth $18.66 billion were sold in Texas to buyers from across the globe, figures compiled in the Texas International Homebuyers Report indicate.” That’s a lot of money in play and the condo market is nabbing their fair share. Check out this report for more about international condo buyers.

Here are a few tips to help tailor your property to appeal to multiple nationalities.

International Condo Buyers – Who are they?

It’s important to know who makes up the international real estate market in Texas. According to one statistic, 43% of Mexicans who choose to own homes in the US, choose to own in Texas. You’ll also find that 11% of the Chinese that choose to own in the US, choose Texas. The last significant group is from India and they come in at 10%. More stats found in this article.

That’s the who, but why are they choosing Texas over other states? Low unemployment is a huge factor, world class educational facilities, plus a variety of industry and top of the line medical facilities. Looking at the why, it’s easy to see how condos appeal to the international buyer.

International Condo Buyers – They’re looking for convenience

Most international buyers are looking for convenience. Employed in high-tech and professional jobs, they want to be close to their job, many prefer to be within walking distance. Condos built in the downtown area appeal to this buyer. Even if they can’t get in the downtown area, they want a condo on a major transportation line.

International buyers aren’t necessarily looking for large condos, even those with a family. In fact, many are accustomed to smaller well engineered spaces and find them more comfortable. Crowded urban cities are the norm in India, China and Mexico City ex pats and smaller living areas is typical. The new mini-condos are a big hit in downtown Houston.

International Condo Buyers – Why Houston?

Houston is becoming a home for multiple immigrant populations and they are renting, buying houses and condos. Some have even described Houston as the most diverse city in America. Chain family migration and an attraction to affordable living, stable jobs and a warm climate are all reasons contributing to international growth of Houston, TX.

  • Second largest Vietnamese-American population in the U.S.
  • Largest Indonesian population in the United States.
  • Largest Nigerian expat population in the U.S.
  • Largest group of ethnic Norwegians outside of Scandinavia

Why Choose a Condo in Houston?

  • Prices are still relatively low compared to other international hot spots.
  • Laws are mostly landlord friendly in Texas
  • Better cash flow, as much as 15%
  • No city or state transfer fees.

For another interesting resource about why the big Houston craze, check here.

Plus, like I said, everyone wants to be a cowboy or cowgirl some time in their life. Want to know how international condo buyer wants translates into action by a condo management association? Give the guys at RISE a call 712-936-9200 or email at [email protected].

Vertical Luxury Living in Houston.

Vertical luxury living is on the rise in Houston with luxury condos in short supply. The definition by price, of luxury condos in Houston is starting at around $750,000 plus. More about luxury premiums here. These vertical luxury living options, known as luxury condos have amenities that rival most 4-Star hotels and nothing less is acceptable for their discerning buyers. So, who are the buyers of luxury condos in Houston and what do they expect? Here’s the scoop from the associations that manage them.Luxury Condos

Luxury condos – Defining the Buyers

The buyers of luxury condos in the Houston area is mainly a draw of empty nesters from Memorial, Tanglewood, Sugar Land, The Woodlands and River Oaks. Houstonians are warming to the idea of larger vertical living spaces that are lock and leave, low maintenance and high on service.

Developers are accommodating with large open floor plans, 4-Star amenities and standard, top of the line everything. In short, luxury condo owners are people who know what they want, are accustomed to paying for it and expect what they pay for. They don’t threaten to sue; you hear from their attorney that they are suing. There’s nothing wrong with that either, but it does take a very special management company to manage a luxury condo property.

Luxury condos – Setting the Standards

From the point of the first preview, association management for luxury condos begins looking at the potential buyer. It takes more than just wealth to buy, the association management is creating a community and lifestyle that blends, it’s smart management.

Most luxury condos have right of refusal for prospective owners. Don’t discount the financial obligation either which is sure to include a substantial down payment, excellent credit score and above average income to qualify as a factor to maintain a standard as well. Owners and developers look to the association management to make recommendations to accomplish these task without fear of retribution in terms of a lawsuit or damaging publicity.

Luxury condos – High requirements on staffing, maintenance and living.

We touched on it earlier, luxury condo owners get the best because they are willing to pay for it. However, they also expect performance and not excuses. Demands for service are high and require top of the line staffing and plenty of it from their association management company.

In fact, many luxury condos hire in concierge services that handle their high-end clienteles’ personal request. Requests that can range from jet reservations to birthday gifts for family members. It started in New York, but it’s nationwide now.

Luxury Condo Buyers – They are savvy buyers and not afraid to sue.

It can’t be said enough; luxury condo buyers have a set of standards they expect you to meet and it’s not optional. They don’t just demand higher service, they demand a high level of performance by management when it comes to setting and enforcing the rules.

Developers are prime targets for this class of luxury condo owners; if you advertise a Jenn-Aire stainless steel appliance package in the kitchen, then it better be just that. It’s not just the developer of their property either. In Houston there are several ongoing battles between luxury condo owners and developers of surrounding property for a variety of reasons that center around changing the character of the neighborhood. Again, this high-end buyer has the means to be heard and the money to back it. Read more about some of these cases here.

If you’re looking for the type of management company it takes to run a luxury condo, look to RISE in Houston. Find out more about their service by contacting RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected].

Condo Airbnbs – Why Your Management Company is Your Best Partner.

Condo AirbnbAirbnb’s are a popular way for condo owners to make a little extra change and for travelers to save a little money on their stay. “Winter Texans” as we call them are a great target for this type of arrangement-6 months here and 6 months in their home state. But what happens when you Airbnb your unit and you get found out? Condo Airbnb – ing is not the same as a house. However, with the right property management company in place, it can be a win-win situation.

Condo Airbnb – What You Need to Know

When deciding on condo Airbnb, start with your CCRs. Short-term rentals would need to be allowed by your community. There is nothing worse than signing up on Airbnb, only to find out that it is against the CCRs for your community. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility of getting fined from the association.

Don’t forget to check your city regulations as well. Many cities have begun very strenuous regulations about not only condo Airbnb s, but short-term rentals in general. Here’s a recommended guide with city resources if you’re in the Houston area

Consider how you will get keys, relay the rules, etc. to your condo Airbnb guest. Then there’s the make ready between rentals, and cleaning. What if your guest break a rule? If you’re fined by the condo association, who’s paying that? There’s more moving parts then you realize.

Your management association could be an Airbnb ally.

Condos can become very popular on Airbnb, due to the amenities and often their proximity to downtown, restaurants and bars. How much money can someone make? An Airbnb host in San Fransisco was earning $4,000 per month by renting out apartments. For Houston, it’s reasonable to charge $65 per night in a newer furnished condo close to downtown or other amenities. $1,000 to $2,000 per month is possible per unit.

Airbnb can be an extra revenue source for condominium owners. One way is to rent unsold units until a buyer signs an agreement or even allowing a furnished model to be leased on weekends.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But we all know, with increased flexibility and revenue comes increased commitments in time, resources and liability.

  • Insurance is the first hurdle. Have your management association review not only what your current policy covers, but what changes would need to be made to cover the liability of short term rentals, not just for common areas, but for individually rented units.
  • Security is another consideration in condo Airbnbs. Permanent residents could feel unsafe with constantAirbnb traffic. Plus, it is not uncommon forAirbnb guests to be in town for a party; after all they’re typically on vacation. Noise violations could increase.
  • Don’t forget damages, who pays for them if they are to common areas? It could be your responsibility.
  • Finally, there’s just the day to day logistics of keys, repairs, cleaning crews, etc. Essentially, your condo becomes a hotel; and hotels require onsite management.

Looking at the list above, I’m sure you can see where a property management company is integral to the success of Airbnb  endeavors. Just as they act as a buffer and mediator between property owners; they can be that onsite management needed when offering short-term rentals.

If you and your condo property decide to move forward with an Airbnb model, be good hosts. Here are a few tips to help you out. Still want to know more? Get a free consultation from RISE in Houston. Contact us at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected].

Look What Harvey Blew In… Flippers and Investors – The Pros and Cons.

 

Condo flippers are just a small segment of the new real estate buyer in Houston. Hurricane Harvey blew in a bevy of flippers/investors who are looking to stay in the Houston market. Storm ravaged properties are investors’ dreams. Investors and flippers want to buy low, invest little and sell for a profit. While these types normally will target single family homes, there are several that target condominium properties. Read more here.

 

Why Condo Flippers Love Condos for Investments

You might wonder why condo flippers find condos such a great investment. Consider this, they only need to improve the inside of the unit, studs out is normally the HOA. This reduces refurbish cost significantly over the purchase of a single-family residence that may need siding, painting, a roof, etc.

Insurance that is spread over the overall community vs a single owner can be significantly less expensive as well.

Let’s not forget the benefit of amenities without the upkeep; from yards to pools to tennis courts. It’s sounding better all the time.

There’s also the benefit of rules pretty much already being in place and managed by either an HOA or a management association. This takes some of the pressure off the condo flipper should they become condo investor and rent the property out.

Now that you know why the condo flippers want to be in your community, let’s look at the pros and cons associated with their arrival.

Condo Flippers – The Pros

  • Condo flippers can drive the price of your units up. Because, while they buy low, they improve and sell high, thus increasing the value of the units in your property and other surrounding communities.
  • Consider this, if prices in your property are low enough to attract condo flippers, by not allowing them, what type of buyers will you attract and how will you market to those buyers? If not flippers, you may experience a large influx of first time home buyers who find condos a great way to move into the real estate market in terms of affordability and maintenance. Consider how that fits with your current demographic and what demands a first-time buyer may have on your infrastructure.
  • Condo flippers know millennials find condos a great way to move into the real estate ownership phase of their life. They buy condos with the idea they can live in them now and keep them for investment later. Upgrades by condo flippers may be very attractive to the millennial buyer bringing prices up in your community. Millennials are not just a group, but a movement that is changing the look of downtowns everywhere. Check out this article for more info.

Condo Flippers – The Cons

Although there are some positive to selling to a condo flipper, there are some downsides to consider.

  • When a condo flipper buys a unit, they normally have plans to renovate. Renovations can be minor cosmetic changes to a total gut job. Along with the renovation comes a long list of issues such as:
    • Security and access to a condo property for the multiple trades involved in any renovation.
    • Noise levels of construction, limiting hours for construction can help with the nuisance.
    • Risk of water damage, electrical outages and other disruptions to nearby units.
    • DIY repairs in lieu of licensed contractor repairs which can affect other critical building systems.
  • If the condo flipper makes the decision to rent the unit instead of re-selling, how will that effect your ratios to keep your FHA approval?
  • Condo flippers can tax the resources of your association management with increased traffic, improper vetting and failure to abide by your covenants and restrictions.

The bottom line, there is a lot of information to review when it comes to condo flippers and their fit in your community. If you have questions in Houston, the guys over at RISE can help. Find out more about condo flippers in Houston, get info from people who live it every day, explore the RISE difference at www.riseamg.com or contact RISE at (713) 936-9200 or [email protected].