There may be a million things you’d like to change about your HOA board meetings, but there’s one easy thing you could do today to maximize their efficiency and productivity.
And it doesn’t cost a penny.
It may not be glamorous, but one of the best ways to keep things focused and forward-moving is to follow a meeting agenda. If you don’t already have an agenda, you should start using one. If you do have one and the style isn’t working for you – maybe you’ve never understood the reason it’s laid out the way it is – there is a lot of guidance available online, as well as a plethora of free templates for you to try. (Keep in mind, some states regulate the contents of the agenda. Arizona law requires that any “open agenda” section must detail which subjects will be discussed and voted on, so be as specific as you can be in that area.) That being said, there are different styles and different templates that might fit you and your board well – and many of them are absolutely free. Here are three of the easiest-to-adopt templates:
The Basic HOA Board Agenda Template
This template, found at Wikihow, is nothing fancy – but it will run you through the basics like attendees, objectives, and schedules. It’s clear, concise, and can help you outline your overall goal while sticking to a schedule. Wikihow is also a good resource for more background on how to create your own agenda.
The Detailed HOA Board Agenda Template
If you’d prefer a more formal approach, Roman numerals and all, this detailed template from HOASupport.com may be perfect for you. It’s only one page, but there is a lot of ground covered, and issues are broken down into several bullet points. This website also features a host of other forms and templates that could be helpful for your board.
The Learn-as-You-Go HOA Board Agenda Template
Maybe you’d like more than a fill-in-the blank template – maybe you’d like a little background and instruction as you go, but you still want a fairly simple and approachable outline. If so, this sample board agenda from Davis-Stirling may be for you.
Whichever style you decide on, know that having an agenda that works for you and your board could save you more than a little time and hassle! Which do you prefer for your HOA?
Nobody really looks forwardto an angry voicemail about a barking dog, or a disgruntled homeowner venting about assessments at a board meeting….
But, those interactions and others like them could actually be quite beneficial – good for both the health of your HOA board and your personal growth and development.
Margaret Heffernan, an international entrepreneur, CEO, and author of the award-winning “Willful Blindness,” discussed this phenomenon in her TEDGlobal talk, “Dare to Disagree.”
Heffernan shared the story of Dr. Alice Stewart, a doctor and epidemiologist who researched the relationship between radiation and childhood cancers in 1950s Britain. Dr. Stewart’s research partner, statistician George Kneale, considered it his job “to prove Dr. Stewart wrong” – challenging her findings at every step.
“It was only by not being able to prove she was wrong that George could give Alice the confidence she needed to know she was right,” Heffernan says. “It’s a fantastic model of collaboration – thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers.”
Encouraging the expression of different points of view can lead to a healthier, happier homeowners association in the long-term.
It can prevent single-mindedness in your HOA. Individual homeowners may have concerns that aren’t readily apparent to the board or the rest of the homeowners. Those insights could be important for the group as a whole, and considering them can prevent the “echo chambers” that Heffernan warns about.
It can provide a system of checks and balances. No one is above accountability; sometimes even the most responsible and diligent board member can show a lapse in judgment. It’s good for everyone, including the board member, to have homeowners who are willing to speak up if that happens.
It can foster a culture of open communication. When other homeowners see that healthy dialogue is encouraged, they may be more willing to get involved and share their own insights.
Of course, disgruntled homeowners may not always voice their concerns in positive, constructive ways. There are many professional resources that offer tips on dealing with those and others in your association, such as the Community Association Institute’s “Pearls of Wisdom” guidebook. Just remember that even the most challenging personality among them can provide opportunities for growth and progress.
Iconic folk singer Joni Mitchell’s 1970 hit “Big Yellow Taxi” reminds us that sometimes “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Sure, Mitchell was begging people to preserve nature, but the principle – that there is often great value in everyday things we don’t stop to consider or appreciate – applies to many areas of life. Yes, even your HOA board!
According to the Community Associations Institute(CAI), 63 million Americans lived within community associations in 2012, and 24 percent of homes were part of one. (The Copper State nearly cracked the top 10, coming in at #11 with 8,900 groups.)
The CAI cites another 2012 study by Ibope Zogby International that says the vast majority of these residents have enjoyed a positive experience with their association, and that 88 percent of them believe their boards “strive to serve their best interests.”
If those numbers – and the impressive growth of homeowners groups across the nation through the last several decades – aren’t enough to convince you, take a hint from Ms. Mitchell and think about what life might be like without an HOA board to advocate for you and your property.
Security and Services: HOA Boards often contract services like trash pickup and private security for homeowners. Without that arrangement, your services may depend on the thinly stretched budgets of city and county government groups.
Advocacy:In most cases, your HOA board members are neighbors with common interests, elected by you and other community members. Residents outside of HOAs do not enjoy the same type of common-interest advocacy.
Disaster preparedness:Emergencies canleave residents alone and vulnerable. In the case of disasters – natural or otherwise – there can be strength in numbers. HOAs can provide a plan of action that allows community residents to pull together and pool resources.
Active community building:Any neighborhood can pull together a BBQ or volunteer project, but how often does it happen? HOA boards often provide a hub of organized, intentional activities, from holiday parties to service opportunities, all focused on building a long-term sense of community.
Sure, you have heard the saying “big results require big ambitions” (James Champy). And we aren’t saying that isn’t always true, but when it comes to your HOA Board, it can do more harm than good.
How big ambitions of the new HOA board can be ineffective:
Too much too soon? New board members are elected for a reason, undoubtedly. Many times new members are excited about the new position and want to start implementing those changes they have been so passionate about pre-election. This is great in theory, but what happens all too often is the current policies get overlooked, and little investigation goes into if the new policies can even be enforced. Also, new board members may not realize that after all of that, they need to notify residents AND get by in. That’s a lot of work creating new policy with no return!
Lack of doing your homework is a big waste of time. Many times new board members don’t sit and listen to why current policies are set in the first place. There are practical reasons why policies are in place, and acting deliberately, armed with knowledge, is going to produce more return on suggesting a policy change to your HOA.
If it isn’t in your CC&R’s, you aren’t permitted to do it! Authority for HOA Board members stems from the governing documents. Enthusiastic Board members want to take care of issues they are passionate about. And sometimes this means going beyond their authority. Guess what? If your hot button issue isn’t an issue regulated by your governing doc, you essentially can cause a lot of upheaval and wasted chatter about something you can’t fix.
Not understanding the history may be harmful to your health…..many new members assume the previous board did nothing right. Making big changes affects your entire community. Don’t re-write policy without understanding the motivations and meeting minutes of your previous board. Hastily made policies will burn you out!
Congratulations Nikki! PDS 2013 Team Player of the Year!
The Team Player award gives recognition to the employee that demonstrates superior attention to company morale, homeowner customer service, team spirit, and encouragement in the most difficult of situations. This award goes to the PDS employee that plays not only on the team, but for the team!
Nikki Ramalho it was our pleasure to present you with this award for your outstanding dedication throughout 2013 to your team!
Here’s what some of Nikki’s fellow peers said about her:
“She is always stepping up to help with anything and everything. When events come up she gives any free time she has – even running to pick up catering for holiday events! Nikki always answers my calls and IM’s immediately so that I can properly help a homeowner when I have trouble answering a question. She’s always willing to lend a hand.”
“Nikki supports her team at all times and gives excellent customer service to every homeowner! We are so lucky to have her on our team!”
“She is always stepping up to help anyone. With her extra duties as Bid Liaison she keeps a positive attitude and still continues to help others every time asked. She has yet to say she is ‘too busy.’ Nikki is the true meaning of a team player.”
“Nikki truly deserves this award because she is always willing to help. She is very helpful to homeowners and always projects a positive attitude.”
Nikki, you truly are the definition of a team player. You understand that your peers at PDS and the communities and residents you serve are part of your team. They way you handle all aspects of your job is admirable. Thank you for all you do!
Evon Brooks named 2013 Planned Development Services Employee of the Year
We are proud to announce Evon Brooks as our Employee of the Year! Evon has dutifully served as a PDS Transition Accountant for over 13 years. If her tenure doesn’t say enough, we have some quotes from Evon’s peers.
Here is what some of Evon’s co-workers have to say about her:
“Evon demonstrates the qualities of loyalty & dedication, and always goes above and beyond for both clients and the PDS team.”
“Evon is the definition of Employee of the Year. She always goes the extra step in everything she does. She is a PRO PDS employee who always looks at the best in everyone and every situation.”
“Evon is always ready to help whomever – and never with complaints!”
We couldn’t have stated it better than Evon’s fellow co-workers. Evon, your dedication and consistent positive attitude is one to be admired by our peers. You are a great asset to our team and we look forward to many more years working side by side with you!
Board Members and Residents Can Work Together To Build the HOA’s New Year’s Resolutions
…..Wait, did you say together? ‘Tis the Season!
Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it? Let PDS guide you through developing a few New Year’s Resolutions that will foster positive relationships between board and resident, effectively govern the association, and decrease expensive and avoidable conflicts between the like. Ready, set, go!
Review the Governing Documents. So many conflicts arise because of the board or resident not reading or understanding the governing documents – therefore no one is enforcing and/or complying with them properly. Clear understanding = less headaches. If you are a board member, also be sure you have the complete set. Sometimes amendments are lost as papers and files are shared between passing board members.
Leave the Egos at the Door. In many cases, HOA disputes can be settled easily. But when one gets invested in their ego, simple matters can quickly escalate into the next World War. If a Board Director takes an honest look at the situation, and feels personal feelings about the resident (or vice versa) are influencing any decisions being made, it is time to step out of that dispute.
Housekeeping! These should be quick and easy. Refresh yourself on the procedures for holding meetings, the board election process, types of approved architectural requests, and the financing needs for repairs and improvements of the common areas (if applicable).
Delegate and Seek Help. Board members and volunteers are usually juggling full-time jobs and families which leaves little time for the HOA duties. Can committees be utilized to investigate initiatives? Ask for help, use your social media tools, go door-to-door, have functions, and see if small groups can form to tackle some of the issues.
We already know what you are thinking. The “act of apologizing” is a redundant topic and you have read numerous posts on wellness sites from some of the most renowned gurus out there…
….But now let’s apply this to real life: You are a board member of an HOA – one of the most “thankless” jobs out there.
HOA meetings can be intimidating. Even the most reasonable homeowner or board member can have a bad day or a strong (sometimes unpopular or misunderstood) opinion. Let’s make an example with meetings including special assessments on the agenda. This board worked hard on collecting the special assessment information. They researched, met with vendors, and compiled all relevant information into a concise letter explaining why the assessment was necessary. The letter is sent to every homeowner, with the date of the meeting listed.
A group of homeowners show up to the meeting and are visibly upset that a special assessment was even being considered. To their memory, the reserve account had more than enough money to use for the project!!
The board, understandably, gets frustrated. Not only did they work proactively to provide facts to the homeowners, but even more importantly, reserve funds could not lawfully be used for the project (which was clearly stated).
Sound Familiar? Have you been in this HOA Board meeting before?
Quickly the meeting escalates, the tone changes, voices raise, and the homeowners leave angry. After the meeting, and a few one-on-one conversations later, it becomes evident that the homeowners had read the letter, but some of the terms, such as “reserve account” and “special assessment,” and the rules surrounding them were not defined clearly enough for them.
This is when the HOA board needs to carefully practice the art of apologizing. Don’t attack, or instigate, or get revenge. Get the “told-you-so” attitude far, far away from your mind.
Why? Because one disgruntled homeowner can cast a negative light on the HOA board for the whole community.
Apologize for the confusion and not explaining the situation more clearly. Offer some education about the rules and terms to your homeowners maybe don’t understand. Be the leader in these scenarios. Choose a helpful form of communication: be resourceful to your homeowners and apologize.
Giving your homeowners the tools to learn, coupled with a positive attitude, will create an environment that illustrates your board is there to educate, inform, and provide a forum for the community to make decisions.
You may never be able to please everyone. But you can start establishing a reputation of an HOA board that at least tries to.
Please leave us some comments about this blog post!
Your board may be faced with a request to accommodate an animal for a community member living in an HOA with a no pet policy. An obvious allowance would include seeing eye dogs for the visually impaired. However it is becoming more and more common for animals to be requested for psychological disabilities.
Cases involving HOA pet restrictions in these circumstances are on the rise, and your board needs to do it’s due diligence when evaluating the accommodation request. A request for a “reasonable accommodation” is protected by the Fair Housing Act (this is separate from the ADA’s requirements for a “service animal”). This request is an alteration to or variance of the association’ covenants, rules, and policies to provide the disabled equal use and enjoyment of his/her home. Therefore, it is strongly suggested your board open a clear and positive dialogue with the requesting resident. Gain as much knowledge as you can about the request. This allows for the board to make an informed decision, avoid being quick to set precedents, and puts the board in a positive light should legal action be taken.
To comply with the pet accommodation request the association may do the following:
1. Require the resident to provide proof of the claimed handicap from a physician (however the physician does not have to disclose the details or provide medical history)
2. Require a physicians statement that the animal is necessary for the residents handicap/illness
3. Require the resident to follow a clear policy for clean-up of animal waste, leash requirements, etc.
Thank you Mulcahy Law Firm for contributing to this article!
What are the most important things your HOA Board President should know?
1) Understand the role: The role of the HOA President is one of leadership and guidance. It is the responsibility of the President to guide the board towards reaching decisions within provisions of the governing documents. The HOA documents are the tools that will give the President direction.
2) Lead by example: The HOA President is the one who sets the tone and provides a good example to the board and association members when it comes to following association rules and documents. A president not only has to hold him/herself accountable, but also the board and association members.
3) Understand the duties: The president of the association is vested with all powers that generally are given to the CEO of a corporation. While specific by-law provisions may vary from one HOA to another, it is generally presumed that the HOA President will preside at ALL meetings, execute contracts, orders and other documents in the name of the association. These are some of the duties that have to be executed by the president, in addition to setting the example of leadership.
4) Delegate: This is perfectly acceptable as the HOA President. Working together with the board to accomplish goals may require delegating tasks to those best suited to complete them.
5) Use professionals when necessary: Let’s face it, we’re not all perfect and all-knowing. Being resourceful and acknowledging that you are outside of your area of expertise is acceptable in a leadership role. Know when and where you may need to hire professionals for guidance or counsel (see our blog titled Three Ways For HOA’s To Seek Legal Advice).
Thank you to Mulcahy Law Firm for contribution to this article!