You like the look of the place. You like the feel of the place. Maybe there’s a pool, a clubhouse, some tennis courts. It feels like it could be home. So, you move into a community association. It’s everything you want in a home, in a community. You are inspired to get involved with the association, to make things even better for your family and your neighbors. You join a committee, work for the community and love every minute of it. Then, you think about running for the board. How much time can it take? Everything is going so well, it’s sure to be a breeze, right? So, you put your name on the ballot. And, low and behold, you get elected! The community clearly thinks that you are the right person for the job. You are honored and thrilled at the same time.
Then, a strange thing happens. You get something called a “board package” a few days before your first official board meeting. You look at it, excitedly, and start to read. After about an hour, you put it down thinking “What did I get myself into?” There is an agenda, minutes, a report from the property manager on issues you never knew existed, a delinquency list, an attorney collection report that has way too many Latin words in it, a financial report that has so many numbers on it you can’t tell debits from credits, proposals, reports, and who knows what else! You attend your first board meeting thinking, “Ok. I can handle this. Just a few deep breaths.” At the meeting, you have to deal with your fellow board members, a property manager, an attorney, contractors, a minute taker (watch what you say!) and, EE GADDS, the homeowners that expect you to have all the answers!
Well, after your initial terrifying dive into the life of a board member, you decide to stick it out. The benefits of helping to define and shape your community far outweigh any of the trepidation you feel in the beginning. So, the big question is, how do you get yourself up to speed quickly so you can participate as an informed, knowledgeable member of your board? There are really good resources out there for new board members – all you need to do is have the desire to learn, the desire for Board Member Continuing Education, so to speak!
You should start by developing a plan. You can find plenty of material in the CAI bookstore at the CAI national site, caionline.org. It is best not to go crazy in the beginning. Instead look at things systematically. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Look at the Basics
- What is the legal structure of your community association? Are you a condominium, a homeowners association, cooperative or something else? Get to know the responsibilities of the board and the community members in YOUR type of association. Very Important.
- Read your documents. You may remember getting a big “book” when you bought your property. The Public Offering Statement (POS). You put it someplace, if only you could remember where… Well, that book contains all of the legal documents forming the association. It also contains other documents that applied to the developer such as the contract of sale with the original owners. Dig it out and read it. If you can’t find it, get a copy from your property manager. You only need to look at the legal documents of the association. Aside from telling you the type of association you have, it gives a list of rules and regulations, describes the duties of the board members and contains a plethora of information. Mark it up. Know where to go to find thing and refer to it often. The POS is your friend.
- Ask the property manager for a complete set of amendments and resolutions that were adopted since the inception of the association. These documents are a legal addition to your POS. The association is bound by them as much as by the original POS. Keep them with the POS and refer to them just as often.
- Know your duties as a Board Member
- What is the structure of the Board? Who are the officers and what are their duties? These are all described in the POS. When you get to this point, you can start looking at reference material on the duties of the board members and the association officers. These duties are clearly defined. Know the job you are expected to do and learn it intimately.
- Do you know what a Fiduciary is? If not, learn it. Again, look at the reference material here. The Board is an elected fiduciary of the association. This requires the individual board members to act for the benefit of the community as a whole. Board members must avoid conflicts of interest and cannot act out of self interest. You must protect the financial investment of the owners both in budgeting and investing. Everything you do as a board member has a direct impact on every resident of your community. Never for that.
- Motivate the community. Easier said than done, but the board is the driving force in the community. Be creative and find a way to put out a successful call to action. Whether socially or as volunteers, residents respond best to positive motivation from the board.
- Get what you need to Manage the Community
- Ask the property manager for copies of all current documents: the reserve study, budget, planning calendars, committee lists, most recent audit, current rules and regulations, violations log, delinquency lists, and anything else your association has in its coffers. Review them all and ask questions of your fellow board members, your property manager and your professionals.
- Make sure you have the right insurance. Request an insurance schedule from your property manager and compare it to the recommend insurance in the resource material. If you have questions, ask the property manager or call the agent. Insurance is boring so most people tend to ignore it. Most agents welcome the opportunity to talk about their product to an interested board member. Ask questions and understand your coverage. You will be happy you took the time to do this if your association has a loss.
- Use your Property Manager
- The property manager is hired by the association to be the working arm of the board. The board makes the decisions and the property manager implements them. This system works well. Set up a meeting with the property manager and ask as many questions and you can. Find out procedures, policies and whatever you can to help you understand the issues facing the association. Is there a maintenance plan? Who does violations inspections, the property manager or the covenants committee? What is the process if a homeowner does not pay their maintenance fee on time? Get familiar with the processes that drive your association.
Maybe when you signed up for this job, you didn’t realize the amount of dedication that would be necessary. You didn’t realize you needed to “go back to school!” Well, not only do you need to go back to school, but you need to keep learning though a process of “continuing education.” It can be a fun process as well as an educational one. Your job is to learn all that you can about the visible and seemingly invisible aspects of running a community. There is a lot that happens behind the scenes as well as in plain view. Learn about the back end of running an association and the front end will come naturally!