Virtual is Reality – 3 Keys to Successful HOA Management During COVID-19

 

Social distancing. Masks. Virtual meetings. Handwashing. Lots and lots of handwashing.

2020 brought an onslaught of new terms and new normals around the globe as we all work through this global pandemic together. According to an April 2020 study done by Stanford and MIT, nearly HALF of the US labor force is now working from home. COVID-19 has drastically changed how we work and how we communicate. Office buildings and parking lots alike are left dark and silent as businesses and company structures transition from an office setting to a work-from-home environment. From banks to tech to property management, no industry has been left untouched.

Property management, an industry that historically has relied on an office setting to enter data, send homeowner and board communications, and to manage reporting, was hit hard along with other US industries. But community management faced a unique challenge: with more and more people staying home, there has been an exponential increase in architecture requests, the steady need for inspections, and the new challenges of how to meet and collaborate without meeting in person.

How quickly and effectively homeowner’s association management companies and groups were able to make the transition from an office setting to a work from home environment was dependent, almost solely, on one thing: technology.

Here are 3 things successful HOA Management companies have done to adjust to the coronavirus:

 

GO MOBILE

From going home-to-home checking the community, to stuffing and sending envelopes, to in-person board meetings, it’s no secret that HOA management has been wrought with time-consuming in-person tasks.

With the current pandemic recommendations, many of these tasks became more than just a drain on time – they also put your team at high risk. But communities still need to be managed, perhaps more now than ever.

The simplest and fastest way to overcome this monumental hurdle is to go mobile. Cloud-based mobile management like Smartwebs’ SmartViolations helps keep team members safe by ditching the clip board for a smartphone or tablet, and empowering them to use GPS tracking tech to inspect, report, and even send notifications all without having to go into an office. As an added bonus, many management companies have seen up to a 70% increase in productivity1 when switching to a mobile management platform.

Some key things to look for when seeking a mobile management solution are the ability to work and connect outside of the office, effective GPS tracking, the ability to create and send notifications from anywhere, and real-time reporting and updates.

All of these elements make for a safer management process, with the added bonus of saving time as well.

 

COLLABORATE – COMMUNICATE – AUTOMATE

Even with masks and social distancing, more and more businesses are finding that in-person meetings pose too much of a risk for their workers. But that’s not slowing people down from home improvement! Architectural requests increased 42% in Q2 20202 alone, with even bigger increases as the year progresses.

One solution is to hold virtual meetings with your board. While Zoom and GoToMeeting video formats can help, they don’t have the ability to record and track progress with your homeowners, or to make note of any additional questions or required documents for each project.

The best software offers solutions to these problems and more. Key elements to look for are an online collaboration tool, the ability to automate communication (when an item has been voted on, notice of approval or requests for more information), automated reminders for voting deadlines, and the ability for homeowners to upload all necessary documents.

SmartArchitecturals provides these features and more, and works well with sister software designed to simplify every aspect of HOA management. Ideally, you want your software to integrate every element into a larger community management tool, with records for the homeowners and management company in one convenient location that can be accessed from anywhere.

 

BE TRANSPARENT – COMMUNICATION IS KEY

With so much uncertainty, one step you can take to reassure your team and community is simple: stay in contact. But, while the concept of connecting is a simple one, often the mechanics of keeping up with community communication is difficult.

Finding the right tools to allow not only your management team, but homeowners and board members alike, quick and easy access to HOA management resources is key to staying transparent.

So, what are the key elements that help most with communication?

Homeowner access to their profile. When a homeowner is able to see a transaction history, approval status, and community communications in one location, the entire process is simplified. This also reduces the amount of emails and calls from homeowners asking about the status of things.

Fast messaging on multiple platforms. Look for software that allows you to send out consistent messaging across your community, by email, voicemail, and text. SmartCommunications has all of these elements, and has the added ability to filter and tag members in your community for quick reference and contact. Need to send out a community update? Quickly do so with targeted messaging sent with one-click.

Stay in sync. Make sure that your messages, updates, and notes are available on all platforms. Look for a package that offers multiple software solutions for the various aspects of HOA management. The goal is to avoid duplicating work on your end, and to be sure that all communication is recorded and is easily accessible to the team, board, and homeowners.

While adjusting has been hard, there are quite a few small and simple changes we can all make to stay together even when we’re apart. As the world continues to work through COVID-19, keep ahead of the curve with cloud-based tech solutions.

Stay mobile – Stay efficient – Stay in touch.

Stay safe.

 


1 According to a study done by Smartwebs Inc, 2018.
2 YTD October 2020 increase in architectural requests through SmartArchitecturals

Is Your HOA Prepared to Communicate in Times of Emergency?

 

A lot has changed in our world over the past few weeks and the situation is evolving by the day if not by the hour. With multiple cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) being reported throughout the US, your HOA management team is almost certainly being asked many questions. How is your association handling the pandemic? Is your team prepared to communicate effectively to answer all of the questions?

And among all of these questions, there’s an underlying technical hold up: is your HOA prepared to react quickly and communicate efficiently with your community during this time?

Here are a few easy guidelines to help your management team and board navigate these uncharted waters:

Have a Plan In Place

A good starting point for any team is to make sure that you have a plan in place. This will help your association communicate with your community, and provide some guidance – and comfort – to your homeowners and HOA members.

The CDC highly recommends limiting person-to-person contact. This means that postponing in-person HOA Board meetings and HOA membership meetings is critical. But there are other questions to look at for your community: Is your association limiting access to common areas like the pool, meeting areas, sports courts, playgrounds and the like? How do you plan on enforcing these new guidelines? Will your HOA relax rules for violations and payments?

Address questions like these to create your plan so that your team can move forward to implement new guidelines throughout your community. Ward and Smith offers some excellent insights for how HOA Boards can prepare during this pandemic. You can read more here to help your association and board make smart, informed decisions and to set your plan in place.

Communication Is Key

Great! Now that you have your playbook set, it’s critical to disperse updated information quickly, and to the right audience. You should be clear about the new guidelines, and keep the community updated about what your HOA team is doing.

So how do you do that efficiently? Letters take days to deliver, and sending individual texts, voicemails, and emails is incredibly time consuming (not to mention a big disruption of your team’s workflow). Having a system in place to select your audience and send your messaging out rapidly will ensure your community has all of the tools and information they need, when they need it. Plus, your team will be happy to have an easy way to communicate with the community as well.

When assessing your communications tools, you want to make sure they have a way to target the correct audience, have multiple forms of communication at your fingertips, and are easy to use. Texts, emails, voicemails, and association documents for mailing should all be readily available for your team to send when needed. And, as times are changing rapidly, the ability to communicate at a moment’s notice, no matter where your team is working, is invaluable.

Tools to Communicate

Cloud-based software is a game-changer for management teams that are working remotely. As all association managers and employees know, being able to move around and work from outside of the office is critical to the role. And having software that allows you to do your job without being tethered to an office makes your role easier and allows you to manage your properties more effectively.

Communications software, like Smartwebs’ SmartCommunications, allows you to oversee your community at a glance from an online portal, gives you the ability to select members to contact, and has the ability to send messaging out on ALL platforms with only a few clicks.

So now your plan is set, your communication is ready…what next?

Stay Calm

Through all of this, it’s important to remember to stay calm throughout these trying times. Stay in touch with your homeowners, board members, and association management team. Open and frequent communication is the best way to quell any concerns and keep your community up-to-date.

Now, more than ever, we are relying on people adapting and looking out for each other. Be prepared, take measures to help protect your community, and stay safe!

HOA Community Management – Setting Goals for the New Year

As family and friends start to leave, and the holiday decorations start to come down all throughout your managed community, now is a great time to plan for the upcoming year. New Year, New You? We all love the idea, and revamping some key elements on how you manage your HOA properties can make all of the difference in the world for an even more successful 2020. Here are some new year’s goals so your HOA management team can grow in the New Year:

 

Streamline Your Process

It’s incredible how much time we lose with inefficient processes. For the new year, take some time to audit your procedures both in the office, and around the community, to see if there are any areas that your team is taking more steps than necessary.

For example, how efficient are your practices for inspecting the neighborhood for HOA violations? Manual data entry can be an antiquated and time-consuming process. Most property management teams’ process looks something like this: patrol the neighborhood and take hand-written notes for each violation identified, finish the property tour, return to the office and transcribe notes, create and send out emails, create and send out letters, make notes in the resident’s file, communicate with management team.

This manual process eats up precious time that could be better spent elsewhere. In 2020, look to technology to help save you time, money and stress levels. Consider HOA management software that is cloud-based and offers a full suite of packages that will cover all of your needs. A good HOA Management software can take out many of the repetitive steps in your inspection process, automate your notifications, and consolidate team notes in one location that your entire team (and board, when necessary) can access from anywhere – mobile or office. Some key things to analyze when considering your options:

  • Do they offer a full suite of products to cover your needs? (Violations, Work Orders, Architecture requests, Resident Portals, and accounting options)
  • Does the software integrate with systems you already have in place?
  • Does the software suite offer mobile, office, online and offline options for access?
  • How involved is the company with set up?
  • Do they offer HOA management software for management companies and self-managed communities?

Answering these questions will help you make the right choice when you upgrading your systems with a cloud-based software solution.

 

Increase Communication

Communication is key for any great management team, and HOA management is no different! Too often teams struggle with clear communication between the board and with residents, and even within the team itself.

First, are you communicating quickly and efficiently? Show your residents and team that their questions, and time are valid and important. Fast, thoughtful communication will go a long way for relationship building both in the property management team, and with residents.

Additionally, be sure to keep residents apprised on HOA on-goings including board meetings with information, and updates to policies or HOA bylaws.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly – make sure that you’re giving your residents and team members straightforward and easily accessible methods for communication. Do your residents and team have a simple way to contact the HOA management team? How easy is it for your team to share notes and information within your current system? There are several online software options to consider that offer fast, easy-to-access ways for residents, board members, and the association team to communicate.

Healthy and frequent communication between the team, board, and residents is vital for success in your community.

With these simple New Year goals for your HOA management team, you’ll see a happier and healthier community, along with a team that’s more efficient and functional.

We can toast to that!

The Holidays are Almost Here – Is Your Community Ready?

 

Holiday decorations can be beautiful, but can also cause problems for HOAs

 


The holiday season is almost upon us, and that means homes will soon be adorned with lights, sound, and decor, driveways will be stuffed with out-of-town vehicles, and your community will be teeming with holiday cheer. But all of that seasonal joy can be dampened if your residents aren’t up-to-date on the community policies. Now is a great time for the HOA to review its guidelines and send out friendly reminders to residents.

Here are several things to consider this time of year that can help your HOA community stay in the holiday spirit:

Decorations

We all know THAT resident; the one who sees the Grizwold household as a challenge to be accepted. Does your HOA have restrictions on what sort of decorations can go up, or what time frame decorations are allowed? If so, this is a great time to send reminders about rules for inflatable lawn décor, lights, ornaments, and other holiday outdoor decorations. Is music allowed (and if so, are there time and volume restrictions)? What are the penalties for violations and do you have a system in place to quickly notify the homeowner of any violations or penalties? Letting homeowners know about current guidelines before the season is in full swing can help avoid confusion, and alleviate any future headaches.

Visitors

Whether you look forward to a full house, or want to hide from in-laws, there’s no denying ‘tis the season for out-of-town guests to visit. Does your HOA make special exceptions during this time of year to account for the extra vehicles in the community? Does your community have visitor parking, or a community area for vehicle overflow? If additional parking isn’t available, what are some solutions that your association can offer? We highly recommend touching base with your homeowners to help them know what to do with visitors’ vehicles, while following the guidelines of the community. Now may be a great time to put exceptions and provisions up to a Board vote. Ensure your board has access to 24/7 voting, communication, and results with cloud-based software designed to streamline your community management processes.

Communicate and Stay Involved

Who doesn’t love a great holiday party? Now is the perfect time to host a community get-together for neighbors to get to know each other and to learn more about the HOA and the Board. Consider using the clubhouse, park or other community area that can accommodate a large group. Games, treats and libations are always a great way to bring a community together. Giving families and residents a place to get to know each other makes for a tighter-knit community and helps harbor goodwill towards your HOA and Board.

The holidays are an ideal time to share helpful tips and reminders, too. Communication during the holiday season – be it emails, fliers, social media posts, or website updates – helps keep the community safe, respectful, and happy! However, this can be a daunting task with outdated systems that rely on manual processes. Smartwebs can help streamline and simplify communications with your community, and make sure that you have a painless way to spread holiday cheer.

Be Kind

Most of all, remember that this time of year can be stressful for everyone; residents, managers, and board members alike. Josh Hurst provides a great reminder for this time of year.

It’s important for the HOA to pick its battles wisely and keep in mind the best interest of homeowners. Everyone has their own taste and style when it comes to décor.  It is worth starting an uproar over a light display that will come down in a few weeks anyway? If homeowners are in the spirit and not causing disruptions or violating clear rules, enjoy the celebration. The HOA may ask that light displays be reviewed by the architectural committee to prevent anything that is over-the-top and will detract from the appeal of the community as a whole.

HOA’s are here to ensure the community stays safe, desirable, and happy so don’t forget to weave in some holiday happiness in this most wonderful time of year!

HOA Pet Restrictions

Many planned communities, townhome communities, and condominiums (collectively,“Associations” since they are nearly universally governed by one) have restrictions that either prohibit or limit the number, size, and type of pets that can be kept within the community. In general, as long as a restriction prohibiting or limiting pets is clearly drafted, the North Carolina courts will uphold their enforcement; however, they may not be enforceable under the Federal Fair Housing Act “FHA”).

The FHA prohibits housing providers and their agents and governing bodies, such as Associations, from discriminating against a resident or potential resident, regardless of whether the resident or potential resident will be the owner or listed tenant of the housing unit because of the resident’s or potential resident’s disability. The FHA makes it unlawful for Associations to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a housing unit. In fact, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has explicitly stated that an exception to a “no pets” policy qualifies as a reasonable accommodation.

Accordingly, Associations must modify their policies, practices, or procedures to permit an individual with a disability to use, own, and live with an “assistance animal” when doing so is necessary to provide the resident an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing unit.

It is important to note that the FHA requirement for reasonable accommodation of “assistance animals” in housing situations is much broader than the older, and more familiar, Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requirement that“ places of public accommodation” allow persons with disabilities to use “service animals.” The ADA’s requirement is limited to dogs that have been specifically trained to provide certain types of assistance such as a seeing-eye dog for a blind person.

In contrast, an “assistance animal” under the FHA can be any animal: a dog, cat, bird, gopher, guinea pig, or what have you, and it does not have to specially trained to provide any assistance. For example, a person with emotional issues resulting in a disability may have a need for the companionship of a “comfort” animal such as a cat or guinea pig, neither of which, so far as is known, can be trained to provide any service. While the animal would not qualify as a “service animal” under the ADA and could be barred from a place of public accommodation such as a restaurant, it may well be included in the FHA requirement for accommodation of assistance animals.

In order for a disabled individual to qualify for a reasonable accommodation from the Association’s pet policies, there must be a relationship between the individual’s disability and the assistance that the assistance animal provides. If this requirement is met, the Association then must permit the accommodation, and allow the individual to keep the assistance animal, unless the Association can demonstrate that allowing the assistance animal would:

  • Impose an undue financial or administrative burden upon the Association;
  • Pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation; or,
  • Would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation.

If any of the above factors exist, the Association can prohibit the animal. The FHA denies a person with a disability to include individuals:

With a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities that either:

  • Are regarded as having such an impairment; or,
  • Have a record of such impairment.

The term “physical or mental impairment ”includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic,visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV, intellectual disability, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of controlled substances), and alcoholism.

So what does an Association do if an owner, tenant, guest, or other resident requests a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal? The Association is entitled to obtain information necessary to evaluate if the request is a reasonable accommodation and whether it’s necessary because of the disability. If a resident’s or potential resident’s disability is obvious or otherwise known to the Association, and if the need for the requested accommodation is also readily apparent, then the Association may not request additional information about the requesting party’s disability or the disability-related need for the accommodation. For example, if an owner-resident who is blind advises the Association that the owner wishes to keep a guide dog in the owner’s home, the Association may not ask for information about the disability-related need for the dog as it is readily apparent that the owner’s disability is connected to the service provided by the dog.

However, if the requesting individual’s disability is known or readily apparent to the Association, but the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent or known, the Association may ask the individual to provide information about the disability-related need for the assistance animal. For example, if an owner-resident who uses a wheelchair advises the Association that the owner wishes to keep an assistance animal in her unit, the association may ask for additional information.

If a disability is not obvious (or the connection between the apparent disability and an assistance animal is not readily apparent), the Association may request reliable disability-related information that:

  • Is necessary to verify that the resident or potential resident meets the Fair Housing Act’s definition of a disability;
  • Describes the need for the accommodation; and
  • Shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation

In such a situation, it is recommended that the Association ask the requesting individual to present documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides support which mitigates at least one identified symptom of the disability.

Under no circumstances should the Association:

  • Ask for a deposit, fee, or surcharge in exchange for having the animal.
  • Require that an assistance animal have specific training
  • Require the assistance animal to wear…

 

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Why your HOA needs cloud technology

What is HOA Cloud Technology? We all know about the clouds that shade the sun and carry rain. Now it’s time to get to know the other cloud—the one that delivers computing power, handy applications, and the ability to share information with others wherever and whenever you need. Like the atmospheric mass that provides its name, the technological phenomenon impacts our daily lives.

Cloud computing sounds mysterious and untrustworthy, but chances are you’re already working, playing and surfing in the cloud. If you’ve purchased an iPhone, Kindle, or any smartphone, tablet or computer recently, you’re probably taking advantage of its benefits. If you’ve downloaded a song from the Internet, chatted on Skype or purchased something from Amazon.com, you’ve used the cloud.

So, what does the cloud mean to you, and how can you harness its power?

It means you can pay your assessments online. You can access association documents and board meeting minutes from wherever you are. It might also mean, for the owners of second homes, that you can tune in to board meetings from the other side of the country.

It means you can work from a remote office without losing a beat. You can collaborate with others on a document without having to e-mail the file back and forth. You can store photos, music and files online without taking up precious space on your computer.

The cloud offers cheaper, stress-free alternatives to expensive hardware and maintenance. All you really need to take advantage of the cloud is reliable Internet access, but you should carefully consider security, privacy, the provider’s reliability and contract terms first.

How secure is your data and information on the cloud? What privacy rules are you subject to? Some cloud services include clauses that allow providers to access and use a customer’s data —often for marketing purposes—and can retain that data long after you’re done using the service.

What if the company providing the cloud service goes out of business? What happens to all your information? Do contact terms lock you into one program or application?

These are important questions to ask. And though the cloud is relatively new, it’s here to stay and will become even more prevalent over time.

How have you been able to determine which cloud-technology software to use for your own HOA? Share your ideas in the comments below!

Source: Copyright-Free Articles for Community Association Newsletters and Websites Volume 2.  Cloudy with a Chance of Technology.