It’s often tough to get co-op, condo, and HOA residents interested in joining their building or association’s board. No one wants to work a second job if they don’t have to—especially one that doesn’t pay—but regardless, there’s important work that needs to get done so that the community can run smoothly.
“Someone who volunteers for the job of being on the board does so because they like to help people, they like to help their neighbors, they want to get to know people in the building—but within reasonable limits,” says Zachary Kestenbaum, a principal at BuildingLink, a New York City-based company that provides building and association management software. “You don’t want it taking over your whole life. So, being able to contain it a little bit so that you can do it on your schedule and not coming at you at all times is important.”
BuildingLink is a web-based platform that is used in over 3,000 properties in the U.S. and internationally. From online management and reporting tools to mobile apps, biometric scanners, electronic key lockboxes, and laminate ID card printers, it has the technology and a suite of tools to make the jobs of property managers and association boards much easier.
It’s one of several systems offered by companies today, designed to make life at least a little less-stressful for property managers—and board members, as well. They include Nashua, New Hampshire-based Pilera Software and Yardi, which has offices around the globe.
Divide and Conquer
Part of making sure any single board member doesn’t get overwhelmed with building projects is forming committees and delegating tasks intelligently—so there’s not just one person handling everything.
“The best thing that we tell our boards to do is to try and form certain committees, if possible, and even if it means bringing on people from the building who aren’t on the board,” says Robert Rinaldo, vice president at D&J Property Management in Forest Hills, New York. “Basically divide up the responsibilities in terms of only having one person at a time from each committee taking care of a particular item.”
He continues, “You normally have the usual positions of president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, but when it comes to actually dealing with certain issues that come up in the building, whether it’s issues with the landscaping, repairs, or beautifying the building and the lobby or whatever it may be, you don’t want to heap more than one of those things onto any one particular person.”
“We try to split it up, and obviously the management tries to take as much of the burden as it can off the board, because first and foremost it’s our job to be dealing with most of that stuff, as well as the maintenance staff, the super, the porter, and the like,” says Rinaldo.
In addition, Rinaldo notes, the board shouldn’t need to call constant meetings. “We have always a monthly meeting, and we try not to make the people have to really dedicate too much of their time outside of those meetings.”
Streamlining the Process
One place where board members often get bogged down with responsibilities is dealing with residents’ requests and complaints. The treasurer might be standing in the elevator, someone else comes in, and all of a sudden the treasurer has to listen to complaints about the resident’s malfunctioning oven or squeaky front door.
“We’ve had instances where people are coming up to board members every single day, whether it’s the president or just a regular member, and basically bombarding them with questions or complaints or bringing issues up to them and wanting them to take responsibility for handling those issues for them,” says Rinaldo.
“The board members then come to me, whether it’s at a meeting or on the phone, and they’ll say, ‘Listen, I can’t be the first one people keep turning to here; they’re calling me and they’re not calling you’—meaning management. We’ve tried to urge residents that board members are not supposed to be the first people they turn to when it comes time to answer any questions or resolve any issues or problems that they might be having.”
There are a few services that provide programs to help boards deal with these kinds of situations.
“We want to streamline the process,” says Tyler Clemens, an industry principal at Yardi. “So as opposed to having to wait for that board meeting, or making a suggestion on the elevator, and then the board member forgetting to write it down, or present that to whoever needed to hear it, it’s all documented. The whole process is electronic, so you don’t miss those types of things, and you can get those email notifications.”
Technology-based services offered by Yardi, Pilera and others provide a wide range of real estate software and mobile application solutions for the multifamily housing community, including online rental/mortgage payments, electronic transactions, management dashboards and portals, maintenance requests, procurement, utility billing, resident screening, bylaws enforcement and more.
“Our foundation is built in communication,” says Ashish Patel, chief executive officer and founder of Pilera Software LLC, based in Nashua, New Hampshire. “The easier I can make it for board members and managers to communicate with homeowners, the fewer phone calls they get in the office, and the less frustrated homeowners are going to be.”
Let’s go back to that homeowner complaint about the squeaky front door. Today’s management software is designed to handle complaints with ease—and without getting having its dinner interrupted by an irate homeowner.
Pilera Software, for example, has two kinds of online work orders, Patel says: at the unit level, and at the common-area level. If that door is on an individual unit and is only annoying that one family, the owner can log on to the condo’s site, submit his or her complaint—even send along a photo of the problem—and track management’s response to the issue. But if the problem is with the main door in the lobby, everyone in the building is inclined to launch a complaint—and the system is ready to handle the potential onslaught.
“When one person puts in a complaint about the common area, other homeowners can see that it’s already been submitted,” Patel says. “That eliminates multiple requests to the office about the same problem. Everyone can see that the management is working on the solution” and can follow updates. Management can also send out a message to homeowners about the problem and any progress toward its resolution.
And if board members want to stay in the loop (and have an answer to all questions if they happen to be button-holed in the elevator), they can receive updates about all work orders on an ongoing basis.
Since communication is so easy, management can also send out alerts to homeowners—at the individual, building, street, or community level—letting them know about work that may affect them. If, for example, the water service has to be shut off for a repair, management can warn residents about the upcoming inconvenience.
These systems, Patel notes, make life easier for managers regardless of the size or complexity of the communities, from small suburban condos in New Jersey to associations with thousands of units in Colorado and California. And lest homeowners complain that they never got word about a particular issue, Patel notes, the system can also track when messages are sent, how they’re sent, even whether a phone call was answered by a machine or a human being.
Making a Hard Job Easier
Services like these don’t really end at streamlining the relationship between the board members and unit owners; they offer ways to manage all the paperwork that comes with running a building as well.
“We offer operations, which is tracking owners, violations, tracking any tenants if it’s an owner-absentee,” says Clemens. “So, all of the fees coming in from owners, all of the assessment fees, charging special assessments, paying invoices to vendors, and things like that. All of that’s handled in our core system, as well as a full reporting package on that as well.”
These systems also allow unit owners to make payments online and view condo documents or meeting minutes without waiting for the management office to open. “So, as opposed to an owner having to call in and go, ‘Hey, I want to see the annual reports from 2016,’ they just simply log in and they can just download them on their own time, and on their computer,” says Clemens.
Need an answer to a “none of the above” question that’s applicable to just your particular association? Simply log on to Pilera’s self-help knowledge base: Type in a few key words, and, using a system similar to that oh-so-familiar Amazon.com search engine, shazam! The software will pull up an answer from its fully-customizable FAQ (frequently-asked questions) database —saving untold telephone time for office staff.
Services like these do require Internet access, it should be noted, but they, along with a good building manager, can help make what can be an imposing job much easier and less time consuming. After all, helping to run your building’s board shouldn’t become a second job.
John Zurz is a staff writer for The New Jersey Cooperator. Associate editor Pat Gale also contributed to this article.