Telling the Story of Community Association Insurance

Most condominium association residents are likely to have little or no understanding of the insurance that protects the association in which they reside. Let’s face it; there just isn’t a lot of glamour in discussing deductibles, coinsurance, liabilities and such that make up the community association insurance story. Telling the story of your community’s insurance coverage is going to be a challenge but if done properly, can yield a wealth of rewards.

Start with the basics. Every resident needs to know that the community has insurance and that the insurance covers certain elements which the entire community owns in common. Every resident also needs to know that community association insurance is not the same as homeowner’s insurance and that every resident needs to have an individual homeowner’s policy to cover those risks not provided for in the association’s policy. It is a great idea for every resident to meet with an insurance professional to discuss their personal insurance needs. Some communities have even hosted an Insurance Night to help residents make contact with an insurance professional who understands their individual needs.

Continue to tell the story of how the community’s insurance was chosen. Risks and liabilities are more easily understood when described as items, so if your association insurance covers things like fire and water damage, it is best to spell out what is covered. Deductibles vary widely in insurance products so it is also a good idea to list the specific deductibles faced by the association and residents in the event that a claim needs to be made. It would be a good idea to explain the claim process (who to call, how to file, etc.) so that residents are prepared if a claim arises.

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo

7 Ways to Modernize Older Communities

With all the new apartment construction taking place nationwide, some owners and management companies are struggling for ways to make their older properties appeal to renters. While it’s true there are a fair share of renters who just want ‘new’, there are a plethora of ways to compete that don’t necessarily involve adding flashy amenities like a zero entry design saltwater pool or a climbing wall. Reinventing resident amenity packages can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the good news is that many smart owners and managers are finding ways to compete on a more reasonable scale. Here are a couple of easy ways you can modernize older communities and make them stand out to prospective renters.

Appliances

As each apartment comes up for renewal or is vacated by the current resident, update the appliances. Most renters today favor a look of all stainless, which can be pricey. But you can get the look and feel of stainless with a combination of black and stainless for less money. Over the years, I’ve found that the average prospective resident is perfectly fine with a mix of black and stainless if the stainless is on the microwave and the refrigerator. And it only needs to be on the front; it doesn’t have to be the entire appliance. Why is this? It seems that prospects remember the finish of the appliances that are at eye level, so having stainless or clean steel fronts on your microwaves and refrigerators can essential solve the issue. Make sure you advertise ‘black and stainless’ appliances and you’ll look much newer than you did when you have black or almond appliances.

Snazzy Paint Colors 

A surefire way to give your properties a facelift is to paint, paint, paint. Go for a variety of colors. The old rule of ‘no interior painting’ is long gone. You don’t have to go completely crazy; an accent wall or two in the apartment is probably enough. But make sure your apartments prove to your prospects that they can paint and individualize their living space. Better yet, some paint vendors, like Behr Paints will create a custom color palette just for your company and offer a choice of colors to new residents upon move in.

Fixtures

One of the easiest ways to change the feel of an apartment is by changing up the light fixtures, both in individual units and in common areas within the community. Visit your new construction competitors and see what they are offering in the way of bathroom and kitchen lighting. Then head to the hardware store and find something either similar or better, and start installing it on your turns.

Outlets

All of the newer apartments are offering outlets that include USB ports. And this is a very easy change to make. Your maintenance teams can easily install these in your apartments. The average cost for an outlet with two USB ports is $20. If you’re limited on your budget, residents overwhelmingly prefer to have one of these installed in the master bedroom. Choice #2 for location is the kitchen. These are great renewal incentives as well!

WiFi

Provide free WiFi for your residents in all of the common areas of your property such as clubrooms, fitness centers, business offices and pool areas. While you’re at it, you should have charging stations and plenty of outlets, too. Residents don’t want to go without their devices; devices that need electricity to be charged.

Cellphone Signal Boosters

It’s a harsh reality, but an apartment community with less than four bars of cellphone reception is a community that is going to suffer. This is one feature you HAVE to have to stay competitive. Luckily, it’s an easy and inexpensive fix. Take a tour of your properties while examining your cell phone reception. If you have areas with poor service, install signal boosters.

Service

Let’s face it. Older communities simply won’t have all the bells and whistles of new construction. So to make your community stand out, it’s really important to offer services that will make life easier on your resident. Some great examples include giving your residents access to cleaning services or an on-site concierge.

From a technology standpoint, allow your residents to make service requests through your website and directly contact your staff either via text or email. Combining rent and utilities into one comprehensive bill that residents can pay online is a must too, and is now being offered by PayLease and Ocius. Even better, these services will save you hundreds to thousands of dollars a year in administrative and processing costs. That’s money you can put right back into updating your properties!

This is just a small sampling of ideas to help you keep new, prospective residents coming through the doors and maintaining a lower turnover. Make regular visits to new properties in the area for ideas on services and décor you can add to stay competitive.

Written by Lisa Trosien. Originally posted at PayLease

Landscaping: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About!

If there is any one common element that gets residents talking and thinking about their condominium or HOA, it is landscaping. The state of appearance in any community association is a direct reflection of its residents and the people responsible for maintaining the look and feel of the property. For most associations, that reflection lands directly on the board of directors and the property management firm.

Why is it so important that landscaping be a top priority for community associations? Quite simply, short of X-ray vision, the landscaping and beautification efforts put forth on behalf of a condominium or HOA are the most visible sign that a community is desirable and flourishing.

Put yourself in the position of a visitor or prospective buyer. What is the first thing you will notice while touring the grounds of a community association? Is it the well-managed reserve fund? Is it the money saved from prudent shopping for insurance? No! It’s the verdant landscape, beautiful trees, attractive shrubs, well-maintained walkways, garden trellises and such! Landscaping turns a slab of earth into a desirable piece of real estate.

I have also found that landscaping is a hot topic for residents. After all, they will enjoy or decry the decisions made about the landscaping they will see every day. In my community, we encourage involvement by allowing volunteer gardeners very small plots that they can tend to. They get to choose which flowers are planted (from a pre-approved selection, of course). Not only does this save the community a little money, it creates a sense of civic pride in that the residents are personally invested in the beautification of the property. When residents take ownership of how the property looks, everyone comes out ahead. Nothing makes me happier than seeing residents come together and work on a community project as a community. I have often said that better gardens make for better neighbors.

Finally, having a community-involved landscaping strategy just makes good business sense. I have found future board members from community volunteers whose first act of volunteerism was helping to plant some flowers. Turns out that by having community members involved in our landscaping choices, we weren’t just planting seeds in the garden. We were growing future leaders of our community. And that’s a landscaping project I’m happy to talk about, time and time again!

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo

Construction and Communication for Community Associations

Is there any time more critical to keep residents informed than when a new construction or maintenance project is about to get under way? Contractors are on site, residents can be confused and chaos is often the general order of the day. What can you do as an association manager or board member to keep the confusion to a minimum? In a word, communicate!

Construction and maintenance projects vary in scope but they all have certain things in common. These projects have generally been well discussed and planned by the condominium’s board of directors who has likely been working on the project for a year or more before the construction actually begins. In successful associations, the community newsletter or website is used to announce the earliest stages of these projects so that all homeowners have the opportunity to learn about the project before it even goes out to bid. This helps keep community members involved and informed. It also stops them from being surprised when the first construction vehicle appears to get the project started.

There are often significant logistic issues to coordinate between residents and contractors so the project can be completed. It is best to establish a time frame for what these issues are and when they need to be addressed. For instance, if every resident’s car needs to be moved off property so a new parking lot can be installed, it would be wise to give residents ample notice. They will need find an alternate place to store their vehicles for the few days they won’t have to access their parking lot. It would be a good idea to communicate viable solutions, like a nearby parking garage or lot, to residents at this time as well.

More advanced projects will require larger inconveniences such as utilities that need to be turned off so work can begin. Again, it is imperative that the exact dates and times of utility shut-offs be communicated to residents well in advance so they can make alternate arrangements. While a newsletter might do well to serve as an advance notice, letters, phone calls or even door-to-door communication efforts may be called for as the project gets closer. No one will be able to call you with a problem once their electricity and phone lines are down.

Another consideration is to provide residents with the reasons for the construction or maintenance project. For instance, if an insurer were to inform the board that the beautiful elm trees that grace the property’s perimeter are now a safety hazard and need to be removed, it would be best to explain to residents why the trees are being removed before the first one comes down. It is very difficult to explain something like that after the fact and the lack of adequate advance explanation will anger many residents. That anger is completely avoidable with proper communication.

Finally, construction and maintenance projects should be celebrated with residents once they are completed. Significant money and effort always go into such projects so it is important to celebrate their successful conclusion. A ceremonial ribbon-cutting to welcome repairs to the club house, christening the new common entrance with a champagne toast, a cook-out to celebrate the refurbished pool and tennis courts, are just a few ideas to bring the community together and celebrate the accomplishment. Don’t miss the opportunity to build community while building or rebuilding your community!

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo

5 Inexpensive and Creative Ways to Market Your Community

If you’re looking for ways to market on a tight budget, here are some simple ways to stretch your marketing dollar. Whether it’s for resident retention, or to create more prospects for your community, we’ve got you covered!

Use Four-Legged Friends to your Advantage

Everyone has pets these days! Communities who don’t allow pets can lose up to 60% of their potential resident pool. So marketing to your four-footed friends (and their owners) is a given. Consider having a “Pet of the Month” feature on your community Facebook page. You’ll get lots of entries, and the winning pet owners will undoubtedly share your content with their Facebook friends. You’ll get exposure, happy residents and maybe some prospects in the process.

On the resident retention side, make sure to host a “Yappy Hour” once a month as well. You can probably get a local pet store to kick in some dollars for food if they are allowed to market to the residents who attend. Yappy Hours are fun for everyone. Stock up on dog treats and have plenty of water dishes and toys around for everyone to play with at the event.

Make Model Units Memorable

If you’re looking to add some interest to your model apartments, don’t leave out some unique and different items to create interest. “Statement pieces” – basically very unique pieces of furniture are well worth their investment. People will remember the model and probably want to take a selfie or two of themselves with the statement piece, especially if it’s a great chair that photographs well.

Theming your models can also create greater interest and even help create a storyline with your prospects. OneEleven, a luxury high rise in Chicago, features a one bedroom apartment they simply call “Brad”. It’s obvious upon arrival that Brad is a single male who LOVES to bike in the Windy City. His bike is prominently placed on a rack in the dining area, and his closet has biking shoes and clothes. Leasing Professionals talk about Brad and his lifestyle while they tour the model with prospects. Both memorable and smart!

Looking for more model magic? Planned Property Management has a “Magic Fridge” at every one of their communities. What is a Magic Fridge? It’s a refrigerator loaded with snack food and beverages – both healthy and unhealthy. And no prospect leaves a Planned Property Management building without stopping at the ‘fridge for snack and a drink before they leave.

Don’t forget to put some funny and interesting items in as well. One of my favorites is a framed Hershey bar with signage that says, “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS”. I’ve never had anyone break the glass, but it might be wise to stock Hershey bars in your model just in case.

Get Creative with Signage

Eye-catching signage is critical as well. Make sure your bootleg signage features photographs as well as text. A photo of a cute puppy or kitten carries a much stronger message than one that simply says “Pets Welcome”. Balloons don’t have to be boring, helium ones attached to your sign either. Find an eye-catching, creative and fun balloon sculpture. They are not expensive or hard to find.

Banners don’t have to cost a fortune either. Staples sells amazing banners that you can create yourself. For less than $20 you can have a full color banner with custom graphics and verbiage. And best of all, they can be created online and ready for pickup in less than four hours.

Amenities don’t have to be Expensive Either!

Add unique amenities to your communities without breaking the bank. Creating a lending library of resident-donated books is easy. Upgrade the pool area by installing a mister fan. Installing a USB outlet in the master bedroom of your apartments will cost about $25 for the materials and will be a huge hit with today’s tech savvy renters. Use chalkboard paint to create a message center in your kitchens of your available apartments. Chalkboard paint is available from any hardware or paint store for about $10 for a 30oz can.

Add a Personal Touch

Other ways to stand out that don’t cost a thing? Take a tip from the AT&T store and walk every prospective resident to the door when they are leaving your property. Or create a signature ‘goodbye’ like Walgreen’s, whose “Thank you and be well” is universal.

Speaking of free marketing, your PayLease team has some great freebies to help you market your online payments plan to your residents and prospects. Ask them how they can help you to succeed.

It doesn’t cost a lot to stand out. You just need to take the initiative and go for it.

Written by Lisa Trosien. Originally posted at PayLease