Tackling Condo Projects
Of course, this is a play on the title of the popular Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, starring an ensemble cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence. So, what does this Top 10 ranked film by the National Board of Review and American Film Institute have to do with condo or HOA issues? I will get to that. But in the meantime, for those not familiar with the movie, the plot explores the political, media, and government reaction to two astronomers’ announcement of the Earth on a collision path with a planet-killing asteroid. Finally, when impassioned speeches of denial give way to the hurtling asteroid visible in the sky, the political answer is, “Don’t look up.”
Of course, the movie is a satire on how these leadership groups handled current crises such as climate change, COVID-19, and recent political events. The film dramatically illustrates how leadership groups and the general public can act indifferent or ignore bad or inconvenient news delivered by scientists or engineers when there is a preponderance of solid technical evidence to back up their conclusions or recommendations. The truly scary part of the movie is it almost believable.
Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt
It is not that collapsing condo buildings, deck collapses, and catastrophic building system failures do not make the news, but rather, when bad news hits the fan, human nature provides us a tendency to run in the opposite direction. When an engineer presents the case at a condo board meeting of the need for an expensive capital repair project, it is often not the board ignoring the issues, but rather the distracting source comes from the audience. Many times, the condo curmudgeon tries to confuse the meeting with negativism and other disruptive tactics to postpone or avoid any decision leading to change or spending money. I refer to this as throwing FUD on the table: FUD as in fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Of course, the best method of controlling this type of behavior is to not lose control of the meeting. This takes meeting discipline and training. They do not teach effective condo board management in school. It is often a learn-on-the-job type of education. I have always admired the Community Association Institute’s role in training both board members and property managers in the art of the meeting. After all, condos are not businesses, but more like extended families needing to be run in a business-like manner.
Managing the Meeting
The first step in meeting control is to maintain a system of consistent rules and policies. Having a prepared agenda is key to setting the tone of a meeting. It establishes a chart to navigate through the presentation of issues, orderly discussions, and framework for the decision process. Educating meeting attendees on how motions are made and seconded, time limits on discussions, and voting rules goes a long way in creating an environment for a successful meeting. A well-written policy statement handed out to all attendees is helpful as people have a hard time arguing with a piece of paper rather than a real person.
A good board will be open to new ideas from all sources but will have the means to control the condo commando who wants to take over the session. Boards often set up Homeowner Forums of 30 minutes to an hour at the front or end of a meeting with strict time limits for each speaker. A well-prepared board will have the facts and answers to sweep the FUD off the table.
Decision-Making and Follow-Through
Associations often must face difficult problems and make hard decisions. Perhaps it has just been determined all the exterior siding or roofs must be unexpectedly resurfaced. Maybe the plumber just advised the board all the heat system hydronic piping in a 12-story high-rise has to be replaced. When the initial sticker shock hits and the specter of a hefty special assessment in the near future are realized, unit owners begin to panic.
It is at this time firm leadership needs to step up and remind everyone they are all in it together and whether they know their neighbor or not, they are all in a sense a family, and as a family, they must keep their family business within the family. This means one does not tell the hairdresser about the roof leaking, or the grocery clerk about the siding falling off, or even the brother-in-law about the pipe failure. This is critical because when the hairdresser passes the rumor on, no one in the association would recognize the story by the third iteration.
Today’s real estate world is much more in tune with condos in distress or underfunded reserve funds. Disclosures should be made in an orderly way with a timely reserve funding plan in place. These problems are not solved by hanging out the laundry but rather recognizing the problem and establishing a plan to fix it. A plan of action allowing the unit owners to feel confident their equity will be protected by joining together to meet common goals.
The solution to hard problems has a consistent theme: Don’t look away. A successful association will have a board prepared to deal with a difficult future and the rules to guide and the sense to follow.