your management company should be a team

Even when it’s welcomed, change often comes with challenge. A big change, like changing your community association management company, can be labor intensive and potentially stressful, even under the best of circumstances. In the worst of them? It can go very badly, very quickly. In extreme circumstances, board members who have been badly burned may resist changing management to avoid the transition process!
How can your association avoid missteps and pitfalls when switching from one community management company to another? A great management company will have a depth of resources for your community, and that includes resources to help with your transition. To make sure that your transition goes well, you need to be able to rely on the skills of professionals in every facet of it.
What does a transition accomplish?  
Transition is the time that the current and new management companies come together to transfer the most basic and important information about your community: financial statements, databases of resident information, vendor contracts and more. You’re handing the keys to your business over to a new manager, and it’s important to make sure that they get all of the information they need to do the job the right way. In this transition process, accuracy and attention to detail are paramount.
What must be done during a transition?
  • Meet, evaluate and train existing staff
  • Hire and train new staff if needed
  • Review HOA budget and make recommendations
  • Install new software systems and transfer data
  • Meet with and update the board of directors
  • Receive official documents from former management company
  • Create a resident communication plan
  • Open new bank accounts
  • Inspect and asses the property and all of its physical assets and systems
  • Ensure billing goes out on time and error-free
  • Review vendor contracts
  • Examine insurance coverages and identify any gaps
The above list includes a lot of the basic and most critical functions of any community association. It’s important to take the time to do them correctly because they require attention to detail. They affect the financial well-being of your community, which is what drives everything else about it.  A single community association manager, even a talented one, can’t properly handle all of these items in the 60 days or so that are standard to a transition.

What are some common transition pitfalls?
  • Improper billing and assessment fees
  • Lack of communication with residents, leading to a rumor mill
  • Lack of morale among existing staff over fears of job loss  
  • Misplaced or lost official documents
  • Statements not completed on time
  • Inaccuracies in financial records due to software incompatibility
  • Financial mistakes
  • Oversights in vendor contracts
Why is it important to have a team?  
Looking at the list of tasks to accomplish and pitfalls to avoid, it’s pretty clear that these important tasks can’t be handled by only one person, no matter how skilled or dedicated. There’s too much at stake. A transition that doesn’t go well will lead to unhappy board members and disgruntled residents. The best transitions are those handled by a community association management company which uses a team approach.

How does having a team on your side make your transition smoother?
Doesn’t it feel great when you know that your car is in the hands of an experienced, professional mechanic? It’s no different when you realize that your community has access to experienced, professional accounting, human resources, information technology and administrative specialists. With an entire team of professionals – plus a skilled community association manager – supporting your board for weeks before the handover, the chances of a smooth, seamless transition go up dramatically.
As early as 90 days before the handover, the client transition team is already at work, studying, reviewing and making recommendations on every aspect of the community. The team that works on a community transition can consist of up to six professionals.

Transition teams often include the professional associates: 
  • Transition Lead is the conduit for all members on the team. The lead conducts a thorough review of the community, works with the current management company to gather information and documents, sets goals and timelines for accomplishing tasks, and much more.
  • Connect Specialist – A resource will work with the transition team to launch FirstService Residential’s advanced proprietary community management software, FirstService Residential Connect™ is a best-in-class solution to share community information, facilitate communication among all parties, make payments and much more. The community will also have its own interactive web site for residents to use and enjoy.
  • Corporate Support and Resources – All members of a community’s transition team have the full support of a corporate staff deeply experienced in the disciplines necessary for healthy community management. 
  • Human Resources Specialist – Existing staff within a community naturally wonder whether a new management company will keep them on board. An HR specialist will meet and evaluate each associate, answering any questions and explain the transition process. The HR associate will then communicate company policies on payroll, employee training and other procedures.
  • Accounting Specialist – The responsibilities of the accounting specialist include reviewing the association’s budget, bookkeeping and all other financial matters to ensure they are error-free and within compliance of the association’s rules and applicable laws. This person is in a great position to start identifying areas where the board could earn better returns, optimize their operating budget, minimize risks and protect assets.
What does this really mean for your community? 
Scott Bresnick, vice president of operations at FirstService Residential, said that his teams in South Carolina create a full onboarding plan for every community prior to the transition. Explaining the roles of everyone on the team and how they will interact with the association goes a long way toward putting everyone at ease. That includes job descriptions for the team members, a calendar of tasks and events. They need to know who is behind the scenes as well as the people they will interact with regularly.

“Ideally, we start working with a board three months before handover and continue for up to six months afterward. We have department heads who come together on a frequent basis to discuss challenges and problems so that they can get any support that is required,” he explained. “There is a transition lead, a number of operational resources, as well as accounting resources which is a significant piece of the nuts and bolts regarding transition. We want to make sure that everything is ready to go regarding receivables, payables, collections activity and resale activity.”

Bresnick said that a transition, done well, must be seamless to residents, that they should realize a clear delineation but no disruption in services. “They will get communications from us that clearly explains all steps,” he said. “We often execute a welcome event and meet and greet as well, so that residents can get to know their local team.
Having a clear understanding of board expectations is a critical piece of the transition puzzle for Bresnick’s teams. “We meet with the board, especially on complex accounts, to set up a strategy for both long term and short term goals,” he said. “We want a full understanding of what they want to accomplish in the first 12 to 24 months and what they can expect from us.”

Communicating expectations goes both ways. “We hold board trainings. Those trainings clarify their roles in governance and help them better understand how to be an effective board. We will also craft a responsibility checklist to communicate our thoughts on what the board is responsible for and what are management’s responsibilities. This exercise helps everyone better understand their roles and is an opportunity to clear up any gray areas,” Bresnick said.

Transitioning from one property management company to another is a challenging and work-intensive venture, and a road that all communities go down eventually. It doesn’t have to be painful!  Consider hiring a management company that provides a team of knowledgeable professionals to guide your board through the process of change. 

To learn more about how a team approach can help your board transition smoothly from one management company to another, contact FirstService Residential, South Carolina’s leading community association management company.
Wednesday June 21, 2017