Regular discussions between management companies and resident-owned communities’ boards create transparency that avert disputes. Pictured is the Peabody Properties-managed Brownstone Apartments at 163 West Springfield St. in Boston. Photo courtesy of Peabody Properties

Strong partnerships between property owners and their property management firms are vital to ensuring communities are well-cared-for and run smoothly. 

Collaboration between these two entities goes far toward ensuring satisfaction among residents. And when the residents of a particular community are also the owners, the importance of a functional working relationship is more critical than ever. Transparency, communication and forward action are three key components in building a successful partnership. 

To start, property management firms need to understand the goals and objectives of a resident-owned board – after all, it’s important to remember that the property management firm works for the board. By setting a baseline of transparency right away, both sides will have a better understanding of expectations, as well as what information should be reported on, or what particular metrics will be examined.  It’s especially helpful for this kind of information to be delivered in advance of board meetings, so that everyone has a proper chance to review the materials and come to the meetings better prepared to discuss any issues or get clarity on any questions. 

Property management teams should also stay the course with constant, honest dialogue and be ready to deliver any bad news as quickly as you would deliver the good news. 

Accountability Through Regular Discussions 

Strong communication skills go hand-in-hand with transparency. Start by learning and understanding the communication guidelines and the rhythm of the board, and never fear asking for help or clarification, as this is a good mechanism for trust-building between the board and property management firm. 

In a similar vein, a property management firm should never make a decision on behalf of the board – any decision should come about through discussion and mutual understanding. Additionally, it’s important to realize that many owner boards might not have a background in property management. Therefore, in addition to learning their goals and objectives, it may be important for you to inform them a bit about the business of property management.  

Finally, be candid about problems, but be sure to offer potential solutions, rather than just presenting open-ended problems that might quickly overwhelm the board and leave them feeling less confident in your oversight.     

Set Goals Early 

As an example, we worked with one resident-owned community with a newly elected board. In our first meeting we established goals and objectives. The board was capital improvement-oriented and wanted a number of projects completed in successive years. The funding sources for the project needed to be from the property reserves, as it was made clear that a refinance or restructure was not the direction the owners were interested in exploring. This owner board was also initially against any rent increases. 

It was critical to map out the priority and cost of each project versus the financial landscape of the property.  It took several meetings to arrive at a plan to complete the desired and necessary projects.  Although rent increases were not initially a direction the board wanted to take, after some painstaking conversations they understood based on clear illustration how the increases – to be staged over successive years to ensure replenishment to the reserve account – became the linchpin to the plan. 

Laurie McGrath

In addition to dealing with the day-to-day issues of a community, a property management firm also needs to help a resident-owned board be forward-thinking. Together, establish goals, objectives and expectations, and build in regular intervals of reevaluation. Although a board’s goals and a property manager’s goals might not line up exactly the first time, by using the tools of transparency and communication, the two sides should be able to eventually come up with a plan. 

Once you have, be sure to hit on these goals every meeting. Put them on the agenda each time, so that the board can be constantly reminded about what has been decided and how these goals will be achieved. Doing so also adds an element of accountability, and offers the opportunity to be flexible and readjust as needed depending on issues that might arise or changes in circumstance. 

By creating a baseline of transparency, consistency in communication and a plan for the future, a property management firm and resident-owned board will have the tools needed to effectively collaborate, establish best practices and realize outcomes that positively impact the board, the property management firm and the community as a whole. 

Laurie McGrath is vice president of affordable housing at The Peabody Cos. 

A Recipe for Successful Management of Resident-Owned Communities

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min