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Keri Gerheart

HOA New Year’s Resolutions: 2015 Edition

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It’s that time of the year! The time to look back on 2014 and set goals for 2015. Here at Barrera and Company we sincerely hope you are able to learn Spanish and lose 15 pounds but more importantly – we are here to help you set and reach the goals of your Home Owner’s Association.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with a list of worthy goals for your HOA to pursue in 2015. Keep in mind, these are just examples! Feel free to get creative and come up with goals that are most relevant to your association.

1. Make sure you’ve completed your Annual Budget Report (Civil Code 5300) and Annual Policy Statement (Civil Code 5310) and are providing them to owners.

2. Unfortunately, most HOAs are not fully funded. If that’s you, make it a priority to increase your reserve funds this year by at least 20%.

READ MORE: The Reality of Underfunded Reserves

3. Speaking of which… Complete a Reserve Study! (pssst… we can help!)

READ MORE: The Importance of a Reserve Study

4. Update your CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) and Bylaws to use the new Civil Code references (new numbers took effect in 2014).

5. Challenge all HOA members to review the governing documents (CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules). The new year is a great time for a refresher!

READ MORE: What are CC&Rs and Why Should I Care?

6. This year, set a goal to limit board meetings to 2 hours, and aim for a meeting length of 1 – 1.5 hours.

READ MORE: 6 Ways to Improve your HOA Board Meetings 

7. Try to improve communication and transparency in your community by updating (or establishing) your association’s website. Keep an up to date calendar and post pertinent documents and information for download. For bonus points – establish an email database and send quarterly newsletters and/or event reminders.

8. Contact your local utility provider and request an audit for your association’s use of electricity, gas, and water. You may be able to identify areas of waste or opportunities for subsidy backed retrofits.

READ MORE: Save Water – Save the Planet, Save Money!

9. Look for opportunities to establish committees, to share the workload, and offer members opportunities to get involved.

READ MORE: 6 Ways to Prevent Board Member Fatigue

10. Make an effort to get to know each owner and recruit new board members.

What other resolutions can you think of?

Holiday Decorations and Your HOA

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From Florida to California, reports are coming in about HOAs and homeowners butting heads over holiday decorations. It’s common for associations to have rules governing the timing, type and scale of homeowner displays. For example, holiday decorations may be limited to 30 days before and after the holiday. The association may also choose to forbid things like blinking, audible or plastic decorations. Another common ruling is to limit the length of lighting strands – for example you may be allowed one ten foot strand of lights on your balcony.

Every year we hear the great debate about whether or not HOAs can and should implement such rules. Some homeowners feel like it’s their right to decorate their house how and when they want. To put this bluntly – it is not.

It’s the role of an HOA board is to enforce the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. CC&Rs are in place to protect, preserve and/or enhance property values within the community. A big part of this is the aesthetics of the property. The CC&Rs can dictate the color you are allowed paint your house, the size of the tree in your front yard and, you guessed it, the timing, type and scale of holiday decorations!

The CC&Rs are made available to every prospective home buyer and is one of the first and most important documents to understand when purchasing a home governed by an HOA. Often times, new homeowners gloss over that part about holiday decorations when house hunting, then find themselves complaining come November.

The fact of the matter is this: If you’re a homeowner living within a community governed by an HOA, you have two options. Passively abide or actively seek change. If you think your HOA is being unfair and over the top about holiday regulations, take it up with the board and fellow neighbors. Maybe you’re not the only one to feel this way. A good HOA board will listen and rule democratically. The moral of the story is try to seek change by working within the system you bought into, before talking to the local news.

4 Steps to Better HOA Meeting Minutes

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For some, the task of recording HOA meeting minutes is second nature (most likely our studious friends). For most, this is a tedious, burdensome task. Either way, it’s a very serious and important duty. Board meeting minutes are helpful in reviewing past meetings, particularly to catch up new board members. Minutes are considered official records and can even be used in a court of law.

This week we’ll explore some ways you can streamline the process to make your job a little less painful and much more productive.

1) Stick to the Agenda

A predetermined agenda keeps everyone on task and focused on the important issues during the meeting. It also makes it easier for the recorder to follow along and appropriately group discussions  within the minutes without jumping from topic to topic. This is the first step to keeping painless, accurate meeting minutes.

2) Create a HOA meeting minutes template

As I mentioned above, HOA meeting minutes should follow the agenda. Take this one step further to create a meeting minutes template to follow. Take the guess work out and keeping minutes starts to become second nature.

Each time, minutes should note:

The type of meeting (annual meeting, board meeting, called board meeting, etc.)
The name of your homeowners’ association
The date, time and location of the meeting
Members present
Members absent
Call to order
Approval of previous meeting minutes
Financial report – presented/received
Manager’s report – presented/received
Committee reports – presented/received
Old/New Business – Motions – name of motion maker, wording & disposition
Time of adjournment

Click here for 3 example templates

3) Be thorough and specific

Make a habit to include all pertinent motion details such as the motion maker, vendor name, contract date, exact dollar amounts etc. Try to capture as many specifics as you can.

4) Send a draft

Send the first draft of the minutes to the association manager or president for review. Make the appropriate edits before they are forwarded to the rest of the board. If necessary, field comments from the rest of the board and make one last round of revisions at or before the next meeting.

By implementing a standard process to capture and share your meeting’s minutes, you can save time and improve accuracy. This inevitably leads to more effective / efficient meetings and a healthier HOA.


Read More: Establishing Guidelines for New HOA Board Members

Establishing Guidelines for New HOA Board Members

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Unfortunately the role of an HOA Board Member doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual. Most new board members didn’t major in Home Owner’s Associations, and usually don’t receive proper training either. To top it off, the position comes with significant commitment for volunteer gig. This doesn’t set up the well intentioned but inexperienced board member for success and often leads to an early burn out.

The solution?

Set some guidelines as a Board to insure that new board members can hit the ground running… in the right direction.

Here’s some things you’ll want to establish:

1) Expected Attendance

As I said, becoming a Board Member is a big commitment – mostly with respect to time. Be clear about how often your board meets and establish that members should be aiming to attend just about all of them. Participation is the most important expectation to establish off the bat.

2) Provide a Background

Before a new board member can be productive (ie is allowed to actively participate), they should be given a copy of your association’s governing documents and past meeting minutes. Make this a habit, establish it as a requirement and encourage questions.

3) Establish Priorities

Your Homeowner’s Association comes first. It’s that simple. As a Board Member you’ve been entrusted with the operation of the Association and are required to act in its best interest as a whole – not yours and not your neighbor’s. Board Members should be forbidden to accept gifts, tips or favors from people in exchange for influencing decisions. No homeowner, board member or contractor should ever receive any special treatment.

4) Seek Competitive Bids

To help insure there is no special treatment, make it policy that your board must solicit competitive bids and vote collectively before a decision is made.

5) Know the team

Not just fellow Board Members, either. Each new Member should be given a list and introduced to contractors and vendors that work with your association – CPAs, attorneys, landscapers, contractors, property managers, etc. Each Member should be empowered and comfortable picking up the phone to call in support from the extended team.

6) Stick together

The Board must always reach collective decisions. Board business should only be discussed in meeting and recorded as minutes. Voting establishes a consensus and everyone (even those who disagree) should support the outcome.

7) Disclose, Disclose, Disclose

Is your cousin providing the common area furniture? Ideally he’s not but if he is, make sure to disclose anything that may be a conflict of interest. When in doubt – disclose it.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg but hopefully you can see where we’re going with this. If you don’t already have guidelines and a process for welcoming new Board Members, take some time at your next meeting to bring it up. Taking a little time now to plan ahead will produce active, productive Members in the future.

Read More: 4 Mistakes New HOA Board Members Make (and how to avoid them)

6 Ways to Prevent HOA Board Member Fatigue

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Do you ever feel like 20% of your board members are doing 80% of the work? Unfortunately you’re not alone. An unbalanced workload can be damaging to team morale and is unsustainable in the long run. All to often overworked members find themselves burnt out and looking for the door.
Luckily there are some things we can do to prevent this from happening to your association.

1. Think macro, not micro.

The smaller your association, the harder this is. But, try to remember that the most important role you have as a board member is to set and enforce big picture policy. Don’t get stuck volunteering and micromanaging day to day tasks to the point of burnout.
Don’t be afraid to delegate!

2. Whats really important?

You may leave the meeting with 20 tasks for immediate completion but maybe only 10 must be completed before the next meeting. Be honest and realistic about what needs to be done and more importantly what can be done.
Don’t place unnecessary pressure on yourself and other members.

3. Always be recruiting.

Be on the lookout for interested home owners and invite them to serve on committees that report back to the board. This way they can get their feet wet and learn about the role of a board member.
New blood is a great way to prevent board member fatigue.

4. Switch it up!

Sometimes the best way to fight board member burnout is to change roles. Maybe you can find new life with new responsibilities.

5. Play to your strengths.

Speaking of your role… Make an effort to help out in areas you enjoy and are confident in. Nothing burns out an art teacher faster than balancing the books.
Maybe the accountant can handle that?

6. Be aware and appreciative.

Remember, it’s not all about you. Look for the signs of burnout in your fellow board members. Help them out by recognizing and appreciating their hard work.
There’s no ‘i’ in team!



Read More: 4 Mistakes Most New Board Members Make (And how to avoid them)

Fund Reserves by Cutting Your HOA budget In These 4 Areas

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Barrera and Company specializes in Reserve Studies that help communities protect their property value by planning for the future. Our reports make it easy for HOAs to set realistic budgets that combat against the dreaded special assessment. This alone is a necessary first step. But, we highly recommend taking a good hard look at your expenses as well. We help Associations determine what needs to be set aside but, at the end of the day, they have to find the funds. The good news is that there are always pennies to be pinched (and reallocated towards reserve funds!)

Here are a few ideas:

1. Consult with your insurance agent

Insurance is probably your Community’s largest expense. It’s extremely important that you have the right coverage in place for the right price. The insurance world is in constant flux and is best understood by your local agent. At the very least, do an annual review with your existing agent. With an expense this large feel free to do some annual shopping around as well.

2. Take a look at utilities 

This is probably your second largest expense so it pays (literally) to keep an eye on it. The lowest hanging fruit here is your bill. Keep an eye on it for major rate hikes and/or spikes in usage. Feeling a little more proactive? Great! Check out local rebate programs for energy and water efficient retrofits. You might be able to upgrade to low flow toilets, and LED lighting for little to no upfront cost. For bonus points, consider low maintenance, drought tolerant landscaping.

3.  Negotiate contracts

Most Boards oversee contract workers. Try to meet with each of them at least once or twice per year to evaluate their work and your rates. Again, don’t be afraid to shop around for better prices.

4. Separate needs from wants

We’ve seen communities cut reserve funds in order to refurbish the club house. This is a great example of short sighted, irresponsible decision making that happens all too often (sorry to be blunt). This will inevitably lead to special assessments and lower property values (try selling a condo in an under funded Association).


Read More: Cut Your Costs in 2013!

6 ways to improve your HOA board meetings

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1. Select a mutually convenient location. Your community club house is ideal but a nearby restaurant, school or church might work also. Keep in mind, you’ll need table space and a semi-quite environment. Keep it close to home for a better turn out.

2. Always be prepared. Never wing it. Help others do the same by creating and dispersing the agenda well before the meeting. Keep in mind – meetings are for making decisions. Everything else should be kept to a minimum.

3. Bring your association documents – especially the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). Any other supporting documentation such as Bylaws or additional Rules and Regulations may prove useful as well. It’s best to keep all these documents together and never leave home without them. You can never be too prepared.

4. All for questions. When allowing association members to attend meetings, be sure to set clear expectations that all comments / questions will be held until the end of the meeting. You want to be inclusive but don’t lose control of your board meeting. Remember – the goal is to make decisions, not argue.

5. End each meeting with a wrap-up – it should include action items and meeting minutes so everyone is prepared for the next meeting. Always share both items with the entire association within 2-3 weeks of the meeting.

6. Never allow alcohol, small children, or pets at the meeting. We love parties, kids and pets as much as the next guy but they have no place in a board meeting. Again, making decisions efficiently and effectively is the name of the game.


Read More: How to Hold a Successful Annual HOA Meeting

6 Steps for Removing a Board Member

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Unfortunately, there are many reasons for which HOA board members are ousted from power. Felony convictions, acts of fraud, or simply not performing the duties required of a board member – all are more common than you might think. The silver lining here is that it is possible for an HOA to remove the board member for their mistakes; hopefully before too much damage is done.

Here’s how:

1. See governing documents

The governing documents of your Homeowners Association should clearly state the necessary procedure for recalling board members. Look especially close to the following information: how can votes be submitted? What percentage of votes are needed for removal? How can the new board position(s) be filled?

2. Consult an attorney / See local and state laws

Depending on the situation and state, there may be additional laws your HOA is required to follow. Failure to do the proper due diligence could exacerbate the situation – not to mention cost you a lot of money down the road.

3. Initiate a petition, collect signatures

Draft a proposal to recall the board member(s) and secure the required signatures from homeowners. Depending on your HOA’s governing documents, you may need to include the reason(s) for the removal.

4. Plan to replace the member(s)

Assuming your petition is successful, you’ll need to fill the board seats rather quickly after the offending member(s) are removed. Luckily, the governing documents should determine how to go about this. Either way, it’s important to plan ahead before heading into the war room.

5. Hold a meeting to for the final vote

It’s extremely important to do this in accordance with your governing documents and state laws. Both may dictate how to go about this and also how much advance notice is required for homeowners.

6. Vote!

If the vote is successful in recalling board members, it’s advisable to elect new members immediately to fill those vacant seats. Otherwise, the removed members may be able to continue to serve on the board until the new members are elected.

Removing a board member is certainly possible and in many cases completely necessary. But it’s definitely not easy and in some cases can be personal. It should only be done after careful consideration and for the greater good of the association.


Read More: Role of an HOA Board

Water Efficient Landscape Maintenance – The Easy Way

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Here in California we’re experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades. State wide, officials are calling for more stringent limitations on water usage. Water conservation is becoming necessary and even mandatory.Whether your HOA needs to save water to comply with state mandates, wants to save money or simply wants to be eco friendly – summer lawn and yard maintenance is a great place to start.We’ve put together a list of commonly overlooked tips that your HOA can put into practice today with little or no money.

1. Water aggressively

I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes – you heard that right. By watering your lawn more heavily but less often, you can actually conserve the total amount of water used. By watering more aggressively, the water will last much longer — meaning you can go for longer periods of time without needing to water.

2. Easy on the cleanup

When the lawn is mowed, try leaving some clippings (not too many as it will look sloppy and unmaintained). The clippings act as a natural fertilizer which helps keep the lawn healthy with less water.

3. Try Organic fertilizers

Extra grass clippings not doing the job? Organic fertilizers could be a good bet but be warned that they take a bit longer to show results. With that said, the results they offer will ultimately last much longer, and keep your lawn healthier. This is a good investment but definitely not a quick fix.

4. Don’t get carried away

Cutting your lawn too short can actually lead to root damage and ultimately a dying lawn. When most people see a dying lawn there first reaction is to give it more water. This can be avoided with one simple rule of thumb: only mow the grass by approximately one third of its current length.

These are just a few easy and cost effective methods. But don’t forget there’s plenty of other ways for your HOA to save water when it comes to landscape maintenance. If you are up for spending the time and money – be sure to look into things like drought resistant landscape, drip irrigation and smart controllers.


Read More: Water Conservation – Save the Planet, Save Money!

CC&Rs – What Are They and Why Should I Care?

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In the past, while discussing Homeowners Associations and Reserve Studies, we’ve often mentioned CC&Rs or “Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions”. But what are they exactly?


This week we thought it would be a good idea to demystify this intimidating acronym. The good news is that it’s not quite as complicated as you might think.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know.

Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are rules and limitations that govern on a group of homes (aka a community). Typically they are established by the developer, neighborhood association and / or homeowner association (aka HOA) to protect, preserve and/or enhance property values within the community. CC&Rs govern all town homes and condos; and most planned unit developments. They might, for example, prohibit owners from parking their cars on the street, watering the yard on certain days or even painting their house certain colors.

While much of the CC&Rs dictate aesthetics and promote conformity, you can also find important information regarding the homeowner’s financial obligations. For example, HOAs typically require to pay monthly dues and assessments. The types of dues, assessments, and penalties for non-payment (such as interest and late charges) can be found in.. you guessed it, the CC&Rs. If an owner falls behind on dues and/or assessments, the HOA may have the authority to file a lien on the home, which could lead to foreclosure.

To recap – The seemingly daunting CC&Rs simply boil down to the rules of your community. It’s easy to see why all homeowners and HOA board members should know this document inside and out. So make sure to take the time to familiarize yourself early and check back often.

Read More: 6 Ways to Prevent Board Member Fatigue