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Digital Documents Balancing Safe Storage with Accessibility

Paper, or electronic? It’s now a choice for everything, from the books we read for pleasure to the books we keep on our associations and corporations. Even restaurant menus are digital today in the wake of the need for ‘touch-free’ environments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With that said, condo, co-op, and HOA communities generate volumes of information and data every year, from minutes of meetings to receipts for expenses and payments to financial information on unit and share buyers. But how much of all that really needs to be kept, and for how long? And is there anything that should be kept specifically in paper form, as well as digitized?

The Practical Approach

“We manage many different types of property of varying ages,” says Marty Moran, vice president of The Building Group (TBG), a property management firm based in Chicago. “The newer properties are fully digitalized, including everything from architectural drawings to manuals for equipment systems; but older properties—especially pre-1900 vintage co-ops—are not. The blueprints for these buildings are still essential for us when work needs to be done, so we encourage these properties to digitize their vintage drawings. 

“Digitization is not expensive and has proven essential for projects like roof replacements and boiler upgrades,” Moran continues. “Generally, when converting a property’s records to a digital format, we start with the most critical things. One building from the 1920s had the actual minutes from the very first meeting they held when the ownership was formed, as well as photos of the first board, etc. It was all very historical in nature and needed to be preserved. They digitized all those records and have a shadow box display with the original historical items in their boardroom.”

“Pre-pandemic,” says Dan Wollman, CEO of Gumley Haft, a management firm based in New York City, “we were moving to a new space that was smaller than our previous office, with less room for document storage. We scanned a million documents—we also got rid of a lot of documents. We culled through the files and scanned every single closing file, approved board package, stock certificate, financing info, etc. We had all this in a huge file room before. Now that room barely exists. It’s all digitized now. Everything is in a secure place with limited access availability. When someone sells their apartment, their file gets deleted because we don’t need it anymore. Digitalization is secure, available when needed, and protected. Everything is backed up in the cloud, and we have lots of bells and whistles for security.”

“We shifted to digital records some eight or nine years ago,” says Scott Wolf, managing partner at BRIGS, a large real estate management firm located in Massachusetts. “We started converting documents when scanning became available. Digitalization got rid of the file cabinets and boxes. I personally like paper, but I’ve come to understand that it’s redundant. Everything is available online now. We email everything with attachments—no more shifting papers and boxes by hand, which is particularly important now in light of COVID-19. I believe a majority of our competitors have converted to digital as well.”  

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