Sooner or later, every resident living in a condo association ot HOA community will have to deal with the inconvenience of living through a major capital improvement project—a roof replacement, an elevator rehab, serious exterior work, or something of that nature. No matter how carefully the project is scheduled, inevitably it will be disturbing someone. But with strategic planning and constant communication between board members, residents, management and the project crew, the hassle of the project can be significantly reduced.
Those Pesky Projects
All capital improvement projects have their major inconveniences but industry professionals note that some are definitely more disruptive than others, namely a roof or façade replacement, or even a road repair.
“The most disruptive projects are the ones that obviously are going to interrupt daily routines of those residents,” says Russ Zwergel, senior manager at Cambridge Property Management in Totowa, New Jersey. “For example, a roofing project where residents' routine is going to be interrupted because of access to the premises.”
Exterior projects such as repaving the parking lot have also proven to require tip top organizational skills from management. “The milling up of old pavement, preparation of the underlayment and then actually repaving the lot, you have to keep people off that surface for a couple of days. When you to take people away from where they are accustomed to parking, you have to make sure that everything is moved so the project can go off,” says Scott Dalley, senior vice president at Access Property Management in Flemington, New Jersey. “Those kinds of projects are typically the most difficult in terms of how they affect the residents.”
Although some projects can be done without interfering with the lives of the residents, the noise, dust, disruption and general hassle can sometimes be unavoidable.
The impact of a capital improvement project can be reduced if building administrators prepare both themselves and their residents adequately for an upcoming project.
When the board or management is initially planning to undertake the project many months in advance, it is critical to keep everyone informed about the potential schedule, costs and purpose. “When boards undertake a large-scale capital improvement program, such as installing a new roof garden, replacing windows or a heating plant, repaving a parking lot, or restoring the facade, they take on a serious financial commitment for their building,” says Stephen Varone, AIA, president of New York City-based RAND Engineering & Architecture. “Unfortunately, too many boards forge ahead without taking the necessary steps to adequately determine the anticipated costs associated with their plans, thereby risking a serious fiscal shortfall.”
Varone encourages boards to make sure they have adequate funds available for the projects before jumping in, determine which projects are the most critical at the time and establish a contingency fund that can cover any unanticipated costs. Taking these steps can ensure that projects will run smoothly and won't be interrupted or delayed due to financial constraints.
For major capital improvement projects, communication is key. “Earlier notice and frequent notice is good,” says Zwergel. When his company was involved in a repainting project in one of their communities, the last three months they sent out frequent notices to the residents to remind them of the work that would be done.
Dalley agrees. “If you are planning to do a parking lot re-pavement project and it is going to happen in June, you want to start talking about it in February. Not because you will be able to provide the details but you want to plant the seed and remind people. You may want to mention it in the newsletter or the website, however you give information in your community,” he says. This way residents don't feel like the project came out of nowhere, they were consistently reminded of it, he adds.
Notices, updates and scheduling regarding the project can be dispersed in many different forms. Posting updates your community website or sending email blasts may be the most cost-effective and fastest method, but emails could get lost and not everyone may check the site, says Zwergel. But all hope is not lost in technology. “Usually when people get burned once on a project because it interrupted their daily routine, you'll find that they then become a devotee of accessing the website. But it usually takes that interruption in their lives before that discipline happens. The website may be useful but people have to get in the habit of going in there and looking at it,” he says.
Dalley suggests that using an automatic dialing system the week of or even the day of the project can be helpful in the final days prior to the start of a project. “You shoot that out several times so that is really on their mind and if they are leaving on vacation, they can make appropriate arrangements.”
Scheduling the Work
While there is no job that can be perfectly scheduled, certain actions can be taken to help minimize the impact on residents.
Many times, projects are best completed during the day when residents are at work or generally away from home. “Doing it while they are away from home makes it more palatable for them. The hammering and the noise is taking place while they are away. Of course, you will have some people who are at home, and it will be inconvenient for them, but you really have to look at your demographic and try to figure it that way,” says Dalley.
A lot of times the project dictates when you will be able to do the work. Obviously, it would be very difficult to revamp the facade or redo the parking lot in the winter but might be equally as challenging in a summer heat wave. “Certain projects are going to be dictated by climate. You have things like roofing—you don't want to be opening up roofs or replacing windows in the middle of winter. Same thing with painting. You don't have the chemistry that's necessary to paint in 20-degree temperatures. You know you have to do that when it's 50 degrees or above,” Zwergel explains.
No matter what time of day or year a project is scheduled, it will for sure be inconvenient to someone but this should not deter plans or scheduling. “You pretty much have to drive the project. You have to tell the residents this is when it is happening. You know we're really sorry if it inconveniences some of you. But you can think about it, if you have this whole logistical string that you've got to line up between the contractors, the suppliers, the laborers—whatever it is then you can't say to a specific group or small group of residents that unfortunately we're going to have delay this project because you guys can't accommodate it,” Zwergel says.
When Complaints Arise
Unfortunately, no matter how meticulous the organization and how prepped the residents and team is for the project, problems may arise.
“This is a fact of life that in a project manager's existence is that things never go as planned,” says Noel Richardson, an association manager at Cambridge Property Management . “So it's a matter of adjusting those plans and coming up with the best solutions as quickly as possible. And I think one of the things that empowers the management company to do that is the confidence of their boards. Whether that stems straight in giving them certain standard authorities during the life of the project or it could be in soliciting additional expertise, subject matter experts—whatever the situation is, so it can be dealt with quickly. It should be dealt with quickly. That's really key. When you're doing a project, I mean, it's a schedule. You got two weeks to two months or two years or whatever to finish this thing and you got a budget to work within. And there are going to be unforeseen circumstances that crop up.”
Ask for Help
Good communication with your residents is key but some problems can leave even the most experienced association manager baffled. Turn to higher-ups in the company first. They may have experienced the same problem or may have another association manager who has gone through something similar and can offer first-hand advice or experience. If the project causes any legal glitches, get advice from an attorney.
Richardson stresses the importance of having adequate insurance covering the project. “The project itself is not a major legal issue. The biggest issue in projects is actually insurance. Are you covered in case something goes wrong?” he asks.
Also, organizations, such as the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) (which has offices in Las Vegas and Reno) or the Nevada chapter of Community Associations Institute (CAI), have resources, including back issues of their publication articles, which are available to members on their websites. There might be a particular problem with capital improvement projects that someone has either experienced or can help you with. These organizations also offer online services to make your job easier.
Editorial Assistant Maggie Puniewska contributed to this article.