Isaiah Vigil Joins Sharper Management

Isaiah Vigil Joins Sharper Management

Isaiah Vigil has joined the Sharper Management team as a Community Manager.

Vigil brings a background in the hospitality management world to his new role with Sharper Management. A dedicated professional, his positive attitude and a true dedication to working with others in a team as well as family environment are things that attracted him to the company.

“We are thrilled to add Isaiah to the Sharper family.  His aptitude for this industry coupled with his professionalism and customer service have proven to be great assets.  We are already receiving compliments from properties he manages,” states Candy Lee, Director of Community Management.

Storm Damage and Your HOA – Choosing a Restoration Company

Storm Damage and Your HOA – Choosing a Restoration Company

Summer storms in Minnesota are shaping up to be a regular occurrence in 2017. The June storm that caused significant damage in the northern metro prompted us to review a few things you may want to know about storm damage and living in an HOA.

First off, all HOAs have their own set of governing documents that dictate protocol for things such as external maintenance and restoration. Generally, your HOA’s insurance protects the exterior of your home (studs out) while your homeowner’s policy will cover the interior (studs in). This may differ in townhome associations that are free-standing (those with no shared walls or roof lines).

With that being said, in the event of a major storm that creates exterior damage to your HOA such as hail damage, loss of roofing, trees falling on your home etc., the Association’s policy covers your exterior. What may be confusing is coverage for damage on the inside of your home as the result of storm damage. An example of this is water damage caused by a hole left in the roof after a storm. Your insurance (you) are responsible for the water damage inside your unit.

Restoration companies that specialize in 24-hour response are critical in mitigating further damage from a storm event. When we look for storm damage companies, this is one of the first things we ask of the restoration company. What mitigation and temporary things do you put in place to minimize further damage.

Keep in mind an emergency response to the situation is not the final restoration. Do not expect a team to completely replace your Association’s roof the next day. The emergency response will secure the property against the elements. It will stop the rain, wind, and heat/cold from entering your home.

Sharper Management also looks for companies with good reputations. Online testimonials, membership in local and national organizations, and being a member of the BBB are all pieces we consider when bringing companies to the table for your Board to review. The company offering the bottom line price may not be the best choice for your restoration project.

When a restoration project is to start, Sharper Management works with your Board to notify residents of the project schedule. Sometimes it is necessary for work to begin in the early morning to ensure timely completion. This becomes a significant consideration when many properties in an area have been damaged. A little inconvenience, such as a 7am start, is worth it in the long run to restore your home as quickly as possible.

Todd Essig Joins Sharper Management

Todd Essig Joins Sharper Management

Essig is an analytical financial management professional who possesses expertise in areas including finance operations, corporate accounting management, and large-scale financial accountability.

Essig’s experience lies in accounting management in the real estate industry and as a controller for local companies and non-profits such as the Ordway Center for Performing Arts.

His proven success in analyzing process constraints, margin analysis, and tracking costs back to underlying activities are key qualities Sharper Management was seeking for this position.

“Todd’s expertise in process and cost analysis are wonderful strengths that will allow Sharper Management to continue bringing the highest level of service to our clients. We are happy to have him on our team,” states Nick Shilling Partner and Chief Technology Officer.

Storm Safety Tips

Storm Safety Tips

Summer 2017 is living up to the idea that, if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota wait 5 minutes because it will change. During that change in weather conditions, you may find yourself unexpectedly in a dangerous weather event.

Thunderstorms with high winds and tornadoes are two of Minnesota’s most dangerous weather situations that both can occur with little warning.
Some tips to remember if you ever find yourself caught in one of Minnesota’s weather tantrums include;

General Storm Tips:
Avoid wires and water. If you’re in a building that is struck by lightning, be aware that the electrical charge can surge through pipes and utility wires. By merely touching a toaster that is plugged into the wall outlet, you could get zapped. The same holds true for running water. If your building has been struck, use only wireless devices, and avoid using the water tap until you know it is safe.

Lighting and Trees. Trees are a common victim of a lightning strike because they are generally taller than their surroundings. A tree conducts potentially deadly current into the ground and can even explode from a bolt’s extreme heat. This effect coupled with strong winds make trees a serious risk for you in a storm.

Tingly Hair? Beware. A sign that a lightning strike is imminent is a buzzing sound or if your hair becomes tingly and full of static. If you sense this situation is happening to you, experts say to crouch low to the ground with your feet and shoes touching the ground. Tuck and cover your head and ears. This position provides some protection from a direct lightning strike. When the “electric” sensation passes, keep moving to a building or a car for better protection.

Find Shelter – Your Car. In a tornado, your car is not the best option, but in a lightning or thunderstorm your car is a good choice. Inside the vehicle is safer than outside and it is not because the tires are made of rubber. The car’s body protects you by conducting electricity around the cabin of the vehicle and then into the ground. You should be mindful to avoid door handles and other metal components such as the radio dial as they will also conduct electricity.

Puddles are Tricky. In a heavy rainstorm, puddles can form in areas where roadways may have been washed away making them very dangerous. Even a regular puddle that is a mere 6″ in depth can stall a car engine. A stalled car is vulnerable in the event of a flash flood. Avoid large puddles by driving around them or finding another route.

Tornado Tips:

Go to a windowless interior room on lowest level of your house. Go to a storm cellar or basement if your house has one. If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
If your building has a designated storm shelter area, go to it.
Get away from the windows.
Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris.
Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
Use your arms to protect head and neck.
If you are in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.

If You are at Work or School During a Tornado:

Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level.
Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls.
Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
Use your arms to protect head and neck.

If You are Outdoors During a Tornado:

If possible, get inside a building.
If shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Beware of flood waters which may also fill low areas.
Use your arms to protect head and neck.
If you are in a car during a tornado:
Never try to drive faster than a tornado in a car or truck. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift a car or truck and toss it through the air.
Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building.
If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding.
Do NOT get out of a vehicle and climb up under the embankment of a bridge or overpass. This often increases your risk.

We wish you all a safe and joyful summer! Safely enjoy one of the best seasons Minnesota offers.

Contract Basics

Contract Basics

Perhaps one of the most challenging, intimidating, and without a doubt most significant actions of the Board of Directors is engaging in contracts.  Of course, assistance in navigating the abyss of contract language is one of the roles your community manager/management company can play. (And if it is a large or complicated contract, it is always advisable to have it reviewed by the Association’s attorney.)

Whether it is a service contract for the lawn/snow company, a short and straightforward contract for “time and materials” to do touch up painting, or a multi-million dollar building envelope remediation project, there are a few key contract components to review and understand.

Parties to the Contract – the contract should state the complete legal names, addresses and contact information for all involved.  Typically, the parties include the Contractor and the Association. Important note: the contract should always be with the Association; not the management company. You’ll need to pay special attention how your Association is named in the contract. It is vitally important that the legal entity names are 100% accurate. Don’t assume you are just “Happy Valley Association.” Check the Articles of Incorporation for exact wording. You may be surprised to see that it could actually be something like the “Happy Valley Condominium Association, Inc.”

Scope of Work – If an RFP was utilized, it should be all that much easier – but the scope of work should be included (or attached) and spell out specifically what work is to be done. For the Association’s protection, the more detail, the better.  Don’t be afraid to ask for details to be spelled out.

Compensation – The contract should lay out the total amount to be paid for the project, when payments are due, retainers/down payments (if required) and the manner in which they are to be paid. And once again, the specifics of the legal company name being paid is extremely important.

Time Period – Whenever possible, you should try to get contracts to state a date when the work is to begin and when it must be completed by. If it is a dynamic or complicated project, consider negotiating cost reductions if timetables are not met.

Warranty – The warranty should cover four very basic components:

1.) What is covered – materials and workmanship often times being two separate, but equally important coverages.
2.) What is not covered.
3.) How long are the materials and/or workmanship covered.
4.) What is the process and timeline for workmanship or material defect corrections.

Indemnification – It is always advisable to have a clause that states the Contractor will indemnify and hold harmless the Association, and Management company, for damages or fees resulting in claims made against the Association due to the Contractor’s work. This should also include legal costs incurred with defending any such claims.

Insurance, Licenses and Permits – Always request to see a Certificate of Insurance before work commences with a Contractor. Also consider putting language into the contract that says all federal, state and local laws, codes and ordinances are applicable.

Termination & Default – The Association should always have a path to terminate a contract, if so desired. Typical and recommended language is “with or without cause” – and often times it will give a specific period of time after giving appropriate notice. This is particularly important for running service contacts – lawn/snow contracts, as perhaps the most common example. The contract should also provide for specific language constituting a default or failure to fulfill the terms of the agreement/contract – and what each party’s rights are in a default.

There are certainly other important elements to various contracts and agreements – and by no means is this content a comprehensive analysis of the components we have addressed.  To reiterate, if it is a large or dynamic contract – or even if it just a poorly worded or confusing contract – it is always advisable to have an attorney review.

Overcoming Decision Making Paralysis

Overcoming Decision Making Paralysis

There is nothing more frustrating for members, managers, and even homeowners than a Board that is collectively stuck in the mud, endlessly spinning their wheels deeper in the rut of indecision. Rest assured, it is a common condition. If it is not a recognized medical disorder, it should be!

Perhaps it is a large construction project, a delicate homeowner situation needing resolution, a complicated budget crisis, or maybe a vendor change. Many things are thrown at Boards – and frequently it is difficult to get to a point where you are ready for the all-important motion to vote.
There are three things that may help you as an individual Board member, and as a collective group.

1.)    Accept that you will never have 100% satisfaction from stakeholders. Being on the Board means making tough decisions that are best for the Association. Don’t let chronically complaining Cathy dictate construction projects. A needed special assessment can’t be derailed because it will break broke Bob’s bank account. Accept that designer Debbie doesn’t do blue and won’t like those new shutters.  The sooner you can accept that unanimous acceptance is rare, if not impossible, the sooner you can move on to make the necessary decisions.

2.)    Realize that Board consensus can be difficult to achieve. And accept that it is OK.  Naturally, the more complicated the topic, the more likely you are to have varying opinions. It is good to hash it out by considering all angles, but at eventually you’ve got to call the vote. This brings us to our final point.

3.)    Have a good facilitator in the group. There is nothing more important to group dynamics than for someone to take on the role of task master. Perhaps it is the President acting as the Chairman. Sometimes it is the Community Manager, a neutral party, who helps facilitate the meeting along. Whomever it may be, a group needs this person! Their primary skill should be recognizing when a debate is over, or just plain unproductive, and then calling the subject to a vote for resolution. All too often decisions get “tabled” for the next meeting. If it gets “tabled” once – you may as well just move on entirely.  You’re probably stuck on the two points mentioned above and will always be there.

Consider these remedies for decision making paralysis and hopefully you can be a more productive Board that makes decisions and moves forward with your Association’s projects and initiatives!

Board Tip: “Tabling” an Agenda Item

Board Tip: “Tabling” an Agenda Item

The spectrum of how thoroughly a Board of Directors follows parliamentary procedure and applies Robert’s Rules of Order at their meeting varies greatly.  Most associations are pretty informal and use the typical “motion, second, discussion, majority vote” on decision making matters. That might be the extent of it.  Some are quite lax and don’t even officially call a meeting to order. Alternatively, a few take it to the extreme and want to emulate England’s House of Commons.

There are many, many layers of structure and subtleties to Robert’s Rules of Order. After all, it’s a 669-page book! The reality is most Boards really only need to apply about 5% of what the book has to offer. One of the important components, however, is tabling motions. It is important to know the difference between “tabling” and “postponing” resolutions or motions a Board may be facing. “Let’s table that item” can casually be heard and agreed on at meetings, but there is a significance and protocol that should be followed to be operating “correctly.”  If an item is placed on the Agenda under New Business, it should be acted on. If the Board is not ready to do so, they have a couple of options.

1.    Table.  If the Board is not ready to vote – be it a lack of information, a sensitive topic people need more time to process or deliberate, or other urgent matters came up – a member may make a motion to “table” the item.  The motion needs a second. It is NOT debatable/open to discussion. And then it needs a majority to carry the motion.  The important point to remember; however, is that it must be re-addressed at the NEXT official meeting.

2.    Postpone. If the Board is not ready to vote and if there is uncertainty on when it will be ready, then a motion should be made to “postpone until ______ (fill in the blank).”  Herein lies the major difference between tabling and postponing; postponing can be defined, but tabling is at the next meeting. Postponing requires motion, second, it CAN be debated/discussed, and a majority vote to carry.

Regardless of how strictly your Board follows Robert’s Rules, the distinction between tabling and postponing is an important one. Think of it this way, if a homeowner sees an Agenda listing a specific New Business item up for resolution, your Minutes should accurately reflect the result, or deferred result (tables or postponed) so they can be assured you’re acting within procedure. It is also a great reminder for how to manage your “Old Business” vs “New Business” to ensure you are moving things along and bringing matters to conclusion.

An HOA Reserve Fund: What Is, Why We Need It, and How is It Determined

An HOA Reserve Fund: What Is, Why We Need It, and How is It Determined

An HOA’s reserve fund is your association’s equivalent to a savings account. Where day-to-day expenses are managed from the association’s operating fund, major repair and replacement costs come from the reserve fund.

Planning for and funding the operational needs of an association is straightforward. Line items such as garbage removal and lawn care services are simply added up to determine how much the association needs to generate per year/per month in dues. What becomes a bit more complicated to predict and plan for are major replacements of building equipment, roofs, siding, asphalt, concrete, etc. Responsible Boards, wise homeowners and experienced management companies have come to see that long-term planning to set funds aside now is imperative. An adequate reserve fund can mitigate or alleviate unexpected special assessments.

Reserve funds are not an extra expense to your association’s operating budget (your monthly “dues”) – they just spread out large expenses more evenly for the needs of your association when it comes to the replacement of those “big ticket” items.

One commonly asked question is how is the amount needed for the reserve fund determined? Typically, an HOA board will hire a specialized outside firm to prepare a Reserve Study. This study, usually conducted by an engineer, first identifies all of the components the association is responsible for replacing; gives those items a remaining “useful life;” identifies the years which those components should replaced; and predicts a cost to do so. In the end you are left with a comprehensive 20-30 year plan. In addition to the expenses, a funding plan is then generated to guide how much the association needs to be saving each year to meet those expenses. This savings “expense” is then planned as part of your operating budget, thus your “dues.”

A reserve fund helps your association and Board fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to ensure your property is maintained – but this fund may also be a legal requirement for the HOA. A reserve fund may actually be required by any secondary mortgage market in which the association participates in such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, or VA. Additionally, state statues, regulations or court decisions may require a reserve fund be maintained. For example, any common interest community built after June 1994 is required by the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act to maintain a reserve fund.

Reserve funds and studies are one of the most powerful tools an association can enact. Possible statutory requirements and powerful fund planning aside, utilizing a reserve study and maintaining an adequate reserve fund is the foundation to ensuring the stability of property values.

Simplify Your Space

Simplify Your Space

A wise friend once told me a story about when he and his wife downsized from their spacious five-bedroom home into a two bedroom townhome. They made a pact,
for every item either of them brought into their townhome, one old item needed to go. They had committed to living in a smaller space to simplify their lives. Letting go of some of the household clutter was part of their commitment.

Simplified and small space living is a trending idea across the nation. With TV shows like HGTV’s Tiny House – Big Living and architect Sarah Suzanka’s popular Not So Big books, there are many ideas and tips for making the most of living in a smaller space.

We’ve pulled ideas from a variety of sources highlighting tips we feel are useful and relatively easy to implement.

Ideas for Making the Most of Your Space

1. Get Rid of Clutter. This is rule number one for a reason! Excess “stuff” can negatively impact your ability to focus and process information thus causing stress. A Princeton University study
found that physical clutter competes for our attention and creates confusion and anxiety. Compound excess clutter with a small space and you have a recipe for a less than ideal situation. Getting rid of things can be taxing as well. So, how do you decide what stays and what goes? One idea would be to determine whether or not you’ve used an item in the past 12 months. If you
haven’t, it’s likely you really don’t need it.

2. Keep the Kitchen Organized. The kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the house. Keeping things neat, tidy, and handy in the kitchen is important.

  • Some ideas that may help get you started include;
  • Adding some clear storage containers that are uniform in size and save space
  • Add hooks to the backs of cabinets doors to store things like lids
  • Install a few Lazy Susans in the cupboards for easy access to all of your items
  • Create “work zones” in the kitchen. You’ve probably heard about the kitchen work triangle, the triangular layout between fridge, oven, and sink that makes it easy for a cook to move about the kitchen. Whether or not your kitchen conforms to this ideal, it’s helpful to think of your kitchen in terms of work zones: food storage, dishware storage, cleanup (sink and dishwasher), prep, and cooking zone
  • Don’t overload your shelves – too many things in one spot will make it hard to efficiently use any of the items

3. Don’t Buy on a Whim. With each purchase, really decide if you love and truly need it. Every item brought into your space will need a place to rest.

4. Double Duty Furniture. Double-duty furniture that has storage and is easily moveable provides options for multi-use. A great example is an ottoman that doubles as a place to store blankets or games inside. This same ottoman, when equipped with foot slides, can be easily moved to provide additional seating at family gatherings.

5. Keep It Clean. Dust, clutter, and general grim can take a toll on your happiness. Keeping your space picked up each day can make a big difference. Cleaning daily, for just five minutes, can go further than it sounds. In five minutes, you could clean a bathroom sink or wipe down the stovetop. The key to this tip is consistency.