Make a Plan Before Storm Damage Happens

Make a Plan Before Storm Damage Happens

Is your homeowners association prepared to face bad weather? With storm season approaching, it’s important to have a management plan in place before potential property damage happens. The old adage, “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” is good advice to follow during storm season in the Midwest.
Before the storms roll in, make sure to get a spring roof inspection. Not only does this help build relationships with roofing and siding contractors, but it helps determine what the current status of your building is and makes it easier to identify issues related to inclement weather. Most contractors will conduct an inspection at no cost, so take advantage of the opportunity to ensure your building is adequately prepared. Looking for a contractor? Visit our Vendor Directory.
Create an emergency preparedness plan. In the event of a severe storm, you need to have a protocol in place that can be executed at a moment’s notice. Be proactive and make sure residents are aware of the safety procedures and where to seek shelter. Different weather scenarios require different plans—so make sure you are prepared for lightning, heavy rain, and tornado threats.
Ensure you have proper insurance. Check in with your insurance provider to fully understand what is—and what isn’t—covered under your current policy. Make adjustments as necessary. It may seem obvious, but many HOAs fail to stay adequately covered. Now is a great time to update your policy.
Prepare property exteriors. Strong winds can cause trees and large limbs to fall, which can potentially result in damage or injury. Before storm season fully arrives, consider hiring a contractor to trim the branches. Maintenance is not an area to cut corners, especially during storm season.
Stay vigilant. Always check for weather updates on your phone, and make sure to download any helpful apps that will keep you up-to-date in the event of inclement weather—don’t disable notifications.
New Pets and HOA Living

New Pets and HOA Living

Pets are family, and it is important for homeowners associations to welcome these furry friends into their communities. If you are a pet-friendly association, you are likely familiar with rules and regulations for homeowners with pets. If your association has yet to develop a pet policy (or if your HOA’s policy needs a revision), take note of the following considerations:
Pet Registration
Pet policies are difficult to enforce if you do not know how many pets reside in your community. Associations should require new homeowners to register their pets before moving in. Additionally, current residents should also submit pet registration forms before acquiring a new pet. Not only does pet registration enable the HOA to monitor the domestic animals within the community, but it also allows the HOA to follow-up with homeowners who violate pet rules and stay up to date on pets’ rabies vaccinations.
Enforcing Waste Cleanup
In pet friendly HOAs, animal waste can be one of the most common issues. If left unattended, animal waste can be a toxic and hazardous concern. When crafting your pet policy, be sure to include a requirement that all homeowners pick up after their pets and properly dispose of their waste. To encourage compliance, it is recommended to provide bags and trashcans throughout the community. Additionally, you may consider imposing fines on homeowners who fail to follow these rules.
Leash Requirements
Even in pet friendly HOAs, the importance of having a leash requirement cannot be overlooked. Regardless of a pet’s aggression levels, a leash requirement mitigates the risks of pets running into traffic or getting lost. To offset any disgruntled responses from homeowners, it is encouraged to offer a dog park or space where pets can roam freely without having to be leashed—this is a very appealing amenity to include in a pet friendly community.
Establish Liability for Pet Owners
It is incredibly important to establish liability for pet owners in your community. Not only does this protect the association in the case of injury or damage, but having a clear liability policy also reduces the risk of costly and tedious legal proceedings.
With over 63 million households in the United States that include a dog, you will likely see this trend reflected in your community. It’s important to emphasize to your homeowners why such policies are necessary—ensuring the safety and appeal of your community.
The Spring Selling Season Starts Now

The Spring Selling Season Starts Now

Will this spring be time for a fresh start? If you’ve decided to sell your HOA property, there are many things to consider as you prepare. To help you plan, we put together 3 important steps to know in terms of working with your HOA when selling.
Be Informed on Your HOA’s Selling Process
Most HOAs have rules that members must abide by as they seek to sell their home. If you do not already have that information, then you’ll need to contact your association. Typically, requirements for selling your home will be found in your HOA’s bylaws; it will also be helpful to your agent, if you get one, to know the terms for the seller and buyer to make sure the transfer is clear and lawful.
Have Documents Ready
Additionally, any serious buyers will most likely want a copy of the HOA’s important documents like rules, regulations, fees, and bylaws to help with their decision. Having those ready to go will make it easier and potentially speed up the selling process. The right agent will also let you know if any other information would be beneficial to your efforts.
Close Up Any Loose Ties
To help your prospects, it’s also important to address any violations and pay any outstanding fines you may have. A buyer can order a certain certification, provided by your HOA, outlining if you, as the seller, have any past due balances or outstanding violations. You will typically need to clear them up before closing anyway, so taking care of that beforehand helps streamlines the process. This includes continuing to follow the HOA’s rules even as you’re preparing to move to avoid any violations or fees complicating the transition.
Overall, we always recommend contacting your HOA to begin the selling process on the right foot. Additionally, your neighbors could be a good resource if they have sold an HOA property before and have any other tips that might help.
Vendor Checklist

Vendor Checklist

When selecting a vendor or contractor, it is critical to use due diligence and have a process in place for making these selections. By having a thorough process, you will satisfy your obligation as a board member while also protecting from potential liability.

When evaluating vendors or contractors for selection, there are some key pointers to follow:

  • Establish a thorough process for vendor “vetting.” Better yet, document the process for future boards to ensure consistency.
  • Conduct personal interviews (or engage in some kind of personal contact).
  • Confirm insurance coverage/documentation. Note that not all vendors need or have insurance, but this is an important aspect to take note of.
  • Confirm any licensing, credentials, or certifications a vendor may have depending on its specific industry.
  • Request multiple references and check them.
  • Proposals are not contracts, even if all parties sign it. Always ask for a formal contract that includes important terms regarding the relationship (i.e. termination, dispute resolution).

There are also special considerations for specific types of vendors and projects:

Construction Projects

  • Always get multiple bids to compare costs, operations, and qualifications. Ask for Certificate of Insurance and ensure that it is current and up to date through the anticipated length of a project.
  • Check with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to confirm license status, learn of potential enforcement action, or history. Follow up on any issues.
  • Explore resources such as BBB, Angie’s List, Google reviews, and more. However, take all reviews with a grain of salt.
  • Confirm contractor’s ability to complete project within your desired timeframe.
  • Clarify methods of communication for project ahead of time.

Management Companies

  • Consider the amount of control you are relinquishing—full management? Partial?
  • Ensure agreement covers what is expected in as much detail as possible, including things like termination options, governing documents, and auto-renew provisions.
  • Have a thorough understanding of what services are included and what may require payment of additional fees.
  • Understand the relationship between management and the Board and how it translates in terms of a contract.

Routine/Ongoing Service Vendors

  • Ensure there is a termination or dispute resolution process in place in the event there is an issue.
  • Understand the schedule of services and what triggers action (i.e. inches of snowfall, days for garbage collection).

As general rules of thumb, you can (and should) always negotiate a contract if there are concerns over the terms proposed. If multiple bidders are involved, allow for a process to give all bidders a fair chance at the project. Finally, make sure there is always a way to end the relationship if needed.

At the end of the day, it is important to do your homework on the front end of the relationship to circumvent future issues. Do thorough research and check all available resources and negotiate for terms that you find acceptable.

Luckily, Sharper Management offers a Preferred Vendor Directory. All preferred vendors are required to provide a certificate of insurance and be in good standing with the state of Minnesota. This can be a fantastic starting point in the vendor selection process:

Operations and Personal Protection Continue During COVID

Operations and Personal Protection Continue During COVID

As the pandemic continues, most people have adjusted to the “new normal” that is affecting everyone in the community association industry, the associations, and the owners. While we may be exhausted by the restrictions and repercussions of the coronavirus, we need to remain cognizant of actions needed to prevent the spread.

There are several areas that associations should continue to monitor:

  • CDC Guidance: Provided by the CDC, there is specific guidance for “shared or congregate housing,” which includes condominiums and other multi-family buildings. This information is comprehensive and includes many guidelines to maintain safe operations, acknowledging community associations’ unique needs and challenges.
  • Declaration, bylaw, rules, and regulations: While there may not be specific COVID-19 related provisions, these documents provide insight on what general terms could impact or govern steps taken to respond to these issues.
  • Social gatherings: Social gatherings should be continually evaluated, especially those seeking to occur indoors. Recommendations and restrictions are fluid, and it is important to stay abreast of these changes. Outdoor events are typically easier to implement, however with cold weather, indoor facility use may be more common.
  • Construction projects: Continue to appropriately manage access to buildings by vendors. Create and maintain appropriate protocols, emphasizing the steps these vendors will take to ensure proper cleanliness and sanitization while working.
  • Usage of amenities: There is ample information regarding access to amenities such as pools, fitness centers, etc. within associations. As this is an ongoing, fluid situation, it is important to create a schedule to evaluate these aspects. Adjustments should be continually made based on the latest data and guidance available.
  • CDC Fact Sheet: Communication is critical to avoiding issues or misunderstandings in operations. Posting the updated/current CDC guidelines or fact sheet in buildings ensures that owners and others entering the building are aware of the standards and protocols in place.

There is an overwhelming amount of information and suggestions for safety guidelines out there but keeping up to date on the aspects above is a good foundation. Balancing safety issues with common sense and community spirit is the best remedy available to us during this time.

Low Interest Rates and Your HOA Loans

Low Interest Rates and Your HOA Loans

One of the silver linings from the pandemic’s impact on the economy are the historically low interest rates. Due to concerns about the stability of the economy, most financial institutions have adjusted their traditional credit evaluation and standards. Because of the relatively low interest rates, now could be a good time for community associations to obtain or refinance a loan.

HOA loans can help fund capital improvements and projects in the community—from common area improvements, to maintenance and repairs. Typically, HOAs utilize loans as alternatives to a special assessment for unexpected expenses. HOAs can also use loans for pay annual insurance premiums up front—which is especially beneficial if the insurance company offers an incentive for paying in advance.

Additionally, loans allow HOAs to spread out the cost of common area improvements over time, while also allowing repairs and maintenance to be performed in a timely manner at today’s prices.

With historically low interest rates, now is a good time to reevaluate current loans and see if a refinance would be beneficial for your community. The biggest advantage to refinancing is lowering the interest rate, which can have an incredible effect on monthly payments. Long term, this strategy could save the association hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars each year.

There are a few types of loans that are pertinent to HOAs:

Term loans are a type of loan where the funds are taken at loan closing and the monthly payment is fixed, usually ranging from three to 15 years in length. Term loans are typically utilized for capital improvement projects, deferred maintenance, property acquisition, reserve replenishment initiatives, refinancing existing loans, common area improvements, and construction defect repair.

Non-revolving lines of credit are a type of credit where HOAs are required to pay interest on the borrowed balance. These lines of credit are typically shorter term (approximately 12 months) and are converted to a term loan before or at maturity.

Emergency lines of credit are typically used for disaster relief. Instead of having to wait for insurance funds to arrive, HOAs can make any necessary repairs in a timely manner, and then pay back the loan once the claim has been paid. Interest would only be paid while waiting for insurance funds.

If an association enters into a loan agreement, it is important to determine what method will be used for repayment. For smaller loans, HOAs could utilize an increase in monthly assessments. For larger loans, HOAs could create a special assessment that would allow each owner to pay up front or participate in the loan program. In both situations, transparency is key and board and homeowner approvals must be considered.

Loans provide financial relief to associations with unexpected expenses and lessen the burden to homeowners. If your association could benefit from a new loan or refinancing an old, now may be the time to get a historically low rate.

Insurance: Walls-in vs Walls-out

Insurance: Walls-in vs Walls-out

It’s a great idea to review insurance policies occasionally. If you’re considering changing your HOA homeowners insurance you’ll want to keep in mind what kind of coverage you need.

For most types of HOAs where there are shared walls and common spaces, you will need to understand how the HOAs master insurance affects your property.

Walls-in (Studs-in) This is the policy you, as the property owner, need to be the most concerned about. Just as the name states, this kind of homeowners policy covers what is inside your owned space. Things like the carpets, cabinetry, walls all fall under a walls-in policy.

Walls-out (Studs-out) Most of the time the HOAs master policy will cover damages that could occur to outside your owned space. This would include the roof, probably the windows, fencing, carpet in the hallway of a condo complex etc.

However, it is very important to understand who is covering what when you’re searching for a new homeowners policy. Not all HOA insurance is the same. Knowing the finer details of your the association’s policy and your homeowners policy could save you money and headaches in the future.

Winter Outdoor Fun

Winter Outdoor Fun

Did you know, studies have shown that going outside and being active for even 20 minutes per day helps increase endorphins and reduce blood pressure.
While there aren’t as many activities this year due to COVID-19, there is still plenty to do in Minnesota – even in January!
We’ve compiled a quick list to help you get out and get moving.
  • Snowshoeing. Head over to Lebanon Hills over in Eagan and, for only $7/hour, you can explore the trails above the snow using snowshoes! This is great for those that like to hike and go on walks but don’t like getting their socks wet from snow.
  • Ice sports. The Minneapolis Parks Department is still hosting skating, hockey, pond hockey, and broomball on their ice rinks. While the numbers of lakes this year are reduced and there is a limit on how many people can be in a warming room at once, you can still lace up your skates and get your blood pumping.
  • Hiking to frozen waterfalls. While Minnehaha Falls is pretty in the summer, it is are absolutely stunning in the winter. Hiking to the frozen falls and then following the trails by the water is a great weekend activity.
Snow Removal and Trigger Depths

Snow Removal and Trigger Depths

We have already had some snowfalls this winter, meaning most of us are already back in the swing of driving in the snow.

Understanding your HOAs contract for snow removal is key to knowing when you can expect your lot and drives to be cleared.

A trigger depth is the minimum amount of accumulation a snow-removal company requires before they will plow the streets. The average trigger depth is between 1-2”, and most contracts say this much snow needs to fall in a single event. A “single event” policy means that the minimum trigger depth must be reached during one snowfall; if you reach the trigger depth in 2-3 snowfalls, they will not plow.

Most snow-removal contracts also specify the timing of snow removal, as well as “open-ups” for heavy snowfalls. Timing is the amount of time the company has after snowfall ends to finish clearing the roads; in most contracts this is between 6 and 12 hours depending on how much snow accumulation there is. Open-ups are single passes plows make through the roads when it is still snowing but accumulation has already hit high levels, which makes it easier for people to get in and out of the HOA community, especially if there is an emergency.