What Is The Difference Between Condo, Strata, HOA And Co-Op Associations

People who aren’t aware of the differences between these terms often use them interchangeably. In essence, these terms actually hold a different meaning altogether and people who are interested in buying a dwelling in any one of these associations should have the core understanding of these terms.

For the urban population, a home in a common interest development (CID) is a highly affordable option. The Common Interest Development consists of condominiums, strata, homeowners association and Co-Op Associations.

Condo

A condo is a type of home ownership that allows an individual to own an individual unit in a large complex. These multi-unit structures are usually apartment complexes where people own individual units and share common areas and amenities. 

The people who purchase these units own each and everything inwards from the boundary – which is the walls of their unit. The common areas include areas such as elevators, swimming pools, hallways, and other amenities that may be available.

Condominiums charge a certain amount of fees that covers the costs of landscaping, repairs as well as charges for amenities; any rise in the expenses would also result in rising condominium fees.

Strata

Essentially, there is no difference between the terms condo and strata, unless you reside in Australia or British Columbia in Canada, where the term has encompassed townhouses within it.

It is believed that the term strata was borrowed from Geology, where it meant layers. The term strata was adopted to be used for apartment blocks that had two or more levels (or layers). However, the fact remains that a strata has the same concept of individually owned units with shared common areas.

Homeowners Association (HOA)

A homeowners association (HOA) is a not-for-profit organization that is established by, and for the betterment of the community. A homeowner association governs what kind of changes and developments can be carried out at a home or an apartment. 

Having said that, a HOA is not limited to apartments only; it can also be established in a particular housing society that has homes.

A certain amount of fees is required to be paid on a monthly basis to ensure the property is kept maintained and also for any required improved carried out.

Housing Cooperative (Co-op)

A cooperative housing is a legal entity that owns a particular real estate including the common areas and all facilities that come with it. In a co-op association, individuals have to own a share in the cooperative association in order to be able occupy a unit (apartment or a townhouse). They then also have access to all the common facilities and have the right to vote for members during the voting for the Boarding of Directors. 

This idea is similar to a condo, however, the individuals do not own the units themselves, they just have a share in the co-op association. Similar to other CID options, the co-op associations also charge a monthly fee, but this time around, these payments can include your mortgage payments, any taxes as well as the management fees.

Tuesday, March 25 2014

Consequences of Not Having a Condo Communication Portal

Consequences of not having a condo portalA condo is like a corporation, it can generate profits as well as incurring losses. Communication is vital to the success of a condo. The owners and residents have every right to know what is going on in the condominium; and it is the responsibility of the people who run the condo to ensure that this right is fulfilled in every manner possible.

Most of the problems that arise in a condo are a result of a lack of communication. Complaints are common from owners and residents in which they bring up the issue of not being informed well-enough, or in some cases, not being informed at all.

A condo communication portal provides an effective means of getting the information across to everyone involved. The following can be easily shared between all the owners and residents easily and effectively:

Announcements: A portal offers a great way post announcements and news concerning the latest happenings in the condominium.

Document Library: All kinds of documents ranging from forms to rules and regulations can be posted on the portal, allowing people to easily access the documents regardless of where they are.

E-mail Notifications: The amazing thing about a condo communication portal is that whenever any kind of information is added to it, it automatically dispatches email to all residents and owners. This considerably reduces the effort that would otherwise be required in order to individually inform each resident and owner.

SMS/Calls: In case of any emergency, such as a water leak or if the elevator gets out of service, the condo management can send a notice to all residents on their cell phones through SMS or call. This would prevent a swarm of complaints coming your way, because the residents would know that work is being carried out.

Public Website: A condo communication portal can also create a public website that can be accessed by condo owners, regardless of where in the world they are. This can help in keeping them in the loop even if they are not physically present.

Lack of Communication

Not having a communication system in place can escalate even the slightest of problems. There are some condo associations that do not communication directly with the owners and residents; rather, they have their message communicated through the property manager. This really isn’t the right way to build a community, let alone a strong one. 

Without a condo communication portal, the job of informing everyone also becomes harder and more costly. The cost of printing and mailing newsletters alone can be quite a lot. Also, without a portal, the residents will not have a way to directly communicate their issues and concerns with the concerned people.

It is the condo board’s utmost responsibility to ensure that they install a condo communication portal that would allow them to communicate effectively with each and every owner and resident of the condo. Not only will this prevent misunderstandings between the board and the residents, but it will also streamline each and every process considerably.

A well maintained condominium will result in its value increasing in the market; making it more beneficial for the condo owners. 

Friday, March 21 2014

Why Are Condo Portals Useful

A condo is a joint community in which individuals share certain parts of the complex and work together to maintain and build the property to ensure its value remains high. This of course, is easier said than done. For a condo or strata to run smoothly, it has to be managed well. This responsibility lies in the hands of the condo board. It is the board’s duty to ensure everything runs well and that the condo members are always kept in the loop. 

The best way to go about doing this is by setting up a condo portal, through which both the condo board and the condo members and residents can keep themselves on the same track. These portals offer many advantages and for larger condominiums and strata, they are no less than a necessity. 

Improved Communication

Good communication is the key to a well managed condominium. A lack of communication, on the other hand, can lead to a lot of complaints from people associated with the condo. Board members can communicate with the owners and tenants through newsletters, emails, SMS and a condo website.

A condo portal can serve as a base for all this communication, allowing people access to information when they want it, regardless of where they are. This is ideal, especially if owners or residents travel abroad where they may not be able to receive SMS or printed newsletters. 

A portal can also host important documents such as rules and regulations and financial statements, alongside hosting the latest news and happenings in the condo community. 

Greater Collaboration

Collaboration between the members and residents is of a paramount importance for the success of strata. A condo is in essence a community; and the development of a community depends upon how well they work together.

A condo portal can also provide message forum where each and every resident can interact and discuss all kinds of issues. It can also serve as a notice board for upcoming meetings and events. A separate section for putting up classified notices can help the residents to sell their items or services while keeping their property clean from advertisements.

Condominiums usually feature various amenities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, activity centers and lots more depending on how extensive the project is. A portal can allow easy and swift way for residents to view the availability of amenities and book them from the comfort of their homes.

Besides being convenient for the residents, a condo portal can also streamline the work process for the condo board. Board members can easily keep a track of all pending tasks and assign duties to the right people for a particular job. 

Conclusion

All in all, a condo portal can provide excellent means of communication and a tool for collaboration between those managing the board and the homeowners. A condo is, after all, similar to a corporation, and requires good management for it to run smoothly without any major hiccups along the way.

Thursday, March 13 2014

How to Hire a Good Condo Property Manager

Hiring a property managerThe board of directors of a condominium may consider hiring a property manager to overlook the daily operations of the condo. A property manager is entrusted with the task of collecting common condo fees, keeping the operating records of the condo, responding to any complaints from owners and monitoring and hiring service companies to maintain common amenities.

Hiring the right condominium manager is no doubt a challenging task. They should be able to effectively handle the tasks that come under their responsibility and should also have established processes to efficiently fulfill these responsibilities.

The process of hiring a property manager can be made straightforward by following these guidelines:

1. Evaluate the Individual

During the hiring process, it is important to take time and evaluate the prospective manager’s strengths and weaknesses. Throughout the evaluation process, the following factors should be considered:

  • Systems and Processes
  • Maintenance
  • Turnover
  • Communication

2. Carry Out Research

It is recommended that before hiring a property manager, a research be carried out to determine what property management companies are offering. This data should be collected in the spreadsheet format and reviewed by the committee that is responsible for hiring. 

This whole process will help in short listing the ideal candidates that are suitable and qualify for an interview.

3. The Interview

A face to face interview should always be carried out at the manager’s office. This would give the hiring committee an opportunity to meet and see the staff of the property management company. A set of questions should be made ready before the actual interview takes place. 

A set of goals and commitments should be agreed upon at this stage. The manager should fulfill these commitments after they are hired.

4. Supervising the Manager

The responsibility of the board doesn’t end once the condominium manager has been hired. Constant supervision of the manager must be carried out to ensure that they are performing as promised; however, micromanaging should be avoided.

The property manager would be responsible for responding to any complaints by the owners or residents. The board should be kept in the loop by the property manager to diminish the risk and liability factors for the board.

The manager should also carry out an annual walk through of the condo building, or buildings and provide a comprehensive inspection report to the condo board.

5. Responsibilities of the Board

To guarantee a long lasting relationship with a condominium manager, certain responsibilities should be fulfilled by the board:

  • Well-Organized: The board itself should be well organized and give out unambiguous instructions and set practical deadlines for the manager.
  • Well-Informed: The board should remain informed of the state of properties and any ongoing or planned maintenance. They should also inform the residents and owners, if that hasn’t already been done.
  • Be Professional: Professionalism is vital to maintain a good relationship with a property manager. Any conflicts should be dealt with in a professional manner without undermining or verbally attacking any individual.
 
Tuesday, March 11 2014

What Are The Responsibilities Of A Condo Board Treasurer?

Success of a homeowners association lies in the hands of the board of directors. Strong boards of directors carry out proper planning and execute those plans on a timely basis to ensure well-being of the home owners and residents in a condo. The management of finances of the condo board is tasked to a condo board treasurer who is a member of the board of directors and is responsible for overlooking the financial aspects of the association.

Condo Board Treasurer Responsibilities

The Treasurer is in charge of ensuring financial stability of a homeowners association. The board treasurer has an extremely important position as it involves managing all funds, securities and complete financial records of the association. 

It is the treasurer who creates and implements policies and procedures for managing the association’s finances. The treasurer determines which persons can make payment on behalf of the organization.  They must make certain that all of the association’s directors, staff and members are aware of these procedures. 

Keeping Financial Records

It is the treasurers’ responsibility to maintain all the records of the association’s revenues and expenses. They must also ensure that all the billing by contractors, suppliers or other professionals is accurate. All invoices must be checked thoroughly by them before the payment is made.

Investing for the Association

The treasurer plays a major role in determining the best investment opportunities and taking advantage of them for the interest of earning revenue for the association.

Collection of Payments

A treasurer should collect condo membership fees, any fines or any sort of financial payments as decided by the board of directors.

Filing of Income Tax Return

The board treasurer should be well aware of the association’s filing status and ensure that the tax returns are filed on a timely basis and that they are accurate.

Oversee Annual Audit

A condo board treasurer should be aware of auditing processes and should oversee them. They should also be well-prepared to answer any queries at the annual shareholders meeting regarding the audit report and overall financial matters of the association.

Preparation of the Association’s Budget

The treasurer plays an extremely vital role in the preparing of budget, alongside other directors of the association. 

Mail Monitoring

Most correspondence that is addressed to the condo board consists of bills and invoices; therefore it is usually more appropriate for the treasurer to handle all the mail, and distribute any posts that are intended for other association members on a timely manner.

Maintain the Member Directories and Mailing List

It is a treasurer’s responsibility to collect all membership dues from the condo members and a condo board treasurer is also among the major users of a member’s information. This is why it suits them if they maintain the member information and mailing lists.

Board treasurer duties are vast and a treasurer’s post is one that comes with a high level of responsibility and accountability. Just like a business, the success of an association depends greatly on how well its balance of expenses and income is maintained.

Thursday, March 06 2014

How To Manage Special Assessments

The most hated words discussed by Boards or Condominium Managers. The ugly truth is that Special Assessments are becoming more and more common. An Special Assessment can be assessed for either Operating or Reserve Fund expenses. The Condominium Property Act of Alberta mandates that the Board is responsible for assessing fees to run the Corporation – therefore the need for an Special Assessment is the Board’s legal mandate to determine. Often, the need for an Special Assessment is the result of years of deferred maintenance, projects such as window replacements that become  necessary before the time outlined in the Reserve fund Study or emergencies such as a sewer collapse. Many times there is simply not enough money in the Reserve Fund to pay for these issues.  An underfunded Reserve Fund is usually the result of Condominium fees not being raised to meet actual needs. These Boards forgot that they are the stewards of a multimillion dollar business and more importantly everyone’s home.

Many Board members have looked at me quizzically when I say they are running a multimillion dollar business. The value of the Condominium Corporation is determined by the insurance appraisal of the complex and the cost to run that Corporation is what sets the budget. The budget is the amount of money used to set the Condominium fees. When faced with large fee increases, many Owners have said that their fees have never gone up more than 5% year after year - if that. That is great, but what if costs are going up 15% or more? Eventually the feared term - Special Assessment - will raise its ugly head. Something was not being done and eventually it will have to be done. Pay now or pay a whole lot later is the choice.

Once the Board makes the decision that a Special Assessment is necessary, the fun begins. How is it going to be paid for, how are the Owners going to take the news, how do they tell the Owners? Other than an assessment for an emergency, most Special Assessment do not crop up overnight. A Special Assessment I was part of a few years ago took 2 years from the initial discussions to the assessing of the costs. 

 

There were two information sessions with the Owners attended by the Board, the Corporation’s legal counsel, the engineer, the contractor and me. Full disclosure is the only way to approach these issues. The Special Assessment was very large – approximately $40,000 per unit – so the Owners were obviously vocal about opposing it. At the last information session the Corporation’s legal counsel told those assembled, in no uncertain terms, that there was no more time, the work had to be done. This was a 35 year old complex and their stucco siding had a myriad  cracks and every time it rained you could clearly see where water was penetrating the surface. It had been doing so for many years.  What had started as a window replacement project ended up being a complete building envelope replacement, new windows and  patio doors, new awnings fnd back, new sidewalks and a complete re-grading of the complex including new window wells and new fences.

 

It ended up being a complete renovation of the complex.

As a Board, how do you go about assessing a Special Assessment? For discussion purposes, I will assume it is Reserve Fund expenses that have to be Special Assessed - building envelope, windows, doors, fences, pavement, sidewalks etc. 

  • Determine the scope of the work to be done
  • Get advice from professionals - engineers, lawyers etc. and determine preliminary costs. Is there enough money in the Reserve Fund for these expenses? If there is not, at the Board level, discuss how this project will be funded. If a Special Assessment will be needed, put that in the minutes and make sure you include this information on the Information Statement - the need for an Special Assessment has been discussed but not yet assessed. It could still be a year or more before you have all the costs to determine the Special Assessment.
  • Once you have preliminary costs, invite the Owners to an Information Night. Be prepared with all the documentation you have accumulated to that point to explain what is going to happen and that there is going to be a Special Assessment. Make sure you have the Corporation’s legal counsel in attendance to explain the legalities of the Board’s decision. Expect Owner resistance. Your lawyer can explain to the Owners that  the Board is the body that makes these decisions, not the Owners. This can be a harsh reality for many Owners.

Once the Owners have been informed of the impending Special Assessment and the reasons for it, keep them informed. Put out periodic updates as to when and how the Special Assessment will take shape. While, as a Board, you are waiting for the tenders to come in from the contractors asked to bid on the project, decide whether you will borrow the money for the Special Assessment or have the Owners pay for it directly. Talk to the financial experts that deal with lending money to Corporations for this information. If you decide to assess the Owners directly, decide the payment terms. How far in advance will you give them before their first payment is due - the more time the better - I always try for 90 days. If the Special Assessment is for a large amount, hopefully the Owners have been talking to their banks or mortgage lenders so they are ready once the Special Assessment has been assessed.

Now most of the decisions have been made. The contractor has been chosen, the Special Assessment has been assessed, the Owners have been formally informed by letter outlining the costs and what they have to pay and when and the Board is waiting for the payment of the first installment. Let’s say the money is due over a year and in three installments. What happens if people don’t pay? Most people do pay and on time and many will pay the whole amount all at once even if there is an installment plan. I advise my Boards to deal with non-payment issues on a case by case basis. When contacted by Owners that cannot pay by the due date, I tell them to put their re-payment schedule in writing and I will present it to the Board. The Board will then look at this schedule and decide if it is acceptable. 

Once I took a ten year re-payment plan to a Board and they said no. This was an unreasonable time frame. This Owner then paid within a reasonable time and of course with interest. Both the Condominium Property Act of Alberta and your Bylaws deal with the issue of interest. Boards cannot waive interest. They may not send you to collections - thereby having a caveat placed on your title - but you will be charged interest. I have had Owners call me very upset that they were not consulted about the Special Assessment and were going to sue the Board. I politely tell them to have their lawyer get in touch with me and I will put them in touch with the Corporation’s lawyer. I usually receive the money within a few days. 

As complexes age, climate changes wreck havoc on building envelopes, people become more educated about Condominium living and Boards become more aware of their responsibilities. Special Assessments are becoming the reality of necessity. If you are an Owner, remember that Board members have to pay these Special Assessment as well and that if you are a Board member know that Owners telling you they cannot afford a Special Assessment is no reason to ignore the issues in front of you.

This article has been written by Helena R. Smith, ACCI.
Helena is a Condominium Manager and has worked with Mayfield Management Group Ltd. since 2003.

Monday, January 20 2014