Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doing Time on The Board (HOA)

I bought a condo a couple years ago. It was my first purchase, my first home. I love it! I feel so grown up by having it and I take great pride in keeping it neat and nice. Now I am not a negative person, but I do like to think about worst case scenarios, just so I can prepare for the worst. Being prepared takes some of the sting out of unexpected events. I was aware of the downsides of home ownership because I had heard all the stories from friends. So I knew that repairs and emergency issues could come up and could cost a lot of money. I felt like I was going to be able to handle it. I had a stable job, a few bucks in the bank and my inspector had told me that my condo was in good shape and probably wouldn't need any major repairs for a while. Whew, looking good. What I was not prepared for was THE HOA BOARD. I knew these things existed and I knew the premise of why they were needed. I also knew from friends that I should avoid being on the HOA Board at all costs. They say "It's an unpaid time suck and no one is ever satisfied." So, you can imagine my apprehension when I was approached by the HOA President and asked to consider joining the HOA Board. He said there was a position to fill and it would only be until the next election which was coming up soon. I was intrigued because I have a strange desire to organize things, educate myself, be in the know, have a say in how things work, voice my opinions, lead. Being a new home owner meant I had a lot to learn. So I thought maybe a short stint on the Board would help me understand the condo association, info about my building, and be a good way to meet my neighbors? Maybe I felt honored because he said I was smart, organized and responsible and I would be a good addition to the Board?? Maybe I am just a sucker? Whatever happened, I accepted the position. I took the position of Treasurer and got to see the budgets, the income/expenses, the past assessments, who owes what and more. I worked with the President on such issues relating to repair, landscaping, old legal issues, parking and the like. Interesting stuff. Nothing too major. I learned a lot. Mission accomplished. Fast forward two years and a half years and I am now in my second term as President. How did that happen?? I must be a glutton for punishment because no one in their right mind does this. Let's remember that the real estate market has taken a dive. So while my short term as Treasurer was all about general maintenance issues around the building, I am now having to deal with the all the repercussions of a bad market. Major issues like late dues, collections, foreclosures, bank repos, utility shut offs, lawsuits. I am still learning a lot, but now I am learning all the bad, negative stuff. It's kind of like dating someone who is getting divorced. You go into the relationship thinking everything is new and exciting. You are hopeful and positive and wanting everything to work out. You dream about being together forever. Then you find out that the other person in the relationship is negative, bitter and jaded, and thinks the relationship will fail like their last one did. It's hard to have a forward moving relationship with someone who is moving backwards out of theirs. You realize it's best to just end the relationship before the blaming, name calling, and regrettable outbursts happen. Unfortunately for me, I can't break up with my Association. And I don't want too. I still want to feel like I am helping to make our living experience better. Don't get me wrong, most of my neighbors are great and there are no problems. But there are a few out there who have become bad seeds. Owners who get behind on dues and blame the HOA for being to expensive. Or they treat the HOA like we are some sort of free service, no-interest bank service and they can pay here and there, whenever they feel like it. Some owners simply don't want to pay their dues or assessments - and think they don't have to. It's not optional you know, it's not like deciding you don't want to pay for cable anymore. You knew the deal when you bought the condo! Lately there are some owners who walk away from their units and trash the place causing the HOA to have to spend more money in repairs. It's getting bad! Yes, I do understand that the economy is in a downturn and property values have dropped. I understand if someone can't afford their mortgage anymore and needs to walk away. That is between you and your bank. What I don't understand is people who start punishing the HOA too. By making accusations or judgements against the HOA for their personal financial misery. Or skipping out on their HOA dues along with their mortgage. HOA dues are not part of the mortgage, and they aren't paid to some nameless, faceless corporate entity. They are the fees that pay for the common ground (landscaping, utilities, cable, repairs). Our HOA charges the very least that they can to pay the expenses that everyone wants and votes on. Trust me there is no stock pile of cash sitting in an account somewhere. I think sometimes owners don't get that. Don't they realize that skipping out on dues means you are skipping out on your neighbors. The expenses still need to get paid. The neighbors end up having to make up for it by paying more? It's unfair to expect your neighbors to make up the differences when they are themselves feeling the budget crunch that everyone is. Here is the thing. If you have to walk away from your mortgage, you have to. But please have some respect for your neighbors and Board members and don't make it harder on them. We are all hard working people who are trying to be responsible and give our time to this Association. We "work" for free on HOA issues, in addition to our already busy work & personal schedules. We are just home owners like you, we are not lawyers, real estate agents, accountants or bankers. We are your neighbors and we are just trying to do the best we can for all of you. Please don't blame us for your financial troubles, threaten to sue us, vandalize our property, or verbally slander us. Please know that we never wanted to be on the Board either, we just did it because someone had to. The ultimate goal would be that everyone take their turn willingly. A stint on the Board would give everyone the understanding of the responsibility at hand - and maybe association members would start to appreciate the Board. Whew, glad to get that off my chest, sorry for the vent!