Re: Handling Maintenance
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 2 Nov 2014 09:19:20 -0800 (PST)
On Nov 2, 2014, at 4:58 AM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:

> Although “saving money” is sometimes advocated as the rationale, there is no 
> reason why cohousing should be notably cheaper than “ordinary” apartments, 
> row houses, and condominiums — and indeed, it isn’t.

The difference between cohousing and other condos is the comparatively large 
common facilities -- the amenities. Work on the part of community members is 
required to off-set the cost of those facilities. This is onne reason new 
communities need to think twice before building common houses and grounds that 
are too large for them to maintain.

One of our construction engineers who does engineering and reserve studies for 
many communities said it would take 400 units to pay for all our common 
facilities through condo fees alone.

> I’ve always had a "family plumber" and “family electrician” holding the keys 
> to my house.  Something goes seriously wrong, I make a call in the morning, 
> and by evening, it’s fixed.  They know I pay rather than complain, so I get 
> excellent service at a fair price.  Not a cheap price, but a fair one.  At 
> Cornerstone, we’re working on developing the same kind of relations.

Exactly. People who know you and your facility are worth their weight in gold. 
Below is a long but excellent article from the HOA Pulse Newsletter on getting 
the best out of service providers. Main point: They are business partners, not 
vendors. A good newsletter to subscribe to. The role of the manager is the 
facilities team in cohousing.

Getting the Best Out of Your Service Providers

Written by  Chuck Miller

Most managers tend to know a little bit about a lot of things, and may even be 
experts in a few aspects other than Association management. But there are 
generally large gaps in other areas of their knowledge. As a result, managers 
often rely on various service providers to provide expertise for the 
Association that they are lacking. This certainly doesn’t minimize the 
manager’s role; it enhances it. The manager still retains overall authority, 
pulls projects together, and communicates results back to the board of 
directors who are ultimately responsible.

The Association’s service providers are actually a critical element in the 
overall success of the Association. The industry has quietly begun recognizing 
this over the last few years and has modified terminology accordingly. While 
the term “vendor” is still used frequently, the term “business partner” is 
becoming a more commonly used term. The Community Associations Institute (CAI) 
has taken the lead in this effort by creating a Business Partners Council as 
part of the management structure of CAI. That action has caused many in the 
industry to reevaluate how “vendors” are treated.

The term “business partner” is more appropriate.  The term "vendor" simply 
implies one who sells to the Association, without recognizing the added value 
that a business partner can bring to the table. In contrast, the term "business 
partner" conveys the added value that service providers can offer, and infers 
to managers and service providers that “vendors” are not simply disposable 
objects, but are also valuable resources that can help improve the entire 
management effort. Association management has grown more complex over the 
years, and the constant development of new methods and materials channels the 
manager towards collaborative relationships with what were formerly just 
“vendors.” Service providers are partners in creating excellence in community 
management service to their mutual Association clients.

Below are some suggested guidelines for “getting the best” out of your business 

Respect the business partner’s time - Just like managers, business partners are 
busy. They don’t want their time wasted. Those who serve the industry are well 
aware that most products and services are competitively bid by associations, 
and accept that as the norm. But, they also don’t like to be “used.” If the 
manager or board has effectively already made a selection, then the bid process 
just becomes window shopping. Most business partners will quickly see through 
this type of sham, and, at an extreme, may even stop providing bids for you. 
The bid process takes time, and that time is wasted if the business partner 
does not occasionally “win” a bid. You should only ask business partners to bid 
jobs they actually have a fair chance of getting. Typically, the larger the 
job, the more effort is required in the bid process. If you “burn” a service 
provider with too many “no win” requests for proposal (RFP), that partner may 
just be too busy to help you out when you need him most. You also need to 
provide the business partner with complete information so he can prepare an 
accurate bid. You will quickly lose the trust of your business partners if you 
withhold information, either purposely or by simply being too busy, that would 
help a prospective bidder.

Respect the business partner’s knowledge - Business partners provide the 
manager with a path to expertise in their various disciplines. Managers should 
pay close attention, even if - and especially if - that business partner is 
giving information that the manager doesn't want to hear. When receiving 
surprise information, the manager shouldn’t simply dismiss the information, but 
rather should attempt to use it as a learning experience, recognizing that your 
business partner probably has more expertise than you do.  If the expert advice 
you are receiving isn't what you were hoping to hear, ask questions and gain 
clarity. The wider your knowledge base, the more valuable you are to your 
boards and your employer. The information business partners have to impart is 
invaluable - if not for the problem at hand, then for the next. Rejecting a 
business partner's expertise is risky if you’re the manager, as it will reflect 
poorly on you if you’re wrong. While the board of directors can’t expect the 
manager to always be right, they do expect him to bring the best knowledge and 
expertise to bear on any given matter. 

Remember that business partners underwrite industry events and education - 
Business partners provide the funding for almost all industry events, often 
spending thousands of dollars each for the opportunity to get your attention in 
a non-bid situation. Talk to them. Let them educate you about their products or 
services. While they’re engaged in a marketing activity, you are engaged in an 
educational activity. Business partners want you to be educated about their 
products and services, because they know that the more you know, the more 
likely you are to request a bid from them. By making you more knowledgeable and 
successful, they also make themselves more successful. It is this mutually 
beneficial relationship that brings the “partnership” concept into play.

Don't blame the partners – What? Never? I had a hard time trying to figure out 
how to phrase that. The fact is, some business partners, even very good ones, 
will occasionally make mistakes. In those cases, they may deserve blame. But 
the point I’m really trying to get at here is something I’ve seen too many 
times, unfortunately, where the business partner is blamed (“thrown under the 
bus” is the current terminology) for bad outcomes that are completely beyond 
their control - or even worse, to deflect blame from the person actually 
responsible. Sometimes, that person has been the manager. (A couple of stories 
below illustrate this point.) Chances are, most managers have done this - maybe 
not knowingly, but it does happen. Don’t ever deflect blame by pointing towards 
the business partner. Your temporary benefit will likely be short-lived, and 
the potential long-term damage to yourself is much larger than any temporary 
gain. Once this type of deception is discovered, your credibility will suffer. 
This industry is still so small that word gets around.

Story # 1 – This was told to me by a CPA that I have used in the past. The 
manager called the CPA to say he needed the audit report for a board meeting 
that night. The CPA responded that the manager had still not provided the final 
information that would allow the CPA to complete the audit, and reminded him of 
the two emails requesting information to which the manager had never responded. 
The manager stated that he would just inform the board of directors that he had 
requested the audit report from the CPA (and he had), and that the CPA said he 
didn’t have it completed (which was true), and that it was the CPA’s fault that 
the manager couldn’t present the draft audit report at the board meeting (which 
was completely false). When the CPA protested, the manager told him that he 
(the manager) was in charge and had the ear of the board, and he could tell 
them anything he wanted to. Here’s an egregious example of a purposeful act of 
blaming the service provider.

Story # 2 – This was related to me by a reserve study professional with whom I 
have worked in the past, and found to be very knowledgeable and reliable. A 
month after receiving the draft reserve study report for review, the manager 
called the reserve professional to express his extreme frustration with the 
reserve study report: some cost numbers were too low; he couldn’t find certain 
components in the report; and why didn’t the report look just like the prior 
report that had been prepared by someone else? This guy was loaded for bear. He 
had already decided that the reserve professional was wrong, and nothing was 
going to change his mind. In discussion, the reserve professional pointed out 
that certain component costs had been decreased because the manager indicated 
that a lesser scope of repair work was to be performed. The manager pushed 
back, saying the cost on one component was far too low, as he had bids for the 
work. The reserve professional asked why that information had not been provided 
if it was available. No response. Regarding the “missing” components, the 
reserve professional pointed to a report by location to demonstrate that the 
components were, in fact, included. Again, no response. Regarding report 
formats, the reserve professional indicated that he could provide reports in 
exactly the same format as the prior reserve study report, but that he felt 
they were not the best format to present the report. The manager said he didn’t 
care at that point.

The manager should have contacted the reserve professional far earlier in the 
review process to avoid the frustration that built up, and should not have 
acted in such a belligerent manner when contact was made. One can’t back down 
from a belligerent position without losing face, and this manager was not 
willing to lose face. Can this manager cause the reserve professional some 
damage? Yes, but he would be very unwise to do so because (1) other managers do 
know and respect the reserve professional, and (2) it is more likely to be 
perceived by knowledgeable people that the problem lies with the manager, not 
with the reserve professional. This is an example of an inadvertent 
misunderstanding where the service provider got the short end of the stick.

Business partners can work collaboratively with management to form a better 
team in solving problems that face community associations. They can leverage 
managers to make them more effective.

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