HOA Insights: Common Sense for Common Areas

043 | HOA Board Heroes: Collaboration is the Key to Success

March 04, 2024 Hosts: Robert Nordlund, Kevin Davis, Julie Adamen Season 1 Episode 43
HOA Insights: Common Sense for Common Areas
043 | HOA Board Heroes: Collaboration is the Key to Success
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This week we talk with HOA Board Hero, Books Cummings, who is reshaping condo living with dedication and strategic insight.

❗Join our LIVE Podcast April 1st 2024 on Youtube! 👉  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24KbKsKyoNY
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Meet the unsung heroes at the heart of flourishing condominium communities - HOA Board Heroes. This episode introduces you to Brooks Cummings, an exemplary HOA board member whose dedication, collaboration, and strategic approach to condominium management have markedly improved the living experience for all residents.

Chapters from today's episode:  HOA Board Heroes - Collaboration is the Key to Success

00:00 Financial Institutions Frown Upon HOA Special Assessments
02:17 Upcoming Live Podcast Episode Stream! 
03:13 Ad Break - Association Reserves
03:46 Intro to HOA Board Hero Brooks Cummings
05:33 What an HOA Infrastructure Officer Does. 
07:06 How Easy is it to Get Elected to an HOA Board?
10:35 Personality Traits That Helped Brooks on His HOA Board.
12:36 How Many Hours Brooks Puts Into His HOA Duties & His Favorite Aspects of His Duties 
15:54 How Brooks Deals With Challenging Homeowners
19:12 Brooks Talks About the Culture of His HOA Board
20:57 Working on Building Infrastructure Updates
22:42 Brooks Talks About the Financial State of the Association 
24:09 Brooks on His Community’s Successful Special Assessment 
25:25 Brooks Gives Other HOA Board Members Some Parting Advice

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Kevin Davis, CIRMS
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Robert Nordlund, PE
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Community Financials
...

Brooks Cummings:

banks and other institutions frown upon special assessments. That is a an indication that your reserve study is not either funded or accurate. So we've had discussions from other you know, unit owners that Hey, can't we just wait for specials, you know, assessments and drop or HOA fees. So if we want to sell the unit it isn't you know, the HOA is not prohibitively high. And we're pretty passionate with, though special assessments are a bad thing when somebody's trying to get a loan to purchase a place.

Announcer: HOA Insights:

Common Sense for Common Areas exists to help all 2 million volunteer board members nationwide have the right information at the right time to make the right decisions for their future. This podcast is sponsored by four companies. They care about board members, association insights and marketplace, association reserves, community financials, and Kevin Davis Insurance Services. You'll find links to their websites and social media in the show notes.

Robert Nordlund:

thankless job what comes to your mind when you hear those two words. Having served on the board of my condominium association for several years followed by decades of experience in this industry. There's one job that without a doubt deserves to be at the top of the list and elected volunteer HOA board member. So a regular feature of our weekly podcast is one episode a month devoted to sharing the stories of real life unsung board heroes in our eyes. A board here was one of the 2 million elected volunteers who are worthy of recognition for simply performing a thankless job well, well if you match our definition of a board hero or know someone who does, please reach out to us. Our contact details are provided in the show notes. So welcome back to Hoa insights common sense for common areas. I'm Robert Nordlund, I'm here to share the story of an unsung board hero named Brooks Cummings. This is episode number 43. And if you missed meeting our other sports heroes, you can find them easily on our website, HOAinsights.org, or by subscribing to Hoa insights on your favorite podcast platform. Now I've got some fun news to share. Our upcoming episode number 47 will be presented as a live stream on April 1st, no fooling at 3pm Pacific time. It will also be available on the normal ways as a recording on the HOAinsights.org on your favorite podcast platform or on our YouTube channel. But we thought we'd make sense something new and different in case you wanted to catch us live and ask questions live. In that episode, I'll be addressing the topic of reserve study legislation is your state Next, we'll describe where it started three different purposes, trends and why this matters nowadays. So mark your calendars for April one 3pm. Pacific if you want to catch an episode live and ask questions live. More details on that to come. But back to today in episode number 43. Befo re you hear Brooks his story, however, let me introduce you to one of our sponsors.

Paige Daniels:

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Brooks Cummings:

Hello, my name is Brooks Cummings and I've served as a volunteer on the board of Westlake residential condominium association for four years when I'm not wearing my board member hat. I'm a retired engineering manager volunteer frequently within the community and I'm very interested in community events.

Robert Nordlund:

Westlake residential condominiums is a 31 unit apartment style condominium community in Burlington, Vermont. The building is 18 years old and 100% Owner Occupied. And as you just heard, Brooks has lived there and served on the board of directors for four years. So we asked what position he holds as well as what first motivated him to get involved with the Association. And its governance.

Brooks Cummings:

The office I hold is one of infrastructure. Initially when I joined the board, it was a much smaller board and the President was I'll use the word burdened with many different hats and responsibilities. So we decided to divide it into unique responsibilities, infrastructure being one of them, and that's the position I held. I was first involved as a board member or was asked to be elected as a board member, because I had an interest in how the condominium was operated. both financially and physically. I come from a small town in Vermont. And this is my first experience living in a condominium. The it's one of the premier places in Burlington to live. And it has quite high homeowner's association fees. So part of my drive to become a board member was to understand the rigor around expenses, what the fees were associated with, and have kind of a working knowledge of, you know, the inner workings of the building.

Robert Nordlund:

We've never heard of a board member serving as an infrastructure officer, but considered a good sign that the association was concerned enough about infrastructure to devote a board member seat to it, we asked Brooks what infrastructure meant to him, my

Brooks Cummings:

definition of infrastructure is very wide ranging, I was able to get RFQs procure and have installed, whether matting outside balconies to make sure that folks weren't slipping, to working with electrical companies on fire panel replacement, not that I do the replacement, but scheduling, making sure that they have access to the panel, reviewing RFQs for various channel companies, talking with the suppliers to make sure I understand the functional aspects of the panel, recently, I worked with a lighting company to improve lighting within our garage. With the increase in I would say, theft rate that we're seeing I don't think it's just a Burlington thing was important to the owners to have adequate lighting to make sure that they were in a safe spot. And it also reaches out to we have facades on the building, our building was built in, I believe, 2006 to eight, and they're starting to age. So getting with people on membranes are starting to deteriorate, or facades that are starting to pull away. Again, not doing the actual work myself, but working with the property management company to kind of vet the vendors and be able to articulate to the rest of the board my recommendations,

Robert Nordlund:

Brooks indicated in his previous answer that the size of the board grew so that one single board member wouldn't be wearing too many hats that made us wonder how easy it is to be elected to the board. Here's what Brooks had to say.

Brooks Cummings:

I think it's, it's easy. To the degree that we started, when I started here, we had few board members, I don't remember exactly, I'm gonna say four or five. As people took interest, we got up to eight, at the end of the last three years of those people that near the end of the three years they were responsible for we had a couple because a family illness and you know, wanted to follow other adventures in life that opted off the board, we decided that probably six members was good, I would say it was it was a learning curve when you have 31 units, condominium, if you have, you know, eight board members, there's a lot of energy that is brought to not only the board meeting, but to the property management company on projects, improvements, repairs that require the property management to collect RFQs vendors need vetting, I truly believe you can have too many board members. Because at some point, if if you have the right amount than the level of work that is generated seems appropriate, the urgent things are addressed, the less urgent things are in queue. And we don't I think we get to a point where we're almost overwhelming the property management company. And and we get input from them that because we are asking so many vendors for RFQs, they were having difficulty getting them because Burlington is a very small, relatively small city. And if you asked for repeated requests, the vendors realized that it may be a waste of their time and with the way the world is right now, especially here with the difficulty of getting employees. You can see the vendors are kind of hunkering down on the business the the associations that they have deep relationships with a history and a high success rate of during RFQs. And actual work

Robert Nordlund:

As you just heard from Brooks Westlake residential condominium association has six seats on his board. And each seat serves terms of three years, we asked Brooks when his latest term would be ending. And if he intended to continue serving on the board, my service

Brooks Cummings:

my intent is to continue because I enjoy the relationship with the board and with the community. As I said, I'm retired and I'm one of I would say half or three quarters of the unit owners that are full time members many are multiple property owners and seasonal occupants and I enjoy I enjoy the relationship If it's not burdensome by any means, but I enjoy the relationship with the vendors, my technical background really helps me understand a lot of the aspects of what's going on, whether it's repairs, upgrades, etc. And that helps me really be articulate with the rest of the board and my neighbors on what exactly is going on. issues can be very complex, whether it's electrical panels, or plumbing, or generators, etc, etc. And I think my past experience brings a good perspective and ability to communicate the issues with clarity.

Robert Nordlund:

Throughout this interview, Brookside had his technical background as a valuable asset in his service to the Board of Directors, we asked him what other gifts and personal qualities have helped him in his job as a board member,

Brooks Cummings:

I would describe my special personality traits, and we'll call them gifts, but attributes of my personality that I think work well, I guess I'd say I'm non combative. Right? So I'm very collaborative. I like to listen to all sides of an argument or for pro position, or whatever the case may be. I like to grow deep relationships with my neighbors. So, you know, I think they feel very comfortable coming to me with issues about the building about concerns of the HOA funds. Add from a technical background, I think I described it earlier, I think I bring a value view of technical issues that are going on with the building, make myself very aware of things like reserve studies, and what that entails and making sure that we're funded appropriately, working through issues that are need to be repaired, whether it comes from, you know, a maintenance expense account, or an actual reserve study account. But personality wise, I, I tend to be, as I said, very collaborative, trying to not be overly emotional. And try to focus on the fact that this is our home, and not, you know, a corporation, so that that's a whole different brings up after being in a publicly held corporation. It brings a whole different aspect of how you manage your vendors and the tenacity in which you go after them for cost cutting, for example, in a business, that's something that's paramount is reducing costs for your clients and stakeholders here, I lean towards do we have partners that are reliable, that are collaborative, that we can count on to do the work and do the work well, and whether they're the lowest cost option is interesting, but in many cases, not important.

Robert Nordlund:

Brooks seemed very motivated to maintain and cultivate relationships with not only his fellow board members, but also with the vendors that the association works with, as well. We asked him how many hours per week he invests in his duties as a board member, it comes and goes, but it's really, you know, single digit hours,

Brooks Cummings:

our property management company does a wonderful job of as you would expect, managing financial reports, agendas, getting RFQ from various vendors. So most of my time is vetting the particular vendors and coming forward with recommendations on which to choose, I am the primary contact for vendors when they're on sites. And also primary contact for the property management company that have urgent or not urgent needs to check out sub systems to make sure they're operating properly. I think it really saves them a lot of time on coming over and doing it versus they could just give me a quick call, I can run down to the electrical room and get a reading on a panel etc, etc. I think the reason I'm speaking is because because the property management company finds that of great value to somebody that they can leverage within the building, as sometimes to address you know, urgent issues like leaks, etc, etc. So, Brooks

Robert Nordlund:

appeared to not only enjoy his duties as an association board member, but to genuinely thrive in the position as well. We asked him what some of his favorite and least favorite aspects of the job were.

Brooks Cummings:

My favorite aspect I gotta be honest with you is the monthly meetings are very, are very fun to be with the rest of the board members have been with the board for you know, most of them for many, many years. We work really well together and we have a you know, a personal relationship outside of the board, they tend to be positive. We have had some tough subjects, but it's always a pleasure to work with them because everybody is very thoughtful, very professional, and works very well together. So that makes the whole dealing with issues that come up in the building with the rest of the board members very pleasant get this point there in real life in the last one of the board members is away on business or vacation. And that's part of the pleasure of having the board meetings we meet in one of the units is in the penthouse. It's got a beautiful view it's laid out well conference room, you know, we have coffee and snacks, the board meetings last two hours. And of course, we follow strict rules that are managed by the person that takes meeting minutes. Probably the least, the least favorite is there are certain there have been certain instances where unit owners have done things that are against policy and having to use the word confront, but really having to have an adult conversation with an individual unit owner on their, you know, what they did, how they did it, how they acted, and trying to route that discussion in our policies and procedures that we have documented. But that's always an uncomfortable conversation, when you're talking with somebody that's in their home and how they're acting.

Robert Nordlund:

I can't say that I know many board members that truly enjoy monthly board meetings. But Brooks did paint a pretty appealing picture. On the other hand, having difficult conversations with fellow homeowners is a challenging situation that I think we can all relate to. We asked Brooks to speak more on that aspect.

Brooks Cummings:

So what's going on in the world right now, there's a lot of there's a lot of passion, and a lot of horrific things that are going on in the world that people are doing to each other. I'll leave it at that. And I won't go into details. Recently, we had somebody that was very passionate about how the mistreating of individuals in the world was being handled and posted things that were they were they were honestly accurate, and may be truthful, but can be very divisive, right? There are certain people that want to pick one side of the world issue and people that want to pick the other side. So the reason that was difficult is I needed to work with the President on going through our documentation on public postings, and then remove the public postings and start to answer because it wasn't obvious to me which particular unit owner was doing the postings at that point, I would have, you know, personally addressed my concerns with the postings, but it was not my in my purview and who was doing. So we have two lobbies, one has a whiteboard, where you know, it's you can post like, Hey, we're doing a progressive dinner, or hey, does anybody have a parking spot I can borrow. And then we had a lobby that exits out the back of the building that has Windows on it. So the posting started in the main lobby on these windows. So I removed them several times. And then the posting moved to the second lobby on the whiteboard, which I was removing. It was upsetting to one or more of the owners because, you know, I go out in the morning and they were posting in their perception was the postings for being remediated, immediately removed. And I removed some when I saw so it was a bit of thin ice, I worked very carefully with the President, we went back through the covenants articulated the all the non, with the requirement, or if you're going to post it can't be controversial. It can't be like politically based or religiously based or you know, trying to make sure that feelings are not hurt and offense is not made. At some point, it became known to me who the person was. We had, you know, a chat. And I think I was successful in relieving their concern about I was not on one side or the other. I think I used I don't have a dog in this hunt, realizing that people do horrible things to each other all over the world. But please understand that this may be an offense to one of your neighbors. Although you know, I'm sure you're passionate and I appreciate your passion. But we just need to make sure things are appropriate. So that was probably the my most uncomfortable situation. Yet. As a board member.

Robert Nordlund:

Brooks spoke frequently about the collaborative nature of West Lake residentials board of directors. We asked what he thought about the demographics and the overall culture

Brooks Cummings:

of the board. So the board this building's residents and the board are built up of the demographic and study on the older side. The demographic tends to be leaders of industry. So folks that have owned their own businesses or folks that have had relatively high responsibilities within other businesses. I find them to be very professional, act with a high sense of integrity, or non volatile, are very respectful and are great listeners. And I'm just about 100% that every board member would agree with me on those attributes. In the past, what I've heard are there have been contentious members. And there have been difficult relationships. But the the folks that are on the board right now work wonderfully together. And as I said, part of it is we have a relationship outside of the board, right? We're all, we're all community members, we frequently have dinners with each other, or go to movies together or play Mahjong, or whatever the case may be. Right. It's that type of demographic that has the time and the desire to build deep community relations within the building.

Robert Nordlund:

As we learned from Roger Mitch, our last board hero featured in Episode 39. Living in cold parts of the country with lots of precipitation can dramatically accelerate deterioration to the property. We asked Brooks if the current board is focused on any particular project. And here's what Brooks had to say, right

Brooks Cummings:

now we have our particular focus is on we have some what I'll call infrastructure things, so stuff external to the building that are starting to deteriorate through COVID, we've been trying to address several of these big animal things for like a year, a year and a half. And just trying to get vendors to come in, give us engineering reports, reach out to the folks that could do the work, get the statement of work together and actually execute the work has just been horrific. I gotta be honest with you. I'm told, and I believe that a lot of other associations are meeting with the same things. For example, you know, folks will get through a project gets halfway through a project, and the vendor will say, Oh, guess what, the one expert that was doing this particular coding quit, and I no longer have anybody that can do that. Therefore, I'm backing out of the contract. I'm hoping it's not specifically Burlington, but COVID has brought a lack of employee engagement or employee availability, that is really impacting the vendors ability to service the requirements of the community. And that kind of get back to, I'm focusing on deep relationships. For example, the electrical company that came in, did the lights was prompt with response, let me know they were going to be an hour late and coming to the building, super professional, when they were here did an excellent job to the degree they wanted whenever an individual unit or has some electrical work, whether it be a charging station for a car, whatever I'm recommending them. And I think they're very appreciative of the fact that, that, you know, they acted in a wonderful manner, and they're getting, you know, rewarded with real work and real revenue from that action.

Robert Nordlund:

It was clear from his answers that Brooks felt that was like residential was a well run association. However, as many of our viewers know, there's a big difference between being well run and being well funded. So we asked Brooks to speak on the financial state of the association. Yes, I

Brooks Cummings:

Yes, I believe this condo association is very well funded, we closely follow the reserves to we recently, the original reserve study we had was from Corporation A. And we found that it was rather conservative and we are over spending both maintenance and from the reserves, you know, reserve capable of repairs or third applicable repairs, we got another reserve study completed recently, it's a little more aggressive, to the degree where we had to increase the H aways to make sure that it was a 30 year study to make sure that we were fully funded through all years, we had some projected expenses that were coming up on us within the next five years. We raised between the insurance and the additional reserves study fund requirement, we raise the HOA fees by 17% this year that raised eyebrows, but when we were able to articulate, articulate the exact need for that people were very satisfied. Well, I won't say satisfied or thrilled but very understanding about the increase

Robert Nordlund:

Given the association's insistence on adhering to their newer reserved study and the fact that most residents were understanding about a 15% dues increase. We wondered if they tried to pass a special assessment in the past. Here's what Brooks told us.

Brooks Cummings:

Yes, they did. And it was successful. So before I'm here, there's a special assessment to enclose a staircase that was open to the elements. Then that work was successfully done and it was three to $5,000 per part. Since then, and working with the property management company, and having discussion with the board and owners about the reserve study. We have been given guidance that banks and other institutions frown upon special assessments. That is a an indication that your reserve study is not either fun ended or accurate? So we've had discussions from other you know, unit owners that Hey, can't we just wait for specials, you know, assessments and drop or HOA fees. So if we want to sell the unit, it isn't, you know, the HOA is not prohibitively high, and we're pretty passionate with no special assessments are a bad thing, when somebody's trying to get a loan to purchase a place. Finally,

Robert Nordlund:

we wanted to close this episode out, as we usually do by asking Brooks if he had any advice that he'd like to share with other board members tuning into the program.

Brooks Cummings:

So let me preface this by saying 99% of the owners are wonderful people, just a pleasure to be around very thoughtful, very caring. And as I said, we spend a lot of our personal time with each other. So my my advice to other board members is, remember that this is your home, and not a business. I can see you know, business leaders and, and professionals coming in and being wanting you to be run with a certain expectation on, you know, I expect all the contracts to recruit and the best and RFQ the lowest cost RFQ that vendor being brought on every year. And what that attitude causes is not only a constant churn for board members on educating new vendors and trying to bring them up to speed. And as we spoke before, it doesn't seem to be very collaborative with the with the vendors. You know, this is my home, I'm more interested in the relationships I have the work that is done with the vendors and the community members than I am with being tenacious on other I want to say to business or financial related aspects of the board and the community we live in.

Robert Nordlund:

We want to publicly acknowledge Brooks for performing a thankless job well, and compliment the entire board of directors. It was like residential for taking their responsibility seriously to act in the best interests of their association. We hope you gained some HOA insights from Brooks's story, and that it helps you bring common sense to your common area. Thank you for joining us, and we look forward to another great episode next week. And remember, if you match our definition of a board hero or know someone else who does, please reach out to us. Our contact details are provided in the show notes.

Announcer:

You've been listening to HOA Insights: Common Sense for Common Areas, you can listen to the show on our podcast website, Hoainsights.org, or subscribe on any of the most popular podcast platforms. You can also watch the show on our YouTube channel. Check the show notes for helpful links. If you like the show and want to support the work we do, you can do so in a number of ways. The most important thing that you can do is engage in the conversation. leave a question in the comment section on our YouTube videos. You can also email your questions or voice memos to podcast@reservestudy.com Or leave us a voicemail at 805-203-3130. If you gained any insights from the show, please do us a HUGE favor by sharing the show with other board members that you know. You can also support us by supporting the brands that support this program. Please remember that the views and opinions expressed by the podcast do not constitute legal advice. You'll want to consult your own legal counsel before making any important decisions. Finally, this podcast was expertly mixed and mastered by Stoke Light Video & Marketing. With Stoke Light on your team. You will reach more customers with marketing expertise that inspires action. See the shownotes to connect with Stoke Light

Financial Institutions Frown Upon HOA Special Assessments
Upcoming Live Podcast Episode Stream!
Ad Break - Association Reserves
Intro to HOA Board Hero Brooks Cummings
What an HOA Infrastructure Officer Does
How Easy is it to Get Elected to an HOA Board?
Personality Traits That Helped Brooks on His HOA Board
How Many Hours Brooks Puts Into His HOA Duties & His Favorite Aspects of His Duties
How Brooks Deals With Challenging Homeowners
Brooks Talks About the Culture of His HOA Board
Working on Building Infrastructure Updates
Brooks Talks About the Financial State of the Association
Brooks on His Community’s Successful Special Assessment
Brooks Gives Other HOA Board Members Some Parting Advice