While the majority of condo communities and HOAs choose to partner with professional management firms to provide guidance and counseling and oversee day-to-day operations, other boards take the reins themselves and choose self-management. Choosing to go the self-managed route can be a tough decision, and it’s one that is best made by taking the characteristics—and character—of the community association or HOA itself into consideration.
Why Go Solo?
Sometimes the decision to self-manage simply comes down to the size of the community. For smaller buildings, self-management can make economic sense, ensuring that the building’s residents are getting the most bang for their buck. Smaller associations may not have the funds for a full time management firm, says Gary Mindlin, owner of Top Hat Home Services, a boutique management firm in New York City. Or the board members may feel “We have the expertise, and we only collect four checks a month—so why are we paying a company to do the job? “At that end of the market, cost becomes more important, and it’s harder to provide added value at a lower cost.”
Self-management can also be a good fit when members of the community have certain skill sets and experiences to share, and/or solid relationships with vendors and service providers. Board members may have financial, legal or other applicable experiences, such as qualified engineering skills, that may prove valuable in the management of an association or condo building. Those skill sets can cultivate an added sense of well being when considering the jump to self-management. "About three years ago, we made the decision to go that route," says the in-house manager of an active adult community in Monroe Township. “Our golf course was always managed by a management company, but since we have a talented pro and a talented superintendent and a talented comptroller, we have taken it in-house and we have saved a great deal of money by doing that and we have been successful. We have all the financials, our superintendent takes care of all of the chemicals and our pro takes care of the pro-shop and so on. It's all being done in house.”
In addition to all that, another part of the appeal of managing oneself has less to do with money and more to do with community, regardless of size. “Most management companies would not be here on a full-time basis,” says Domenick Lorelli, former president of the Senata Bayclub, an adult community in Bayville, New Jersey which has been managing itself since 1993. “There are two big benefits to self-managing: the first is that it's cheaper, and the second is the accessibility and you know the people personally. An association manager is here only on a part-time basis. So you don't have access to any answers or solutions to your questions or problems until they are on-site. Whereas with self-management, the people live here, and they are on site everyday of the week. They can be available to talk to, or if you have any problems you can come up here [to the office] and have them handled the right way.”
As much as self-management may appeal to a community and its residents, there are some inherent challenges that may arise by going without professional guidance. One of those challenges is ensuring that the individuals volunteering their time to manage the property are realistic about the amount of work and commitment involved in the proposed effort. “It takes a lot of time and knowledge," says Mindlin, "and almost always in the building someone says, ‘I have the time and knowledge,’ but almost always, they don’t."