Management Choices: Find Your Dream

Jun 11, 2015

Management Choices, Find Your Dream | Shirley Elmore, CMCA, AMS


Coming from the North and South Carolina coast, I had only been associated with portfolio management.  This included multiple communities and community types to include single family homes, townhomes, and of course, condominiums.  They generally had amenities such as clubhouses, swimming pools, hot tubs and tennis courts.  Some were high rises, some were ocean front and they all had board members and homeowners, each with their own individual ideas on what the community needed and should be and of course how much that should cost.

Working with condominium properties, I discovered the harsh reality of leaking toilets, hot water heaters, roofs and windows.  Condominium and townhome living can create a place where broken rules and regulations meant screaming babies, barking dogs and sleepless nights from the head banging music next door.  The complexities of single family communities and the myriad of rules and restrictions and all the “dos and the don’ts,” run far and wide.  When you get involved and are at the epicenter of a single family association, you add architectural restrictions, which in many cases can be very complicated, confusing and intense. 

All communities, big and small, are governed by Articles of Incorporation, federal and state restrictions, the Deed of Restrictions and the By-Laws, and community policies. 
So, I began to reflect about what kind of community I would love to manage.  Knowing there’s no perfect world of rainbows, waterfalls and perfect people, I thought one big large scale community would suite me well and play to my strengths as manager.  

It was last spring that my employer, Omni Management, asked if I would be willing to manage a large community in PA called Treasure Lake.  Of course I jumped at the chance and moved to PA within a month.

Treasure Lake is a single family community with over 9,000 lots currently subdivided with endless opportunities for growth.   Compared to my management experience in the south, here I only have a single board of directors, versus one per community at several communities.

However, due to the complexity and size of this community, we have a monthly community question and answer meeting, as well as a monthly board meeting.  This board is accountable for the same set of fiduciary standards as all boards I have worked with.  We are all still bound by Articles of Incorporation, federal and state statutes, Deed of Restrictions, and By-Laws, rules and regulations and community policies.  There is really no big difference here.

Owners still own their individual lots and there are still restrictions with regard to decorations, what can be erected, or built, color schemes, and general maintenance guidelines and the typical rules and regulations.  So again, there’s no real difference here. 
Here I still have the same board members and owners who seem to know what is best for the community and how they want it perceived and run.  So, no real big difference here either.
I am still faced with preparing and meeting the budget, fulfilling all the financial obligations of the community, and the delinquency rate of past due assessments.
I need to describe my current large scale community so you will understand the complexities involved.  In addition to the single family homes and vacant lots owned by individual owners, we have two PGA rated golf courses, each having a bar and grill, a large conference center which also serves as a restaurant, a lodge, two playgrounds/one with a lake, three beaches/lakes, a boat marina, two pools, a kiddie pool, a hot tub, and a cabin/campground area.  The biggest hurdle I faced, at least in the management of this large scale community, is the diversity in the vast amenities and staffing. 
To make sense of it all, and apply my many years of portfolio management, I try to compartmentalize each department into a separate community.  There are many hungry mouths to feed and each with a different appetite for the unexpected.  And although they are all different, they are all critical.
Being a portfolio manager in North and South Carolina, I generally did not have enough work to employ more than a couple of on-site maintenance staff members per community, if any at all.  General contractors were the norm.  Here at my large scale community I have a need for and staff an entire maintenance department with their own separate budget, needs, and responsibilities.  As you can imagine, this could easily become chaos with all the general maintenance and repairs required at each amenity.  As you can imagine between the homeowners and the other departmental managers, my maintenance team was fielding constant telephone calls and requests.  In an effort to track and organize this department I had to design our work order program.  We quickly implemented a program where all owner and/or departmental work orders are filtered through one person in our property control department who works in my administrative office.  This person submits all work orders to a designated person in maintenance through our computer system.  The designated person in maintenance closes out the work orders when the work is completed.  Through Omni Management, we have also implemented a “HelpDesk” program that we utilize as work orders as well.  Owners sign into the HelpDesk on their community web site, complete the form requiring their name, contact information, and fill in their concern or issue.  Through this system, we can easily track ongoing issues, dates reported, dates of completion, and every staff member that was involved in the process of work or completion.  These two systems have assisted in streamlining, tracking, and reporting maintenance issues in the community.
Another key factor in employing a full maintenance staff is time and management of their responsibilities.  We have some very technically qualified team members from mechanics to team members who are certified air conditioner technicians.  Having the expertise can really cut down on costs for the community.  When considering a large project however, you have to calculate the time involved and understand what normal responsibilities will suffer as a result of assigning large projects to an employee.  Remember, time is money.  When you consider this factor, it is sometimes more cost effective and productive to contract larger projects to general contractors.  An example of this is that I have multiple buildings that need to be re-roofed this year.  Due to the number of man-hours required to complete this rather large task, I determined that it would be more fiscally responsible to contract these roofing projects out to a roofing contractor.
While I had been associated with and frequented golf courses and restaurants, I had never managed either.  My first step in both of these areas, of course, was to talk to owners, guests and the staff to determine what was missing, what could be improved, and what was expected from these amenities.  The board of directors realized that I did not have experience in these areas and therefore for during management negotiations, it was determined that we would bring consultants into these two crucial areas of operation.  If you are unsure, bring in the experts, right?  We were very fortunate that Omni Management had previously worked with consultants in both golf and restaurant management. 
While we have magnificent golf courses, thanks to our golf maintenance staff, the community had allowed the golf program to become status quo.  We hired a young and energetic golf manager, who in turn hired young and energetic staff members.  While we did run the normal local newspaper ad for golf staffing, we also reached out to golf students in PA colleges.  We knew students in golf could use the experience they would gain through this summer position and we also felt that they would bring with them a renewed excitement for golf.  Through the consultant and the golf manager, we implemented new programs and promotions and they have increased rounds of golf and income significantly.  Another change that we made in this area is the previous golf manager, as a part of his employment package, stocked and equipped the pro shops and reaped the benefits of sales.  We have taken back control of the pro shops at both courses. Something interesting to remember when doing this is that many golf equipment suppliers will credit back much of the inventory not sold in a golf season.  Therefore there is not as much risk in losing profits due to over stocking as there may be in other businesses such as restaurants.  I have really learned a great deal working with and implementing updated ideas for our golf courses, and of course, I am still the responsible person for all decisions and the outcome of those decisions.
The restaurant business, I discovered very quickly, is totally unpredictable and probably one of the hardest businesses there is to manage.  Our consulting team immediately employed a restaurant manager to oversee and run the daily operations of the community center/restaurant and both taverns.  The second restaurant is being leased out so other than building maintenance as required by the lease, we are not involved in its operation.  Restaurants are ever evolving and we are still searching for what type of food and at what cost we can turn these food venues into a profitable or at least low cost amenity, for the owners and guests.  We are constantly watching cost of good’s sold, quality and quantity of foods, and of course pricing.  We have changed menus, staffing, opened the pool bar, and even begun grilling at the pool.  I feel that we have made great improvements in this area however; I know that we have not yet reached our full potential here at Treasure Lake with our restaurants.
While I am only covering a few of our amenities, I think you can understand that the massive amenities usually associated with large scale communities require an ability to multi-task, plan, have great time management skills, and the ability to communicate to staff, board members, and the community.  While communication is key, it is also more difficult with communities of this size.  To help overcome this, we utilize a message board at our main entrance, a constantly updated web site, flyers, message boards, facebook, and email blasts.  I have begun having a “Meet the Manager” session each quarter and have had great success with this.  In an effort to keep this meeting positive and flowing, I require that all questions be submitted to me at least one week prior to the meeting so that I have time to review the questions and ensure an accurate answer can be given at the meeting.  I have stressed that there may be questions that I do not have the authority or ability to answer but, in those instances, I will advise the person submitting the question that it will not be addressed and why.  The local newspaper editor attends these meetings and does a great job of listing all the questions and answers in the newspaper.  We have even taken the step of posting this newspaper article on the association’s web site for owners who were not able to attend.
As I am sure you can imagine, this single budget is much larger than any single association budget that I have prepared in my career.  I make sure to include my department manager in this process by meeting with them monthly to review the monthly financial statement once it has been finalized.  At the beginning of budget preparation, I ask each department for their “have to have list” and their wish list so all items can be considered in the budget process, especially capital items.  I have actually seen that the managers are excited about taking this active role and being not only accountable but, a huge part of their department’s planning and financial guidelines.  When they see the numbers, they can assist in evaluating how important and how critical each decision is for their department and how it affects their department’s ability to stay on track with their budget.    
Community management can be a difficult yet rewarding career.  While I am constantly learning, especially in this new setting, I am very happy that I have finally experienced my dream of managing a large scale community and I was right; I think I finally found my fit.  As a footnote, always remember that a great staff, communication, and teamwork are keys to success no matter what community your represent and I wish you luck in finding your perfect community. 

 


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