The current frenzy of real estate development in the United States means homeowners associations are being incorporated at record rates. Unfortunately, the field of professional community management isn't growing at the same pace.
Today, more than 50 million Americans live in about 250,000 homeowner-governed neighborhoods - from small homeowners associations and large, master-planned communities to condominiums and cooperatives. Thousands more are formed every year.
These communities often are managed by professional community managers. But when a professional can't be found, or the association can't afford one, the volunteer board has to manage, as well as govern, the association.
Managing these communities involves collecting assessments, maintaining architectural guidelines, enforcing rules, landscaping, facilities maintenance, snow removal, trash collection, even settling squabbles between residents - and that's just for starters. Fortunately, there is help from Community Associations Institute, a nonprofit group that supports not only the professionals who manage associations, but also the elected volunteers who govern them.
Three features set community associations apart from other neighborhoods, according to CAI. First, you share ownership of common land and have access to facilities, such as swimming pools, that often are not affordable any other way. Second, you automatically become a member of a community association and must abide by covenants, conditions and restrictions. The third feature is that you will pay an "assessment," a regular fee, often monthly, that is used for upkeep of the common areas and other services and amenities such as pools and tennis courts.
In this type of community, you usually don't have direct responsibility for maintenance, so you won't have to clean the pool or fix the tennis nets. You may not even have to mow your lawn. But that doesn't mean you'll never have to think about these things.
CAI emphasizes the importance of getting involved in your community so you have a voice in the association's decisions and the future of your neighborhood. You can get involved by attending board meetings, serving on a committee or even seeking a seat on the governing board.
Volunteer homeowners who have to govern and manage their community associations can get help from CAI's instruction manual for managing property, financial investments and residents: "Self-Management: A Guide for the Small Association."
Despite its title, the book applies to all sizes of condominium and homeowners associations and provides the kind of information that helps protect volunteers from common - and not-so-common - management problems.