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Condo Confusion: 10 Tips for Working with Residents & Communities

Projects for homeowner and condo communities come with a conundrum: Your client is the association board – often through the management firm it has hired – but you probably will deal with residents who have questions and requests of their own.

It’s the resident’s home, and you’re in it, but they’re not the one who’s paying or who has hired you. It can be awkward at best, according to Oraine Williams, a senior community manager with Aegis Community Management in Championsgate, Florida.

The confusion occurs most often with residents who moved to a community from a single-family home where they made all the decisions about home improvements, Williams says. “Any owner or tenant will say, ‘since you’re here, can you do this other thing?’ It’s human nature,” he says.

How well contractors handle unexpected requests from residents is a big factor in winning repeat business from homeowner communities. Here are ten tips for coping graciously with residents while fulfilling your contract with the board or management firm.

  1. Review the board or firm’s policy about resident requests as part of negotiating the contract. Find out if there’s a standard script or response that they prefer you use to deflect requests that are out of bounds.
  1. Find out what the policy is for doing additional work directly for the resident, at the resident’s request. It might be ok to arrange that work while you are in the residence on official association business…or not.
  1. Be sure you know where the common areas begin and end. It’s not always obvious: Is the front porch of a townhouse condo controlled by the board or by the resident? Be sure you know where the boundaries are before you start work for either the association or the resident.
  1. Ask the board or management firm about frequent violations of association rules for improvements so you don’t accidentally take on work that appears to be permitted because the resident claims that, for instance, yellow front doors are ok just because a neighbor has a yellow front door.
  1. Always check with the board or management firm before taking on any work that could affect common walls, structure or systems. Get written permission for any work that is not cosmetic.
  1. Be sure to comply with the association’s rules for traffic and parking. For instance, some developments have underground lawn sprinkler systems that can be damaged if vehicles park on them.
  1. If your workers are often meeting residents with particular needs – such as the elderly, who might have hearing problems – consider training them in the nuances of communicating with people with those special needs.
  1. Remember that noise and vibrations can travel through buildings with shared walls. Ask the firm or board if you need to touch base with neighbors before starting work in one unit.
  1. Check out the policies for trash pick up and disposal. If you can save the association a little bother and money by coordinating cleanup with another vendor, you’ll build goodwill.
  1. Remember that management firms and boards share stories and recommendations with other firms and boards. If you’ve handled a touchy situation gracefully, be sure to relate that back to the firm or board to stoke good word of mouth.

Residents can be powerful recommenders. It takes just a bit of advance notice and on-the-job courtesy to win their support and to reinforce your value to the customer.

Joanne Cleaver is a widely published freelance business author, writer and former deputy business/real estate editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She and her husband have renovated three historic homes.

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