Are You Ready For Cold Weather?

Are You Ready for Cold Weather?

Fall is the time to prepare for winter—cold and wet conditions not only make you miserable, but they can damage your home and property. Some winterizing can wait, while some can’t. Make a list of what needs to be done, and tackle the time-sensitive tasks first. Here’s a simple checklist suggested from your homeowners association to help you get a jump-start on winter this year.

Indoor Winterizing:

  • Examine doors and replace weather-stripping as needed.
  • Clean chimneys and flues.
  • Examine window caulking and reseal where needed.
  • Remove items near heat vents.
  • Examine and repair vents where needed.
  • Place nonskid runners or door mats outside to help keep water, sand and salt out of the house.

Outdoor Winterizing:

  • Cut back tree branches and shrubs that hide signs or block light.
  • Close hose bibs.
  • Examine outdoor handrails and tighten if needed.
  • Turn off electrical breakers for outdoor equipment.
  • Spray outdoor locks and hinges with lubricant.
  • Clean out gutters and downspouts.
  • Clear yard drains.
  • Stake driveway and walkway edges that may be difficult to find under deep snow.

Assemble, stockpile or refresh winter supplies:

  • Batteries
  • Candles and matches
  • Snow shovels
  • Ice melt and deicer
  • Generator fuel
  • Sand
  • Antifreeze
Have A Safe Halloween

Have a Safe Halloween

Halloween is every kid’s delight. It’s a blast to dress up in costumes, go trick-or-treating, attend parties and, most of all, eat candy.

Although Halloween is a favorite holiday for children, it can be scary for parents. Costumes can be dangerous, too much candy can be sickening and walking around at night can be risky.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (in anagram form) to make sure the little ghouls and goblins in your community have a safe Halloween:

S: Swords, knives and similar costume accessories should be short, soft and flexible.

A: Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Children should walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

F: Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see trick-or-treaters.

E: Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before they’re eaten.

 

H: Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help see and help others see you.

A: Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it when done to avoid skin irritation.

L: Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.

L: Lower the risk for serious eye injury by avoiding decorative contact lenses.

O: Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.

W: Wear well-fitting masks, costumes and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips and falls.

E: Eat only factory-wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook.

E: Enter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult.

N: Never walk near lit candles or other open flames. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

If you’re hosting a party or expecting trick-or-treaters:

  • Provide healthy treats, such as individual packs of raisins, trail mix or pretzels. Offer fruits, vegetables and cheeses to party guests.
  • Use party games and trick-or-treating as an opportunity for kids to get their daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.
  • Be sure walking areas and stairs are well-lit and free of obstacles that could cause falls.
  • Keep candle-lit jack-o-lanterns and other open flames away from doorsteps, walkways, landings and curtains. Place them on sturdy tables, keep them out of reach of pets and small children and never leave them unattended.
  • Drive safely and watch out for trick-or-treaters.
How Much Noise Do You Make?

How Much Noise Do You Make?

Noise is an inevitable reality in condominium communities. Condominium dwellers live in such close proximity that it’s essential we consider the effect noise will have on our neighbors when deciding on floor coverings, where to mount the flat-screen television or when to knock out a wall.

We—you and your neighbors—all have a right to enjoy our homes in peace and to furnish them as we like. But remember, the way you furnish your unit may create a headache for your neighbors in theirs.

Hard flooring—wood, ceramic, stone—is fashionable and collects far fewer allergens than carpet, making it very popular. But it can be a problem for the people downstairs, even if you make an effort to tread lightly or wear soft shoes. Southern Community Services advises all residents who are considering installing hard flooring to first install a sound barrier – like cork – to reduce noise. And encourage the people above you to do the same.

Flat-screen televisions are becoming more affordable every year, and many of our residents have them. It is a good idea to mount your screen on an interior wall—not a wall you share with a neighbor. Echoes from wall-mounted televisions are often an annoyance for those on the other side.

How much noise does it take to be a nuisance to your neighbors? One definition says nuisance is a level of disturbance beyond what a reasonable person would find tolerable. But, sometimes the question isn’t how much noise we make, but when we make it. You or your neighbor might find the boisterous party next door entirely tolerable—until about 10 or 11 p.m. Likewise, a noisy renovation downstairs might be intolerable if it’s a religious or ethnic holiday for you. Whatever you’re planning, give some thought to the day as well as the time of day for your activity.

If you have noisy neighbors, it is important to talk to them before reporting it to the homeowners association. They may not know that they’re disturbing you. Maybe you work nights and their teenager—whose room backs up to yours—blasts the audio system after school each day.

The Golden Rule applies here: Treat your neighbors the way you want them to treat you.

Professionals Hired To Conduct Reserve Study

Professionals Hired to Conduct Reserve Study

Our association has hired a professional reserve study provider to conduct a reserve study for our association.

A reserve study is a complex document that projects when numerous major components—like the roof, parking lot or tennis court—will need to be replaced, what they will cost and how much we need to set aside each year to pay for the various components at the necessary time. Preparing it requires a unique combination of specialized engineering knowledge, a keen understanding of financial projecting and savvy investing skills.

Professional reserve study providers are extensively trained before they are considered qualified to perform competent reserve studies tailored for each community. These professionals have met stringent requirements and are held to high standards. They have a thorough knowledge of common interest developments, HOAs, and community associations, and can provide the board with sound guidance.

We prepared a request for proposal that specified the reserve study must conform to the National Reserve Study Standards of the Community Associations Institute and our state law.

The board takes its fiduciary responsibility very seriously—we want to be good stewards of your money. By hiring these professionals we’re confident we’ve done the right thing.

 

 

Resources To Avoid Foreclosure

Resources to Avoid Foreclosure

The continuing home foreclosure crisis continues to reverberate throughout the housing market and other sectors of the economy. But the real tragedy is what foreclosure—or even the threat of default—does to families and individuals who face this kind of financial upheaval. And, it’s happening everywhere. While foreclosure rates are highest in “rustbelt” states like Michigan and Ohio, no state or region is immune.

High foreclosure rates are largely the result of lenders offering mortgage loans below the prime-lending rate. These “sub-prime” loans are most often provided to those with poor credit or buyers who need adjustable-rate loans to purchase homes. Mortgage defaults also can be the unfortunate result of a lost job or even a serious injury or long-term sickness that prevents breadwinners from working.

Foreclosures can also be initiated by the associations, but this is rare and most often the result of an owner refusing to pay association assessments or HOA fees over a period of time.

We hope none of our neighbors ever face a financial crisis leading to foreclosure, but that is wishful thinking. It can and does happen. If you or someone you know faces this kind of personal crisis, advice and information are available.

For information on foreclosure and mortgage lending, check out these websites:

ACORN Housing: www.acorn.org

Americans for Fairness in Lending: www.affil.org

 Center for Responsible Lending: www.responsiblelending.org

Consumer Federation of America:  www.consumerfed.org

 Neighbor Works America’s Center for foreclosure Solutions: www.nw.org/network/neighborworksProgs/foreclosuresolutions/default.asp

 FTC Fact Sheet, “Mortgage Payments Sending You Reeling? Here’s What to Do”: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/homes/rea04.shtm

 

 

 

Mortgage Loans—Do You Qualify?

Mortgage Loans—Do You Qualify?

If you’re thinking of moving up, but you’re unsure whether you can qualify for the mortgage loan you need, the Federal Reserve Bank website can help. Using its Partners Online software, you can calculate just how much you can afford with either a conventional or FHA loan. It also allows you to compute your principal and mortgage interest (PMI). As an added bonus, if you come up short, the website will suggest options that may help you qualify for a loan. Go to: http://www.frbatlanta.org/partnerssoftwareonline/dsp_main.cfm

 

Who Lives In Our Community?

Who Lives in Our Community?

Understanding and appreciating the generational values of your neighbors contributes to a strong community and leads to a strong community association. Consider a few broad groups:

Matures: The Matures were born between 1920 and 1945. They’re the last of the veterans of the World and Korean Wars, and are also called the “Silent Generation.” They’re about sacrifice. They survived the Great Depression, and they still reuse aluminum foil and paper bags. Their heroes were military figures. They believe that a rule is a rule. They feel that change is good, as long as it’s the type of change they’ve envisioned. The Matures defined the world in which we live for many years, but they now have to give way to the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers: Baby Boomers were born between 1945 and 1964. Approximately 77 million in number, they’re workaholics who believe in teamwork, democracy, and loyalty. They don’t necessarily see the need to follow rules. Baby Boomers value the concept of “built to last.” They invented the idea of “meaningful work,” and the workplace continues to be a part of their self-identity. Baby Boomers will occupy the White House until approximately 2030.

Generation X: Generation X’ers were born between 1965 and 1977. Numbering about 44 million, this group was raised in an environment in which both parents worked. They question their parents’ values, and they believe that jobs and housing are disposable. They place greater value on family and personal life than the Baby Boomers do, and they feel that a balanced life is more important than professional accomplishments.

Generation Y: Generation Y’s were born between 1977 and 2000. They comprise approximately 33 percent of the U.S. population, and projections suggest that by the year 2010, those age 33 and younger will number 137 million, or 46 percent of the U.S. population. People in this group have always known the Internet, laptops, and cell phones. It would never occur to them to physically touch a television to change the channel. People born in the U.S. after 1983 have always had a President from the Southern states. South Africa’s official policy of apartheid has not existed in their lifetime, cars have always had CD players and air bags, weather reports have always been available 24 hours a day, and genetic testing and DNA screening have always been available. This generation focuses on its individual choices, goals, and the future.

[Optional: Source: Community Associations Institute.]
Extended Warranties And Service Contracts

Extended Warranties and Service Contracts

When you buy cars, computer equipment, major appliances, home electronics or other expensive household items, chances are you will be offered a service contract or extended warranty for an additional fee. Often charged as a percentage of the purchase price, service contracts and extended warranties range in cost from less than $50 to several thousand dollars. While they may seem like a good way to protect your investment and buy some extra peace of mind, consumer advocates generally advise against purchasing this extra coverage and report that it is rarely worth the cost.

Most big-ticket purchases come with a standard manufacturer’s warranty that usually covers the item for a least the first year. More often than not, if a product is faulty, any defects will become apparent during that period and will be covered by the standard warranty. If a product is not defective, problems typically show up much later in a product’s life cycle, beyond the term covered by an extended warranty. In addition, extended warranties often overlap the manufacturer’s coverage—you might buy a two-year extended warranty, but with the manufacturer’s warranty covering the first year, you are really only receiving one additional year of coverage.

Another reason consumers are discouraged from purchasing service contracts is that they can contain so many conditions, terms and exclusions that they are virtually ineffective. In most cases, you will not have protection from common wear and tear, and some manufacturers do not honor contracts if you fail to follow their recommendations for routine maintenance.

One more thing to consider when weighing the pros and cons of service contracts is credit card coverage. Some credit card reward plans will double the length of a manufacturer’s warranty, free of charge, when you purchase the item with the card, making additional coverage unnecessary.

If, however, you do decide to purchase extra protection for a product, make sure you read the fine print in the service contract and ask the following questions to be sure you’re getting the protection you’re paying for:

  • Does the dealer, manufacturer or an independent company back the service contract?
  • How are claims handled?
  • Who will perform the service and where it will be done?
  • What happens to my coverage if the dealer or administrator goes out of business?
  • Is prior authorization required for repair work?
  • Are there any situations when coverage can be denied?

 

 

 

Working To Protect Your Money

Working to Protect Your Money

One of the most important responsibilities of the board is to manage the association’s funds—your money. We take this responsibility seriously; these are the procedures we insist on to protect your money:

  • Ÿ Association financial records are audited annually by a certified public accountant.
  • Ÿ The association has an investment policy that safeguards the principle of invested funds, a signature policy that safeguards operating funds, and a collections policy that safeguards cash flow.
  • Ÿ The balance sheet and profit and loss statement are reviewed each month, and expenses are compared to the budget each month.
  • Ÿ Bank statements are reconciled promptly each month.
  • Ÿ Checks and balances are in place to ensure the safety of association funds—such as requiring two signatures on all checks.
  • Ÿ Association reserve accounts are analyzed annually to ensure they are adequate for future needs.
  • Ÿ All association volunteers and personnel who have access to association funds are bonded.
  • Ÿ Kickbacks are prohibited and any possible conflict of interest must be disclosed.

 

What’s So Great About Community Associations?

What’s So Great about Community Associations?

Homeowners associations offer one of the best opportunities for Americans to own their own homes. They are for the 21st century what land grants were in the 19th century, and what the New Deal and GI Bill were in the 20th. Why?

Collective Management Protects Value

Americans have accepted, for the most part, the collective management structure of HOA living. Covenants and rules are no longer a new concept to most of us: renters are used to lease agreements with restrictions; single-family, detached-home owners are used to zoning ordinances and building codes. The difference is that in traditional, single-family housing, restrictions are administered by public bodies rather than by private boards.

Most Americans have accepted private governance because they understand that collective management and architectural controls protect and enhance the value of their homes. 

Privatizing Public Service Allows Growth

Wherever a new community is built, local infrastructures are stretched. School populations, snow removal, storm water management, road maintenance, utilities, traffic, everything increases leaving the local jurisdiction unable to support new community development. Yet housing is needed. Therefore, local jurisdictions often require community association management to assume many responsibilities that traditionally belonged to local and state government.

This privatization of public services allows local jurisdictions to continue developing housing without increasing local taxes. Instead, the developer only has to create an infrastructure and a homeowner association to maintain it after it’s developed.

Community Associations Make Owning a Home Affordable

Almost from their inception in the 1960s, condominiums have provided housing for low-to-moderate income Americans. In fact, in some areas, builders are required to include a certain percentage of affordable homes in new developments.

Also, converting rental apartments and commercial buildings into condominiums not only revitalizes many declining neighborhoods, it’s also made ownership more affordable for those wanting to live in urban centers.

Community associations have made home ownership in the Southeast and the rest of the nation possible for millions of Americans partly because modern families tend to be smaller, the number of single-parent homes has increased and more retirees are choosing to stay in their homes after retirement.

Community Associations Minimize Social Costs

Community associations also minimize most social costs. Because they have mandatory covenants that require certain obligations from homeowners and the association, associations ensure that all who  pay their share benefit and everyone is equally responsible. Community associations have sufficient enforcement authority that local government is seldom, if ever, needed to resolve assessment disputes. Many associations use alternative dispute resolution because it’s a faster and cheaper way to solve problems than legal action.

Community Associations Make the Market Efficient

Many community associations—especially condominiums—have greatly reduced urban sprawl. Because of their collective management and protective covenants, they are precisely what the Housing Act of 1949 intended when it called for “decent home(s) and suitable living environments.” Community associations, as alternatives to traditional single-family homes, are shining examples of free-market efficiency.

The factors that make community associations great places to live are easily ignored or misunderstood. Critics prefer to look at a few sensational issues instead of the whole picture. But many community associations are affordable, enjoyable, efficient places to live.