Source: Tim O’Keefe, Florida Community Association Professionals, June, 2020
Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, Florida community associations and property managers have moved quickly to implement best practices to keep residents, managers, and staff healthy and safe. The virus will remain top of mind in the coming months, but as we move closer to a highly anticipated return to normalcy—or something resembling normalcy—many of the measures taken during the crisis are going to become a permanent part of the successful operation of communities.
From utilizing virtual technology for association board meetings, elections, and resident lifestyle activities to the coordinated and aggressive disinfecting procedures, emergency virus response tactics can be implemented as regular tools for community managers to leverage going forward. Human behavior is surely bound to change as people are more cognizant of the importance of cleanliness and respect for personal space of others to hopefully avoid a similar virus outbreak in the future. The physical health and financial health of communities are intertwined, as pandemics will be incorporated into the preparation of annual budgets and emergency financial planning.
Examples of “new normal” aspects of community management in our state may include the following:
- Modifying how regular board meetings and elections are conducted.Many associations moved to virtual meeting platforms to keep regularly scheduled board meetings intact and have critical conversations about protecting residents. Some boards broadcasted virtual meetings—or replayed them—on closed-circuit TV stations in their communities to keep residents informed. If meetings had to be canceled, or if monthly meetings became quarterly meetings so board members could focus on immediate needs, associations stepped up communication through increased e-newsletters. For elections, associations allowed mail-in votes to be cast and required ballot handlers to wear protective gloves; some associations moved to online voting or the use of secure online voting mobile apps designed specifically for association elections. The next election season will be here before we know it, and we could see a similar approach out of an abundance of caution and/or a turn toward technology.
- Handling packages and food deliveries.The days of Amazon drop-offs occurring at the front desk could permanently give way to having all packages left at designated receiving areas to minimize the number of people coming through the main entrance. Staff members sanitized package surfaces or recommended to residents that they do so before opening or immediately after touching the outer surface. Since the beginning of the virus outbreak, many communities have required residents to come down to the front entrance to pick up food orders—some even went as far as making homemade masks to protect those residents. Isolating food deliveries to a designated area, instead of allowing delivery personnel to take elevators up to individual units, is a prudent measure with or without a major health crisis.
- Keeping common areas and amenities clean and safe. The first move was to close most common areas and amenities, while limiting the number of people entering common areas that must stay open, such as mail rooms and elevators. It is hard to imagine a scenario where the virus is eradicated and communities immediately remove all sanitizer stations and tell cleaning crews that they do not have to show up as often. We have learned so much about proper disinfecting techniques and minimizing the spread of germs that residents will expect it to remain a top priority.
- Providing residents with lifestyle and entertainment diversions to help them stay active and connected. The virtual fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, and other group activities will come in handy during major weather events that force residents to stay inside.
- Cross-training employees to serve a variety of roles during an emergency situation. Managers and staff members at Florida communities have been forced to expand their skill sets throughout the crisis to keep themselves, their colleagues, and residents safe. For instance, pool and gym attendants became part of cleaning and maintenance crews. Managers successfully encouraged employees to focus on doing what they can to address the immediate needs of a constantly evolving situation.
- Reinforcing the importance of robust reserves. Approaches to reserves vary wildly from association to association. Some will operate with little to no reserves and rely on special assessments in emergency situations. Associations that are already proactive with their reserves, especially in areas prone to hurricanes and other natural disasters, will look to further supplement their coffers to account for infectious disease outbreaks. At the beginning of the crisis, we evaluated our nearly 200 high-rises in Florida to identify communities with negative cash flow and obtain emergency lines of credit. With residential sales at a minimum during the crisis, the dramatic decline in estoppel revenue generated from transactions was also an important consideration for all associations. Throughout our portfolio, we recommended that associations allocate two months of community capital available. For an association with a $2.4 million budget, it would need $400,000 in the bank ($200,000 per month) to cover all costs during the two-month period.
If there is a silver lining to this crisis, it is that we have an opportunity to learn from each major challenge that we face and rely on our ingenuity and resilience to develop new strategies and protocols to deliver exceptional service.
Tim O’Keefe is a Partner and Executive Director – Strategic Growth and Client Relationships at Miami-based KW Property Management & Consulting. KWPMC is one of Florida’s largest residential property management companies, with more than 1,700 employees and 90,000 units under management. Its portfolio includes upscale high-rise towers, townhome communities, and homeowners associations. Visit www.kwpmc.com for more information.