Alan Staten, president and owner of Association Management Solutions (AMS) in Lake Wylie, S.C., gave The Meck Times his thoughts on managing homeowners associations (HOAs) in the Greater Charlotte area. His job includes advising HOA boards, as well as being a middleman between HOA residents and management.
AMS also does consulting for property owners associations (POAs) and commercial owners associations (COAs), but Staten said about 80 percent of its business is with HOAs.
Staten has lived in Charlotte for several years, and described his background as “just working with other companies” in cities such as Cincinnati and Chicago.
Staten bought AMS in 2008 after parting ways with another company. “The thought was if I can do it for them, I can do it for me,” he said.
Read the Q and A segment to learn how he manages – or tries – to keep more than 80 clients happy.
Q: How did you get into the HOA consulting business?
A: So I was looking at other companies in the building-trade type of environment, home building, commercial building, and the broker I was working with came up and said, “What do you think of an HOA company?” And my response was, “What is an HOA company?”
Q: What was your mindset going into the HOA business after the 2008 economic crisis?
A: Some people would say timing was poor. I think the timing was great, because my background was in very competitive work environments, so you always had to claw your way to customers. The hardest thing that I see out there is that you gain someone and you lose someone, and it makes no sense. If you can gain one, you want to keep one; you don’t want to lose the business you’re gaining. So retention is big. That’s one of our big goals, every year to retain what we’re growing and not letting it fall away.
Q: What does your business do on a daily basis?
A: Our role is to help (HOAs’ boards of directors) manage running the business. We don’t make decisions, they make the decisions. We give recommendations, we provide guidance, we help them with individual homeowner-type issues that can creep up from time to time. We want them to be able to make decisions, we want to be the information gatherers and disseminators, so that they can make those decisions in confidence.
Q: Do you ever interact directly with property owners?
A: I would say 90 to 95 percent of all the homeowners’ property owners are fine. You’ll have 5 to 10 percent that, from time to time, have issues. Our role is to help them understand the documents. Sometimes after they buy in, they don’t like the governing documents, they want to do it their way. So we’ll have some conflicts from time to time, and our role is to work with the HOAs and help them understand, per the documents, you can’t do that, or per the documents, this is how you need to do something. Another reason that the management companies are involved is, you may not want to go speak to your neighbor about them parking their trailer in their driveway, that’s our job. We don’t want you to have to, as a board member, to go speak to your neighbor, or even as a resident speaking to a neighbor about doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. That’s our job. It’s our job to be the bad guy, if you will, at times.
Q: Are property owners given the opportunity to discuss HOA regulations with boards of directors?
A: Sure. At annual meetings, that’s usually where that will take place, where the owners have the opportunity for open forum, and they can express concerns, grievances, things they like to see different, things they like to change, things they like, things they don’t like. A lot of times you get people that are complaining, and so many times we say, “Well why don’t you get on the board, and work with the board of directors on this if it’s a big issue?” And most of the time they decline.
Q: What are some of the biggest complaints you receive from property owners?
A: People don’t like to be told what to do. That’s the biggest issue. The documents will read a certain way, and every association will have some type of different language in it about maintaining your property, keeping it neat, orderly and clean; things along that line. Sometimes it’s vague; what’s neat and orderly may not be neat and orderly to someone else. It’s more aesthetics than anything. Our company’s good about requesting adherence versus demanding adherence. Sometimes it gets to the demanding stage, but I prefer it to be requesting.
Q: How do you feel about groups attempting to limit the power of HOAs in Charlotte through legislation?
A: Is there a good reason for it? There are times that there are certainly good reasons for having laws enacted, particularly when you have runaway boards, boards that think they’re all powerful and they think they can’t be touched, and boards that are doing things beyond what the documents allow them to do. I think you’d find that a majority of those boards are in communities that are still self-managed. They do not have the proper guidance and recommendation provided to them, either by a management company, attorneys, accounting, whatever it may be.
Q: What’s the best way to make everyone happy?
A: You can’t make people happy, number one. We work diligently to do everything we can to take care of our customers. However, if someone’s unhappy because they can’t plant a tree in their yard, or park a trailer in their front yard, or drive their commercial van into their front yard, our job at that point is not to make them happy, because to make them happy means you give in to something they shouldn’t be doing. Our goal is to be consistent, from one resident to the next resident. I think the consistency is more important than the happiness.
Q: What sort of trends have you seen the Greater Charlotte area since moving here in 2008?
A: I think boards of directors have become smarter, more sophisticated, more intelligent, and there’s more placed upon them in responsibilities. They’re taking the job more seriously, and I think that has had a positive effect on management companies. So I think what we’ve seen with the great recession and things like that, we’re seeing smarter boards come out of this, at least I hope so.
Q: What changes do you expect in the future?
A: It’s very possible in North Carolina specifically you may see more legislation coming forward that’s going to guide how HOAs are managed. It could happen.
Q: Why do you think that’s the case, considering property owners’ perspectives?
A: I think most property owners, and I don’t mean to slam anyone, but I think most property owners are not informed. We read these documents day in, day out, these documents are the guiding principles for each association, and again, documents can vary from association to association, and so I think that part, they’re not informed, and they’re upset. I would think the other part of that, that would bring on legislation, is that you still have a high number of unmanaged associations, and you have boards of directors that are ill-advised as to what their authority power may be.
Q: How would suggest property owners be better informed?
A: First of all, most people don’t understand what the documents say or read when they’re signing on to buy a new home. You go to a closing and it’s paper after paper after paper, and sign here, sign here, sign here, and an hour later you’re out the door; but you haven’t really read everything. We do something today, and it’s been fairly successful, but when we get information coming to our office of a closing, part of the information that we send back to the closing attorney is a document that we want the new homeowner to sign, recognizing and acknowledging that they’re moving into a homeowners association, and we keep that on file. Education is going to be important.