By Heidi E. Storz, Esq., Kerrane Storz, P.C.
For some, “developer” is a bad word. For others, a “developer” provides new business opportunities. Before a homeowners association has transitioned from developer to homeowner control, community managers have to work with people in both camps and must walk the difficult tightrope between them. This article describes the one and only tried and true method that will assist community managers in keeping both the developer and homeowners happy (or at least keep people from blaming the community manager for their problems) while the developer is still in control of a community association. That method is through fostering communication.
In a newly constructed community, homeowners are instructed to report outstanding warranty items to the developer by the end of the warranty period. When homeowners make warranty claims and do not receive a timely response from the developer’s warranty manager or if the warranty manager sets up meetings that their subcontractors then “blow-off,” homeowners rightly become frustrated and angry. Moreover, developers often experience high turnover in the warranty manager positions. The high turnover adds to the frustration, as homeowners are then forced to report items multiple times and often get different responses from different warranty managers. For example, one warranty manager may promise to take care of something, while the subsequent warranty manager tells the homeowner the issue they are reporting is not covered by the warranty.
On the developer side, warranty managers can understandably become frustrated with homeowners (and there is always at least one) who incorrectly believe that the warranty manager is their own personal “handyman” or that insist that the removal of the toy their two-year old stuffed down the toilet should be covered by the warranty. Some homeowners are ultimately unable to be satisfied, and no amount of remedial work will make them feel as though their issues were resolved.
When these frustrations boil over to include the community manager, what is a manager to do? Simply and without fanfare - community managers should do their best to help these people communicate with one another. Any time communication breaks down between people in a dispute, those people start talking to other people instead of one another. With homeowners, that often means talking to their neighbors, then talking to people who read online reviews or watch Tom Martino, and eventually talking to lawyers.
So how can a community manager help people in this scenario who are frustrated with each other communicate better? Easier said than done for sure, but here are a few suggestions:
- Keep the contact information (including phone number and e-mail address) for the developer’s current warranty manager at the ready so that you can provide it to homeowners when they call. This way, homeowners are not wasting time trying to contact people who will no longer return calls and cannot help them.
- Make sure the developer’s warranty managers are informed of and invited to all homeowner meetings. That way, the warranty manager can field homeowner questions about their homes and the community manager won’t have to.
- Obtain a copy of the developer’s warranty standards so that you can refer homeowners to those if they have questions regarding warranty coverage.
- Advise the developer-appointed board members of inquiries that you are receiving from homeowners regarding warranty issues so that they can follow-up with the warranty managers.
For most people, their home is their biggest investment, and people feel strongly about protecting that investment. As such, it is no surprise that homeowners become emotional if they believe developers aren’t treating them fairly. It is never easy to deal with frustrated people that feel powerless in their situations. Community managers, however, are uniquely positioned to help dissipate the frustration that can arise between homeowners and developers when you give people real tools to work with. As the old adage goes, “information is power” and information is the tool that can help people move beyond their dispute to solutions.