All posts by sperling

hammer with nails

Do I Need Approval to Renovate My Condo Unit? 

Have you been bitten by the DIY bug or perhaps have been watching too much HGTV this winter? If so, you may have started dreaming about making some changes to your condo unit. Maybe you are thinking big and considering a structural change, or maybe you just want to change out the color in the bathroom. Either way, you probably are facing the question that comes up when you don’t own the building…Do I need to get approval from the HOA (homeowners association) before I renovate my unit? 

The answer is complex and often includes the words “it depends.” Mostly, however, the answer is that you should get approval from your homeowners association before you start making major changes to your unit. Here is a quick breakdown depending (that magic word) on your HOA and their bylaws. 

paperwork

Where to Start

Most HOAs have tight control over establishing rules that unit owners must follow, especially when it comes to remodeling. The first thing you will want to do is determine for yourself what changes you would like to make on your unit. 

From there consult with the governing documents for your community. You can find these guidelines laid out in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

Do these documents give any insight on what can and can not be done in a unit? Are there stipulations about what scope of work can take place and what contractors will or will not be allowed to work within the building? The bylaws and governing documents should be your first resource before you set your plans in motion. 

Beyond the governing documents, talk to your neighbors and find out if they have had any work done on their unit, how it went and what kind of hoops they needed to jump through before work could get underway. 

circular saw

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

Many condo owners feel like the interior of their home is fair game for renovations and they start their projects without approval from the HOA board. Unfortunately, this means that if you don’t follow your HOA’s condo rules, the board may subject you to fees or court time- neither of which are fun to deal with. So to avoid these repercussions proactively stay informed and in accord with the CC&Rs. No one wants to deal with the cost of a renovation and then face fines from their HOA due to that project. 

Consider why these rules exist. If you begin knocking down walls or changing the structure of the building you could potentially harm the integrity of the unit or the units above or below. Always seek approval before you make any structural changes. 

Have you made changes to your condo unit in the past? How did it go? Drop us a line in the comments or check out our Facebook page. 

banana under a boot

Avoiding Slips & Falls in Your Community 

It’s that time of year again, when snow, ice, and all sorts of precipitation or freezing temperatures could wreak havoc on walkways, driveways, and hardscape surfaces. The many ups and downs of Mother Nature is what makes living in the Greater Boston region exciting, but also a bit of a hazard during the winter months. 

If you are a landlord, property owner, or part of a condominium board, you may need assistance during the winter months to keep your hardscape safe in order to avoid any slips and falls that could occur. Here are some simple yet smart ways to keep your community protected from these incidences. 

condo grounds

Condo Living Benefits 

Living in a condominium community has so many benefits, including not having to worry about landscaping and outdoor maintenance. Shoveling snow, de-icing sidewalks and parking lots are two of the perks as well. Tack on some wonderful amenities like access to a fitness room, pool in the summer, or a guest house for parties and you have a trifecta of benefits to condo living.

The benefit we are focusing on today is the responsibility of preventing dangerous walkway and parking space incidents during the winter months, as well as keeping indoor common areas safe year round. 

walkway

Outdoor Spaces 

The responsibility of a condo community to keep its common areas such as the walkways, parking spots, and driveways safe really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preventing slips and falls. 

Walkways should be maintained carefully all year long, which means clearing them of snow and ice in the winter months, and leaves and other tree debris in the fall and spring months. These walkways should be treated with non-toxic de-icing products. This is the first defense of protecting your community against slips and falls. 

In addition to clearing walkways of snow or ice, many communities also install hand railings, use anti-skid paint on walkways, and keep all hardscape in good repair throughout the year. This includes repairing any cracks, bumps, or broken pieces to avoid someone’s foot getting caught on the ground and causing a potentially injurious fall. 

Outside areas should also have proper lighting so tenants or community members can see where they are walking and thus avoid a painful fall on ice or by bumping into something blocking their path. 

Indoor Areas 

As New Englanders, we all know that when winter hits it is pretty common to track in snow and ice on our boots. That snow will eventually melt and could cause a slipping issue in hallways or common areas. Property management companies should become experts at knowing what time of year to install moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges to avoid slips at entrance ways. They should also be quick to send maintenance crews to regularly mop and dry hallways that are not covered with rugs. 

What are ways that your property management company keeps your community safe from slips and falls? Drop us a line in the comments or check out our Facebook page. 

 

programmable thermostat

Keeping Costs Down in the Winter – Condo Edition 

According to a study published in Move.org, Massachusetts residents have some of the highest utility bills in the U.S., dishing out an average of $469 a month for gas, electricity, and related costs. All six New England states ranked in the Top 10 nationwide. How can you keep these costs down this winter? 

If these numbers and standings alarm you, realize that you are not alone. In fact, you may be one of the millions of Bostonians looking to reduce their bills this winter. 

Cutting utility bills is the dream of most homeowners as the winter draws closer and the temperatures drop. Living in New England means snow storms and Nor’easters for months on end and consequently keeping the heat on from late fall to mid spring. Thankfully there are some fairly simple steps to keeping your heating costs down as the winter progresses. 

smart home tech

A Programmable Thermostat

A great way to keep the utility bills down during the colder months is to invest in a programmable thermostat. This type of temperature control device can provide comfortable heating while you are home while automatically lowering the temperature when you are at work or away from your property. The automatic temperature adjustments can happen in the unit or from a smartphone. It can mean a major lowering of your energy bills. 

Insulating Doors and Windows 

Obviously one of the major ways that cold air enters a property is through the small openings around doors and windows. These types of leaks can eat away at your heating bill and cause a higher usage bill. 

Try sealing your doors and windows to keep cold air from entering your unit. Door sweeps and window caulking can do wonders to keep out drafts and air leaks. Insulation can also make a huge difference in the energy bills you will see monthly. 

sun shining in window

Use Natural Heating 

Depending upon the sun’s direction in your unit, you may be able to use the natural heating of the sun for your unit to reduce your energy bills. When the sun is shining directly on your unit, take advantage of that natural heating by opening shades and allowing as much sunlight as possible to naturally heat your space. After the direct heating has moved, try closing the curtains to keep as much of that natural heating in as possible. 

Tell us your tricks to cutting your heating bills throughout the winter! Leave us a note in the comments or on our Facebook page.  We love to get ideas from our readers and pass them along to others. 

 

condo grounds

Keeping Your Condo Grounds Safe During the Winter 

As New Englanders and hardy Bostonians, we are used to inclement weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s snow, sleet, rain, or even some hail. We can handle it. Nor’easters don’t faze us. Hurricanes don’t panic us. And wind storms may knock us down, but we get right back up again. 

As property management specialists, we focus on the things we can control, like keeping our property grounds and buildings safe during the winter months. Here are a few of the steps we may take at your property.

pavers in circle

Walkways & Driveways 

Winter precipitation can be a nuisance or it can be downright dangerous. Snow or ice on a walkway can cause slips and falls or unsafe driving conditions. One of the more important services a property management group will provide during the winter months is the constant clearing and maintaining of slip-free walkways and driveways. 

Snow can come in measurements of inches or feet, but either way, a good property management company will stay on top of the situation and keep the areas clean of whatever precipitation comes our way.  

Roof Protection 

The roof of any condo association or rental property needs to be cared for throughout the year. During the winter months, however, there are several things to be cognizant of when it comes to the safety and health of a roof. For example, snow and ice can accumulate making for a dangerous situation on any roof. If insulation is not working properly ice dams can cause leaking and damage to a roof line. And trees with roof overhang can become a problem, especially if branches break off and land on the shingles. 

icicles on gutter

Gutter Problems

Fall is generally the time of year that gutters need to be cleaned of falling leaves and yard debris. If this chore is not properly completed, there can be problems with clogged gutters and flooding/leaking concerns throughout the winter. A good property management company will keep those gutters clear of debris so that any type of precipitation can flow away from the roof and building structure, thus saving the foundation and siding from any damage. 

Piping Protections 

Freezing pipes can be an issue in many colder areas in the winter months. Property management companies can easily protect pipes through insulation and proper ventilation in crawl spaces and utility areas. In addition to protecting piping, property management companies should also be sure of clear exhaust areas and ventilation to avoid a buildup of hazardous fumes like carbon monoxide. 

Tell us how your property management company keeps your grounds safe during the winter months. Drop us a line in the comments or on our Facebook page

 

man in walkway in the winter

Prepping For Winter in a Condo Community 

Nobody here in New England wants to admit it, but the winter temps and precipitation is on its way. That means snow, ice, and below freezing temperatures for the next few months. Maybe even a nor’easter for good measure too! Are you ready for whatever Mother Nature can throw our way? Here is a quick guide of ways to prep in your community for the colder months that lay ahead. 

thermostat

Interior Unit Preparations

If you are a condo unit owner, there’s really not a whole lot you can do to prepare the outside of your home. That job usually falls to the organization hired by your condo HOA board. 

There are, however, a few steps you can take to ready your condo’s interior for the winter weather. Start by making sure your windows are sealed properly. Add caulking where necessary and maybe even invest in thermal window shades that can keep pesky drafts out. 

If dipping temperatures are a problem, try using a programmable thermostat that can have your unit nice and warm by the time you get home from work, and automatically adjust it back down during the hours you are out and about. If temperatures are a problem in your building, you may also want to protect your pipes on exterior facing walls as they can freeze and burst in the sub zero temps. 

In addition to taking steps to protect your condo unit from temperature fluctuations, you may also want to check the batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alerting system. The start of winter is a great time to check both of these as blowing and drifting snow can cause a blocking of exhaust pipes, a potential catastrophe in the making. 

While you are checking your monitoring systems, also take a close look at the lint trap in your dryer if you have one within the unit. A good clean out is a great way to avoid any fire risk associated with combustible lint inside a dryer. 

snowy village

Outside Winterizing 

Usually the winterizing on the outside of a building is handled by the homeowners association, (often a 3rd party vendor) who handles things such as: plowing and shoveling, roof repair, and landscaping. 

Winter tasks such as plowing and shoveling hardscape areas falls to the landscaping team and the HOA board. Treating walkways with de-icers is also a main task of the board who is responsible for the safety of its community members both on walkways and on the driveway surfaces. 

Clearing rooftops or decks that are at the mercy of the elements and winter precipitation may also fall in the category of responsibilities taken care of by the HOA. Read the bylaws about how often these areas will be cleared of snow or winterized for the season. 

Your property management team should be able to communicate with your condo community regarding a checklist of tasks that you may want to complete before the weather turns even colder, while they take care of exterior chores. 

 

city street

Common Condo Community Rules 

Looking for your next home? Maybe you are downsizing, hoping to avoid the lawn maintenance, or want less upkeep for items like the roof, furnace, or other high priced utilities. Whatever way you look at it, condo living may be a good choice for your lifestyle. Before you begin hunting for a condominium community, there are some community rules that you may want to be aware of before signing on the dotted line. 

condo living room

What is an HOA? 

A homeowners association or HOA is the ruling board over any community living area. A homeowners association makes and enforces rules for multiple-unit buildings like condominiums and townhouses, or possibly planned communities of single-family homes. If you own a property within an HOA, you automatically become a member. In becoming a member, you agree to abide by the rules and regulations and to pay dues, known as HOA fees. An HOA will usually have its rules in a document called a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R). (Source: BankRate

landscaped birch trees

Common Rules of an HOA

When you become a member of any HOA, the rules are clearly spelled out for all community members. While these rules can, and do, differ from one community to the next, there are usually some fairly common rules to be aware of. Here are just a few that you will want to investigate as you begin your home search. 

Landscaping Rules: 

Most HOAs want a community to have a certain uniform appearance from one unit to the next. In order to have this, there are usually rules about the landscaping that is, (and isn’t) allowed around your unit.  For instance, there may be restrictions on how many plants you can have at your front door, or any decorations you may be allowed to have adorning your front entryway. 

Parking & Vehicle Rules: 

Homeowners associations usually have rules related to cars, including how many vehicles you can have on your property, where those vehicles can park, and what type of vehicles you can have. For example, if you own a boat, RV, or use a work vehicle, you may be required to park it in a different lot or not on the property at all. Remember to consult your bylaws before you buy to avoid not being able to park your work vehicle in the community lot. 

Pet Mandates: 

Most HOAs have very specific rules about allowing pets. If your community does allow dogs or other pets, there may be rules that require the pets be a certain size or breed. Again, check with your local HOA about how this could impact your fur-friend and your living arrangements. 

In addition to requirements about the type and size of pets allowed, most HOAs have noise and nuisance rules about where pets are allowed on the property as well as rules about picking up pet waste and leashing said pets. 

Decoration Guidelines: 

Are you one that really enjoys decorating for each season or holiday? If you are, you may want to check the governing documents regarding what is allowed for outdoor or visible decor for your unit. Some HOAs allow decorations during a few weeks a year while others have limits on the amount and placement of decorations. Still, others require that all decorations are kept inside each unit. 

Check with your community HOA board before you invest in a condo community. You will want to know the requirements and guidelines for your specific living area so there are no surprises. What are the common rules in your condo community? Leave us a note in the comments or on our Facebook page

 

for sale sign

How To Fill a Vacancy Fast 

Are you a landlord or property owner and feel the pressure every time a renter gives their notice that they are moving on to another location? This is pretty normal and understandable especially if you have been lucky enough to have tenants that pay on time and are respectful to the property. 

Once a renter has given notice there are a few ways that you can work to fill the vacancy quickly. This will result in no gap in payments and allow you to continue the rental agreement with a new person or family. 

key in a lock

Act Immediately

If all goes as planned, landlords or property owners should have about 30 days notice when a renter announces a departure. This doesn’t always happen but when it does this time can be used to prep the unit. Take that thirty days and start marketing immediately. Start placing ads in local media outlets as well as online sites for renting. 

Use this time to assess if the unit needs repairs, repainting, or any new flooring/appliances. The 30 days notice will give you ample time to make these repairs. The better the unit looks, the more likely you will get a good price and find renters quickly. 

Market Appropriately 

Once you have assessed the repair needs of the unit, you should begin marketing the property. Use free online sites, such as Craigslist and Zillow. Use signage in the window or on the lawn of the property so people in the vicinity can be first to know that the unit is available. 

Other options for marketing include: using a real estate agent, word of mouth, property management companies, and a traditional newspaper ad. These can be placed weeks prior to the vacancy and allow you to fill the unit even before the previous owners leave. 

phone apps

Leverage Technology

Use technology such as digital photography, virtual tours, or 360 degree images of the space to help you rent the unit. Consider shooting a video tour of the interior of your property, as well as the outside of your apartment complex and all common areas. 

Technology such as social media can also help you get the word out about the vacancy. Sharing of posts can quickly spread and make for light work of renting the unit. 

Create Incentives 

If you have multiple units, some property owners give incentives for other renters to attract good renters by bringing in someone they know and can vouch for. Obviously, background checks and credit checks should always still be run for each applicant, but this can help attract good renters. 

How do you fill vacancies fast? Drop us a line in the comments or check out our Facebook page. 

condo

Remodeling your Unit- What You Need to Consider 

If you own a condo, you know that there are some definite perks to condo life. Your weekends are free from mowing the lawn and taking care of the landscaping, you have access to some pretty sweet amenities, and you probably have some amazing neighbors. 

Even with all the positive features associated with condo living, some owners still want to change things up within the walls of their unit. Taking down a wall, adding an architectural feature, or maybe just sprucing things up might be on your list of things to do. Before you even pick up a hammer, however, you may want to check with your Homeowner’s Association first about what you may need to do or permissions that may need to be granted before you may remodel it. 

Condo Rules 

Homeowner associations (HOAs) are responsible for managing condo communities. They take care of all of the common areas, the grounds, and the amenity areas. Most HOAs are responsible for any repairs needed on the outside of the unit building but are not for the interior of units. These HOAs have tight control over establishing rules that unit owners must follow, especially when it comes to remodeling.

Since your unit is probably attached to other condo units or apartments, you may need to check with your HOA about what rules apply to making changes. Not only structural issues will need to be addressed but also the noise and inconvenience that may be put upon your neighbors. 

Before beginning any renovations, it is critical to examine your HOA’s condo renovation rules to see what is permissible. You can find these guidelines laid out in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

condo

Scope of Work 

Making changes to your condo could range anywhere from switching out your fixtures or hardware, to taking down walls. While the latter is not something that you would usually need permission from the association, you will need to seek approval from the board for larger renovations within your unit. 

The reasoning for this is that they need to affirm that the changes will not put the structure of the building at risk or cause a nuisance to neighbors. In general, if you are taking down a wall or changing the footprint or flow of your unit, you should confirm with the homeowners association that the removal of your interior walls won’t result in damage of the condo or the integrity of the building.

The Bottom Line

Have fun planning your renovation, but be sure to check with and gain the needed HOA approval before you begin any project within your unit. You may find the bylaws a good place to start when trying to determine which improvements need approval and which can be done independently. 

 

urban condo

The Increasing Rates of Rental Fraud 

As if life is not stressful enough during this global health crisis, now rental fraud numbers seem to be on the rise. The logic of why this is happening is fairly simple. When money is scarce, the prevalence of fraud and identity theft increases. The mere fact that millions of Americans are out of work and struggling to make ends meet is enough to cause this alarming statistic to grow. 

What is Rental Fraud? 

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Rental fraud occurs when someone claiming to be a property manager or landlord, in certain cases the actual landlord, tries to rent a property that doesn’t exist, isn’t their rental or is substantially different than advertised.” 

Most rental fraud scams happen when a deal is too good to be true. The price and location may seem perfect, but the landlord or rental agency is hard to reach, want you to wire money, or can’t show you the property because of one excuse after another. Always be aware of scammers especially when you are hearing about a rental location from an advertisement, email, or through online connections. 

landscaping condo area

What the Numbers Tell Us 

The Federal Trade Commission, which keeps track of this type of fraud, reports that, “the fraud industry is now costing $1.7 billion annually. And of that, we had a 56% growth rate just within our industry of rental properties.” 

They also estimate that 2020 is going to be a 200% increase over last year. They explain that the biggest challenge, now that the criminals have pivoted to this rental industry, is that they’re here, and they’re coming, and so we’ve got to take more aggressive action against renter ID theft.

walkway

What To Do If You Think It is a Scam 

You can help prevent these types of scams by reporting them to the FTC here. You should also report the scam to your local police so they can take legal steps and warn other consumers of the potential scam. 

We suggest that you do the online form to report the scam. It is quick and easy to file. It can help save someone else from falling victim to these new rental scams. If you know or have reason to believe that the person or company that scammed you is located in a different country, visit econsumer.gov.

To learn more about the types of scams and specifics of the scams check out the Real Page and their online article about “Rental Fraud: On the Rise.” 

outdoor patio

Staying Safe in Common Areas 

Some of the more appealing aspects of living in a rental unit or condo association are the amenity areas including: walking paths, the pool, tennis courts, a fitness room, or entertaining areas. Many associations pride themselves on the well-maintained and impeccably cleaned common areas that are provided to the people living within the community. 

These common areas provide hours of entertainment, exercise, and places to socialize with neighbors and friends. These locations are often areas where community members can share news, celebrate, and enjoy time together. 

Unfortunately, just like in any city or suburb, community members should practice good safety protocols. Let’s review a few so you and the people within your community can stay safe this season. 

swimming poolSwimming Safety 

Swimming is such great exercise and can provide hours of entertainment for family members of all ages. Remember to follow safety guidelines that are clearly displayed in pool and hot tub areas. Avoid swimming alone and keep gates and doors locked so children can not accidentally wander into the pool area. 

Walking Paths

Just like it is not wise to swim alone in case of emergency, walking alone, no matter how safe the walking paths are, is never advised. Try to always walk with a friend and wear clothing that is easily seen, especially if you are walking at night. 

Property management specialists should attempt to make the paths clear of debris and as well lit as is possible. Trips and falls can be avoided with walkway lighting and well-maintained paved paths. 

fitness center man working out

Fitness Rooms 

Getting in a good workout after work is a great perk of living within a community. The amenity of a fitness room is a much sought after perk. 

To stay safe in this area, we suggest going with a friend and wiping down all equipment after you have used it. Be sure to follow the guidelines of equipment use so you do not get injured and keep access to the facility closed to non-community members. 

Entertaining Areas 

Many rental units and community associations provide outdoor entertaining areas with grilling access and fire pit use. Remember to always follow the rules to using the open flame in your entertaining area and be sure that the embers are completely out before leaving after your use. 

Clean up after you have used the area and alert the management if there are hazards like a grill in need of repair, gas tank that needs to be filled, or glass from broken bottles.

As community members remember that we are all aiming for the same thing, a clean and safe environment in which to live. For more articles on safety and common areas, check out our website or articles on our Facebook page