HOA Insurance Issues

Knowing what to expect from your HOA master insurance policy and what you need to insure on your own is important to sort out before you purchase your condo. It’s also critical to know if your HOA carries enough information to handle a catastrophe in your unit or a unit next door. Being underinsured can spell trouble, especially if your individual insurance has any missing gaps with the master insurance. 

Homeowner insurances for town homes, condos, or duplexes that are part of the master insurance of an HOA usually cover all the public, common areas of a development. This includes areas where there are amenities, elevators, and all outside features such as the roof and exterior siding. Individual homeowners need to insure only their own units, including their own personal items and appliances. In addition to insuring “things,” these two parts of any HOA insurance should also cover liabilities for injuries. 

Let’s face it, most people don’t put too much thought into insurance until the unthinkable happens. Whether it is a fire, flood, tree damage, smoke damage, or an accident, not having insurance or being underinsured can create a huge headache, not to mention a financial disaster of its own making. 

Know the Difference

From an insurance point of view, it is worth learning where the HOA insurance stops and your individual unit’s insurance should begin, so as to make sure no gaps exist that could leave you without coverage after damage occurs. You should know what the different items are that are covered by each type of insurance. Some homeowners find it helpful to use the same insurance carrier or have both carriers connect to be sure that gaps do not exist. 

 

Know the Limits 

It is also recommended that unit owners understand that there are limits to the HOA insurance. Your condo association’s master policy will cover property damage to the building and common areas, but only up to its limits. Depending on what those financial limits are, there’s always a chance that a severe incident could exceed them. If that happens, it might fall on the condo owners to make up the difference and help repair the damage.

Know the Liability Requirements

Most HOAs require that individual unit holders have some liability insurance in case a visitor gets injured in a unit. The master insurance should have liability insurance to cover common area accidents but your unit also needs to be covered. Talk to your insurance agent about how much is reasonable and if your HOA has any requirements of level of coverage.

When it comes to insurance, it is essential to know the types, limits, and requirements for your individual insurance and what is covered in the master insurance policy. If you have questions, request a copy of your HOA insurance policy and discuss what gaps need to be filled with your individual agent. 

 

Common HOA Rule Violations

Do you live in a community with a Homeowners Association? They really can be lovely with the extra amenities like a gym, pool, or rec room. And it’s an added bonus not to have to worry about taking care of the outside of your home. Think of all the time and effort you save not having to mow the lawn in the summer or shovel in the winter.

There are, however, rules that must be followed if you live in a community or association. These rules are put there to maintain peace and allow for homeowners to be respectful and considerate to all who live in the community.

Property managers often deal with some of the violations to these rules. While every HOA community is different and the rules differ by location, there are some common violations such as:

Trash and Recycle Issues

HOAs try to keep the community looking clean and tidy. To do this they set rules about when and where trash can be put out for collection. Usually the rule includes the time at night before trash day (maybe 6pm) till the next day when they are to be taken in. Be sure to check with your HOA about what time and where the barrels should be placed.

Pet Issues

Most HOAs allow pets, but there are usually rules about the size and breeds that are deemed allowable. Be sure to also check where dogs can roam on leash in the complex. Be respectful about cleaning up dog waste and be aware that not all people are “pet people.”

Landscaping and Decorations

The outside of your condo or the walkway leading up to your residence is usually the domain of the association and whatever landscaping team they employ. Ask before decorating or adding flowers to this area. While it may seem like a no brainer that flowers will be allowed, it is best to ask first as some communities have gardeners or are trying for a uniform look.

Most communities have some sort of guidelines about when holiday decorations can be up, when they can be taken down, and what sort of decorations are permitted. Just about everything about the outside appearance of your condo is probably a part of the HOA rules, even down to the color allowed for mailboxes.

Parking Violations

In most communities there are rules about which parking spots are for residents and which ones are meant for visitors. Be sure to park in the correct locations and ask family and friends to park in the designated areas. In addition, be sure that work trucks such as cable and repairmen park in places that are not intruding on others.

If you’re new to your HOA board or looking to move into an HOA community, be sure to get a list of all the rules to be sure you do not face a fine or written violation.

Managing Cars and Parking Facilities in Condos

The demand for parking has increased dramatically over the past few years. In fact, the city of Boston and the surrounding communities have been ranked as some of the worst places to find parking. Despite the newer parking apps and a pilot parking program called “Performance Parking,”  finding a spot within the city and near your condo or living quarters is a near impossible feat. That is why, when a condo or association offers parking spots, they are considered priceless.

Managing these highly coveted parking spots does take planning and supervision. There are inevitably battles over spaces, guest parking and the size of spots that can be a source of constant headaches. Each association deals with these issues in varying ways with some commonalities. For example, most condo units that are lucky enough to come with a parking spot are usually either considered deeded parking, assigned parking spaces, or some are first-come, first served. Some condo associations determine the proximity of the spots and the number of spots based on the unit’s number of bedrooms, seniority or fee structure. The means by which each parking spot is allocated will somewhat determine how to solve parking issues that come up over the years.

Each condominium association will normally have what is called CC&Rs which stands for covenants, conditions, and restrictions. These clearly spell out the parking guidelines and rules for each unit. Depending upon your association’s rules, issues such as snow removal, security, larger cars, visitor parking, and commercial vehicle parking should be clearly understandable. If a rule is violated there could be complaints filed and fines assigned to each infraction or potentially a loss of assigned space.

Special circumstances are also an occasional issue when it comes to managing parking spaces within a condo association. If a unit owner is dealing with a disability and proves the medical need to be parked closer to an elevator or ramp then the community will need to deal with rearranging the parking in order to accommodate the owner. In addition, with the dawn of hybrid cars, many condo owners are now requesting that there be spaces designated as charging stations that can be used to power up their vehicles. Finally, seasonal issues may also come up where a unit owner needs to park an RV or boat for a short time. All of these issues are something your condo association or your property management company should be able to mediate and safeguard.

Thayer Associates are experts in managing and resolving parking disputes. We understand the value of a clean, well-maintained parking spot. We also know that commuters in our region face tight quarters and weather that sometimes is not cooperative. Questions? Call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Thinking about Joining the Condo Board?

Are you a born leader and want to get more involved in your community? Want to have a say in what happens to the finances, rules, and maintenance at your community? Being a part of the Homeowners Association Board may be the right fit for you.

A homeowners association is the cornerstone of a planned residential community. Properly run, the board can promote a feeling of community and keep things running in a way that community members would like. This is especially true of the common areas and services offered at many condo associations. Board members can decide to improve areas, change rules, and offer incentives for long-term residents.

There are usually four main board members positions: the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. Together they usually serve without compensation unless the bylaws of the community allow it.

If you are considering becoming a part of your condo board, here are just a few of the job responsibilities you may find yourself taking part in.

Budgets and Finances

Board members should be very familiar with the finances that run your community. This means understanding the governing documents including the bylaws of your association. The board must decide what are the necessary expenses and costs of operation and administration, plus a reasonable reserve for capital repairs and emergency events. The board will then adopt a budget and collect assessments from the homeowners. In a way, an HOA is merely a way for the homeowners to pay for the various expenses of operating the property including the pool, gym, tennis courts or other services that your association provides. Most importantly when it comes to finances, a board provides adequate insurance coverage, as required by the bylaws and local governmental agencies.

Rules and Bylaws

While enforcing the rules of your community may not sound fun, it really is in the best interest of everyone if these rules are followed. Most of the time the job just entails passing rules and advertising the rules. On occasion, however, homeowners must be reminded in writing of the rules that are being broken and what the consequences will be. Even more rarely, a board member will need to authorize legal action against owners who do not comply with the rules.

Maintain Common Areas

Board members have the duty of making sure that the areas that all residents use are kept safe and clean. That may mean prioritizing maintenance work, budgeting for larger projects, and allowing for regular inspections. A board that is well put together can avoid crisis events if a maintenance schedule is carefully followed.

Are you looking for what a board’s legal responsibilities may be? Follow the link, or contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480, or visit our website.

 

The Importance of Proactive Property Maintenance

Isn’t it great when everything in your condo works well and runs smoothly? Yeah, we think so too! No one wants to be living in a building where the elevator is under repair, the pool is closed again, or the grounds look disheveled. That’s why we advocate for proactive property maintenance and here is why.

What is Proactive Property Maintenance?

Managing a community is tough work. It takes diligence, communication, and a whole lot of patience. In our world, there are some managers who are reactive and some that are proactive. The former simply waits for something to happen and then takes action. The latter takes the initiative to recognize when an issue is brewing and acts to fix things before they actually become a problem.

Avoid Crisis Mode

Every condo community has its fair share of emergencies. A cracked pipe, broken water heater, or furnace that quits in the middle of the night are usually the culprits. Most of these cannot be foreseen unless the manager has some sort of sixth sense. But there are some events that can be avoided if regular maintenance is conducted. Annual inspections and repairs should be done on all utilities that the condo association is responsible for. By keeping a watchful eye on these services and equipment, property managers will be able to anticipate that a problem is forming and avoid the crisis mode that sometimes occurs when an emergency pops up.

Reduce Overall Costs

Let’s face it, repairs can get costly especially if the fix happens in an emergency setting where help needs to arrive during off-hours. Being proactive about pool maintenance, elevator inspections, and other condo utilities can mean savings for the association and eventually the condo owners themselves. Remember that emergency calls cost more than regular maintenance.

Access to the Best Contractors

Sometimes when an association is known for reacting to one “fire” after another they can get a reputation as being hard to work with. Condo associations that are proactive and plan ahead tend to get access to the better contractors who have “been around the block” and know a thing or two about staying on top of repairs and annual maintenance.

Does your condo association react or are they more proactive? Saving money, better access to assistance, and saving yourself from crisis mode is a way to keep your community happy. Check out some of our services that can help your community. Call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Protecting Association Data from Cyber Crimes

In our last blog we examined the physical security needs of homeowners associations and how screening, communication, surveillance, and access limitations can bring peace of mind to homeowners. This week, we are looking at some of the steps an HOA and Condo associations can protect their communities from cyber crimes.

Think about all the information that a condo association has at its fingertips. The data kept for Board of Director purposes and billing purposes may include each homeowner’s name, address, phone number, email, bank check routing number, tax information, credit card number, and probably social security number.

Given the scope and depth of the data that a homeowners association has, it would stand to reason that there would be many layers of security to protect that data. Unfortunately, many HOAs do not have the resources to protect sensitive data as they should.

Knowing that defenses may be down in a small business like an HOA, hackers have been known to attack in some common ways. Here are a few questions to consider when arranging your HOA cybersecurity measures.

Who should have access to the data?

Cyber experts believe that HOA boards should determine exactly who can gain access to sensitive data and who will not be given access. Keep the list of people who will have access to only those who will need it to deal with finances and condo owner issues. In addition, HOAs should limit where the data can be accessed. Unfortunately, an association’s odds of falling victim to a successful data breach increase every time someone downloads association information and stores it on their personal computer.

 

Is there an IT consultant who can help?

Every HOA should have an expert they can call upon when there are questions about things like firewalls, dual authentication, passwords, backups, and how to maintain security for the HOA server. An HOA can hire IT experts on a full-time basis, or as contractors. This person can train personnel as to what to look for in suspect or malicious emails, viruses, and security breaches.

 

What type of cyber insurance does your HOA have?

Board members for your HOA should routinely check with their condo insurance broker about the community’s potential cyber risks and what type of cyber insurance coverage may be appropriate for your association. Known also as cyber liability, cyber risk, or data breach insurance, this type of liability insurance protects the HOA in the event of data breaches, viruses, network attacks, computer theft, and other losses or compromises of the HOA’s computers, network, or websites.

Cybercriminals only need to see a small vulnerability to make their way into your HOA data. Do you have a strong security protocol for your association? For more information contact Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

How Secure Is Your Homeowners Community?

New England, and Boston in particular, is a pretty safe place to call home. Unfortunately, no community is immune to crime. Burglars are always looking for vulnerabilities and cracks in security systems to infiltrate and take advantage. This is true in single-family residences, apartments, and condos as well. Security, therefore, is one of the main tasks of a solid homeowners association.

If you live in a condo in the Boston area or in the surrounding communities, how secure do you feel your condo association is? Do you feel safe walking at night, visiting common areas, or navigating the parking lot? These are all things that can point to good security within an association. Let’s take a closer look at some of the security protocols your association can and should be maintaining for the safety of all who live in your community.

 

Smoke, Fire, and CO

It is imperative that an association understand and maintain these three security practices when designing and building a condo complex. It is the board’s duty to maintain, repair, and replace common area security for smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detection. Compliance for these fundamental security steps is mandated both locally and federally.

Screening Vendors

Most condo associations have common areas that are maintained by outside vendors. For example, vendors are used to maintain elevators, landscaping, pools, gyms, and gardens, as well as to paint, and repair the exterior areas. HOAs should regularly screen the vendors to make sure they have the proper permitting, licensing, and insurance. Many HOAs make it a policy to inform owners when a vendor will be on the property and for what reason. This screening and communication can give owners a sense of security when they find repair personnel around the grounds of their building.

 

Access and Surveillance

No one likes a security camera watching them at every turn, but they are a big deterrent for criminals who do not want to see their crime on the nightly news or social media. Surveillance cameras can be a great deterrent in both interior and exterior common areas. In addition, many HOAs have access keypads that make common areas accessible to only community members. Include well-lit walkways, driveways, and ancillary parking lots and condo owners will have peace of mind when they are at home.

What are some of the security protocols that your association uses? What protocols do you feel are missing. Join in the conversation in the comments below. The next blog will take a closer look at digital security for association data. If you have questions about security in your HOA, call Thayer & Associates, Inc., AMO at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.

 

Selling Your Condo? Learn How Paint Can Help!

Looking to sell your condo and want to get the best price possible without breaking the bank on improvements? Paint may be just the trick that can help you sell fast and for the price you want.

According to online real estate listings like Zillow, there are 920 condos for sale in and around Boston (as of this writing). With the median price of single home properties has increased by 44% in the past five years, many young people are hoping to step into the real estate market through a condominium purchase.

This is good news for Bostonians hoping to sell. However, there are still some things that you can do to help make your condo stand out from the rest when potential buyers come for an open house. If renovating your kitchen or bath is not in the cards due to budget or time, then paint may be a great option to make your condo look and feel fresh and new.

Painting is one of the less expensive and most impactful improvements you can make as you prepare your condo to sell. Here is why:

Fresh Paint Gives Positive First Impressions

A fresh coat of paint can be a positive first impression to house hunters. The largest square space of any home are the walls and ceilings. If there are chips, stains, scuff marks, or peeling paint, the potential buyer could be turned off. A new coat of paint can give a room a new look that appeals to many buyers. Making a good first impression is important since most buyers make up their minds within the first few minutes if they are even going to consider your condo a potential option.

Fresh Paint Means A Well Maintained Home

Paint has a way of conveying a message to potential buyers that the home is well maintained if it shows no signs of wear-and-tear. Buyers like to know that the interior of a condo has been properly cared for and well-painted walls, ceilings, and trim communicate that message clearly.

Proper Colors Let in Natural Light

House hunters today are looking for light and airy spaces to call their own. Even if your condo is not especially light-filled or airy, paint can help make it feel that way. Choosing light or neutral colors can lighten up a space, and make it feel more open. Cover up dark paints that can close in a room or make it feel dated or small.

Paint Appeals to a Wide Range of Tastes

In order to make your house appeal to a large number of potential homebuyers, painting interior walls with neutral paint colors is advisable. Neutral colors like white, beige, tan, and cream provide a blank canvas for homebuyers. Try not to pick a color that is trendy, or may be off-putting to certain groups. Outdated paint colors negatively affect the overall appeal of your real estate property, so a new coat of paint modernizes and updates your home.

While it is hard to estimate the return on your investment when it comes to painting, realtors do agree that it is worth the time, effort, and cost to have a fresh coat of paint on the interior of your condo before placing that for sale ad. Check with your association and your realtor before beginning any improvements so you can make the most of your budget and efforts.

Selling? Check Out These Condo Staging Tips

Spring is prime time for selling in the Boston area, so this month we are focused on helping our association members take steps to sell their condos. The guidelines for staging your home or a condo are fairly similar with a few notable exceptions. Here are a few of our tips on how you could stage your condo to sell as quickly as possible and get the price you want.

Boost Your Curb Appeal

As a condo owner, you don’t have a whole lot of control over the appearance of the outside of your building, but you can do a few things that can make your condo stand out. For example, make sure your entranceway is well maintained, clean, and well lit. This may mean a few potted plants or even a welcome sign that could perk up the entrance to your condo. If lighting or cleanliness is a problem, inform your association that lighting or cleaning is being requested.

Declutter

Practically all realtors and home staging experts will tell you to declutter your condo. This will make the space look larger, more open, and allow house hunters to easily envision their furnishings in the space. If you need to, place boxes of your items in a short term storage container to keep the area looking clean and uncluttered. Remove personal photos and keepsakes that may distract the potential buyers from seeing the space.

Arrange Furnishings

Arrange your chairs, tables, and couches so that the rooms flow easily and the condo shows as open as possible. This may mean removing some furnishings so your space looks more open or rearranging where the items currently reside.

Open the Closets

Storage sells! Take a long hard look at all of the items in your closet. Are there items you could donate or pack up before you have an open house? If so then clean out that closet as much as possible. Potential buyers like to see open space when it comes to storage.

Stage Your Extra Room

If you use an extra room as an office, a den, or something else, it may be worth it to stage it as a bedroom so that buyers can see that your space can be used for such a purpose. Don’t let home buyers get confused about the purpose or potential purpose of each room.

Clean, Clean, Clean

Before any open house or walk through, clean every room. This includes the showers, sinks, and toilets so that they sparkle. A clean house sends a message that the home has been well maintained.

Set the Table

Whether you have an eat-in kitchen or a formal dining room, set the table like you have company  coming. Show off your best dishes and stemware so that the rooms look inviting and welcoming.

Let There Be Light

Open the window curtains and turn on the lights before each open house so the rooms look light and open. Don’t forget, if you are opening shades and curtains, wash the windows so that streaks and smudges don’t distract the homebuyers.

Need more help staging your condo for sale? HGTV and other online sources give so many amazing and simple ideas that can help your condo sell fast and at the price you want.

HOA and Individual Insurance

No one ever thinks about insurance policies until an accident or injury happens. Then recovery and rebuilding rely upon the coverage you have. Living in a community means there are two types of insurance that homeowners should worry about: association insurance and individual insurance on the unit. Let’s take a closer look at “who covers what” when it comes to insurance coverage within an association.

What is a Master Policy?

Living in an apartment complex, condominium unit, or townhouse potentially means that you are part of an association otherwise known as a homeowners association or HOA. Many HOAs carry what’s known as a “master policy.” Generally, the Master Policy has “walls-out” coverage for all units in the building.

What is Covered Under a Walls-Out Master Policy?

This type of policy typically provides coverage for both physical damage and personal injuries. Items that are usually covered in an insurance policy of this kind may include damage to the parts of the property shared by all owners, such as roofs, common walls, lobbies or atriums, stairways, elevators, basements, fitness centers and pools, ponds or lakes, playgrounds, and clubhouses. The damage could be caused by Mother Nature, vandals, theft, or even homeowners who have experienced an accident. The governing documents of your specific HOA should state exactly which areas the HOA master policy insures.

Personal injuries that occur in the common areas and amenity areas are also usually covered under the master policy. For example, if someone slips and falls in the pool area or is injured in an elevator, those injuries would be most likely covered under the HOA master policy.

What Should Individuals Insure for their Units?

Individual homeowners need to insure only their own unit. While the master insurance covers the basic building(s) such as walls, roof, floors, and elevators, it leaves to the unit owner the responsibility of insurance appliances, carpeting, cabinets, wall coverings, and other items in the unit. Individual insurance should also cover personal property including clothing, jewelry, electronics, and upgrades you’ve made to your unit.

Using the same company that insures the master policy for your HOA as your individual insurance for your unit may have some advantages in that the company will easily be able to spot gaps in insurance. If you are not using the same company, you and your insurance specialist will want to take 

a close look and consider what is left out or what not to buy duplicate coverage for.

Do you have questions about what is covered and by whom? Call Thayer Associates at 617.354.6480 or visit our website.