I’m the president of our HOA (Homeowners Association), and as much as I love my neighbors, our meetings can be a little… difficult.
A quick aside to my fellow council members – its not our fault. After all, we’re nurses, civil servants, financial advisors and technologists, so running a meeting that juggles the needs of 50 homeowners is not something we do everyday. The world can safely cut us all a bit of slack.
Having participated in or observed council meetings and AGMs for years now, I’ve made a few observations that can probably save your own council from elevated blood pressure and, hopefully, help you speed through your agenda – you are using one, right? If, on the other hand, your meetings are primarily an opportunity to socialize, I can’t offer much help aside from this collection of funny HOA stories you can chat about.
A little background on our HOA (called a “strata” corporation in British Columbia, where I live). We are a “bare land” HOA, meaning we manage the common property for a community of 50 single family homes, including a road, fences, a park and water/sewer. Our volunteer council is composed of a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and 1 or 2 directors. The council meets once every 2-3 months, and we have an annual general meeting that involves all homeowners. We maintain a set of bylaws and a website, collect a monthly HOA fee and generally try to help maintain a community we all want to live in and be a part of.
How can you run effective meetings for HOAs? Here are some best practices I’ve picked up over the years:
Keep socialization separate
I get it. Your council meets infrequently and you have a tendency to socialize, because, hey, you’re neighbors, right?
Half of your council feels this way and the other half considers their time pretty sacred. We all have busy lives. Respect everyone’s time commitment – keep your meeting on track. Keen to socialize? No problem – move that to the end of the meeting once you’ve run through HOA business. This gives council members the option to leave while the social butterflies can stick around. 🙂
Set time limits on topics
Unless you want that conversation about parking or who’s late on their fees to drag on for 30 minutes, absolutely allocate time for agenda topics. And stick to them! Take items offline if they start dragging. Remember Parkinson’s Law when allocating time (work fills the time allotted) – make an estimate for each topic and consider cutting it by 50%. If you’ve mastered a recurring meeting pattern, use an agenda template and dial it in until you’ve got your timing perfect.
Think carefully about contentious topics
Are you going to be talking about a special levy or other major decision? Maybe something personal that affects peoples lives? Spend time in advance meeting with council members individually. Yes, I know this sounds like a lot of work but trust me, you can get everyone on side without resorting to an eight-person debate. There are sure to be strong opinions working through sensitive agenda topics, so address these one-on-one, and then circle back to ratify the decision as a group.
Capture action items and follow up judiciously
You will forget 50% of what you discussed as soon as you walk out that door. Capture everything in something like Trackmeet so promises become expectations, and expectations become action items (things that people are expected to do!). Follow up on action items regularly to ensure tasks are actually being worked on. This can be hard to do with your neighbors but ultimately shows the level of accountability you’re looking for.
Make all of your commonly accessed material readily accessible
I don’t know how many times we’ve gone off searching for some arcane bylaw or what was said at a particular AGM. Put all of your source material like bylaws, regulations, rules, budget, etc. in a single place – Dropbox is good for this. If its searchable, even better! Give everyone access and bring a laptop or two to your meetings to provide quick access when you need it.
Consider making public and private versions of your agenda
We don’t do this specifically, but I’ve seen HOAs that do – make two separate versions of your council meeting agenda. The first agenda is private and contains material that is sensitive and not for general distribution (it probably has resident names, detailed financial information, etc.). The second agenda includes more generic information that can be readily shared. You can distribute the public agenda to homeowners while keeping the private agenda for internal council use only.
Considering something new or looking for input from all of your HOA members? Survey them! There are a myriad of free survey tools out there (Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, etc.) that allow you to quickly determine the pulse of your community. We recently considered changing our bylaws around how many pets people could have, so we surveyed everyone – turns out, there was pretty conclusive support to do so. We’re also considering purchasing a pair of generators so we’ll see how much interest exists there too.
Invite HOA members to council meetings but set guidelines
There’s nothing like getting members engaged and involved in your council’s workings – this leads to increased transparency and helps recruit prospective council members. But… set expectations. I’ve observed situations where invited guests end up weighing in on every topic! Make it clear that guests can contribute to the specific agenda topic they’d like to bring to council or can observe – that’s it! In addition, consider creating a separate, unique agenda topic that allows for guest input.
Have any other tips you’re keen to share on what makes your HOA meetings work well?