Attract Tenants by Installing This Affordable Backyard Amenity

Attract Tenants by Installing This Affordable Backyard Amenity

Covered patios come in many shapes and sizes and are a desirable amenity for single-family rentals. One of the most common coverings is the versatile pergola, which offers a natural look and an outdoorsy feel for many years to come.

Pergolas are time-tested wooden open-air structures that can be installed over patios to provide shade and a cozy place to gather on a cool spring evening or warm summer day. They are a backyard amenity that surely will be welcomed by your residents.

Vertical posts support a network of cross beams and a sturdy open lattice, usually cedar, which can be covered or left open to the elements. Many companies offer pre-manufactured kits priced anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 and others will build to site specifications. Larger applications can run $10,000 to $15,000.

Because most pergolas use rugged stained cedar, the structure can withstand weather and provide structural integrity for 15-20 years if maintained properly. Re-staining every three or four years typically is the only maintenance requirement.

Chris Lee, president of Earthworks, says pergolas can be built for just about any type of covering and offer property managers another amenity to attract new residents and retain others. They can be covered with natural greenery or lightweight screen, breathable polyethylene or canopy-type materials to provide shade and deflect heat.

“It’s another way to create a gathering point, instill that sense of community, which helps retentionand leasing,” he said. “Cedar is very durable, long lasting. It’s expensive but not as expensive as if you build a steel structure. You’re not supporting a lot of weight so there isn’t any real big engineering requirements or anything like that.”

Pergolas are distinctive and may seem to be an ultra-modern amenity, but they’ve been around for hundreds of years. Early examples of pergolas date to ancient Egyptian times, and Italy is known for building the structures as far back as the 1600s. Most were built with creeping vines to provide shaded areas, a practice that still holds true today.

“We have some clients who have planted Wisteria or Trumpet Vines that grow over the structure,” Lee said. “The wood lends well to that, it allows the plant to root in as it grows up. We’ve got some that’s completely shaded because there is a thick weave of Wisteria all through the top of the pergola, simply from planting the plant on the back corners. After a couple of years it will completely cover the pergola.”

He cautions that anytime plants grow on pergola they could cause long-term damage because of the moisture that gets trapped between the wood and plant. Re-staining also becomes an issue.

Lee recommends that any vines or plant life growing on the pergola be maintained so it doesn’t get out of control.

“It’s like everything else, you have to take care of it,” he said. “These structures can last 20 years if well-maintained.”

Because of their simple design, pergolas can be retrofitted to pool areas and patios. Earthworks recently installed one that partially covered a pool, providing relief from the heat for residents at one apartment community.

Size doesn’t necessarily matter either. Pergolas can sprawl across large patios or be reduced to a small area of the backyard with seating. Drapes can provide a semi-private area while still allowing for air movement from the top.

The floor can either be made of grass, stone or rock.

“There’s so much you can do with pergola,” Lee said. “In the grand scheme of things, they are not crazy expensive, and it’s something anybody can do as long you have a 12’ x 12’ area. That’s all you need.

State auditor: California doing a poor job on homelessness

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California is doing a poor job of sheltering the nation’s largest homeless population and needs to provide statewide leadership to address the problem, the state auditor said Thursday in a report that also singled out problems with homeless services in Los Angeles County.

California has about 134,000 homeless people, roughly 24 percent of the nation’s total homeless population, and Los Angeles County has the most within the state — at least 55,000 people, an audit summary said.

“California’s relative position regarding its homeless population points to the need for a single entity to oversee an effective and efficient system to address homelessness,” it said.

The audit cited an array of troubling facts about California’s homeless problem.

With 68 percent of its homeless people living in vehicles, abandoned buildings, parks or on streets, California has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless of any state.

Cities such as New York and Boston, by comparison, shelter more than 95 percent of the homeless population, the report said.

Additionally, 82 percent of California’s homeless youth are unsheltered, compared to 38 percent in the rest of the nation.

The unsheltered population also has an increased risk of exposure to communicable diseases, the audit said, noting that four California counties had the largest person-to-person hepatitis A outbreak in the U.S. since a vaccine to prevent the illness became available in 1966

The audit said a 2016 state law that created the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council was a good start in providing oversight, but it has no permanent staff or funding.

The auditor recommended the Legislature provide the council funds to hire staff, including an executive director, and then require the council to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan by next April.

State Sen. Scott Wilk, an Antelope Valley Republican who requested the audit, said Thursday he’s planning to amend a current bill to include funding the council and requiring it to come up with a plan of action.

“I’ll start talking to my colleagues,” Wilk said. Homelessness “is literally everywhere … We have to step up because it’s just a massive challenge. We’ve got to do whatever we can.”

In Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority and the housing authorities for Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles are responsible for distributing public funding in eight service areas.

The state audit found “significant” funding variations between the eight areas, and the authority generally awarded the smallest amount of new funding to areas outside of the city of Los Angeles during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 fiscal years.

It also found, however, that the authority consistently used “the same reasonable process” to evaluate competing applications but there were problems due to a lack of written procedures, documentation, data analysis of its efforts and other inefficiencies.

The audit acknowledged that the authority has begun to address some of the issues but needs to formalize the improvements.

It also noted that a factor contributing to funding variations across service areas is that allocation decisions can be outside the authority’s control: The city and county have restrictions based on geography.

The Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority said in a statement that internal procedures can always be improved and agrees with the audit’s findings, “meant to not only help refine our procurement process and to continue sustaining the fair and unbiased system we currently have in place, but to help bolster and expand the quality of our service provider applicant pool.”

TOPS Software Partners with Axela Technologies to Provide Community Associations with Fully Automated Collection Solutions

TOPS Software, LLC, leading provider of accounting based community association management software for Condo, Co-Op and Homeowners Associations, has announced its partnership with Axela Technologies, a collections and specialty financing firm. This integration will allow TOPS customers to automatically share data points like homeowner delinquency status and historical metrics directly from their TOPS products, including their cloud-based solution, TOPS [ONE].

“The more integrations we provide, the more options clients have to service their customers and build their business.” – David Black, Partnerships Executive at TOPS Software

TOPS [ONE] unifies accounting and management into an all-in-one platform for every aspect of Condo, Homeowners Association and Co-Op management. This is accomplished via TOPS Connect, TOPS Software’s Application Program Interface (API), through which client data can be securely connected to numerous industry service providers.

“TOPS Software is pleased to offer a platform to our clients that can seamlessly integrate with industry service providers like Axela through our TOPS Connect API,” says David Black, Partnerships Executive at TOPS Software. “The more integrations we provide, the more options clients have to service their customers and build their business.”

“The partnership further strengthens TOPS’ position in the marketplace and showcases their commitment to embracing innovative technologies to better serve their clients.” – Mitchell Drimmer, Vice President of Axela Technologies

Axela Technologies, a licensed and insured collections agency available in all 50 states, has developed an automated solution that empowers associations to manage their collections processes—specifically delinquent accounts receivable. Axela’s proprietary algorithm pulls from dozens of external data points to underwrite and analyze the risk of recovery, and advances funds based on the perceived risk.

“Our partnership with TOPS Software will allow community associations across the country to access our services to improve their cash flow, taking the burden of collections off the backs of property managers and boards of directors,” said Mitchell Drimmer, Vice President of Axela Technologies. “The partnership further strengthens TOPS’ position in the marketplace and showcases their commitment to embracing innovative technologies to better serve their clients.”

Axela’s solutions serve as an efficient and effective alternative to engaging community association attorneys. “We manage a collections process, NOT a legal process,” said Mr. Drimmer, “and it’s all merit based. If we don’t collect our fees and costs when a unit settles out, the association does not have to pay us anything.”

This partnership will open new doors for associations looking for innovative ways to not only rectify their collections process, but to better understand the process as a whole so that they can make decisions for the future of their collections needs.


Axela Technologies provides automated solutions to help community associations manage and address their delinquent account receivables. Axela’s existing suite of products include several collections and specialty financing options designed to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the recovery process. Axela’s technology platform seamlessly moves collections through helpful & friendly engagement with delinquent owners that is entirely compliant with the FDCA, TCPA and FCRA. Learn more about Axela at


TOPS Software helps community association management professionals save time and effort in managing condominiums and homeowner’s associations. TOPS technology empowers management companies to focus on growing their business and delighting their clients while reducing their labor costs. Learn more about TOPS at

How To Interpret Your HOA Reserve Study

by HOA Expert –

HOA Reserve StudyMore often than not, sitting down to review your HOA Reserve Study can be about as easy-to-understand and enjoyable as sitting down to review the U.S. Tax Code. And just reviewing your HOA Reserve Study is not enough.  As an HOA Board member, you’re responsible for using that HOA Reserve Study to plan for, allocate, adjust, and collect reserve funds accordingly.

Here are some ideas to help you interpret your HOA Reserve Study and put it to good use so that your HOA can pay for what your community needs to keep it in good repair, easy on the wallet, and lovely to live in…today and in the future.

Know What’s in Your HOA Reserve Study

An HOA Reserve Study is a list of the major common area components (such as streets, roofs, pools, and tennis courts) that identifies the costs involved to repair, maintain, and replace them over time as well as their estimated remaining useful life.

Every three years your HOA Reserve Study must include a diligent visual inspection of the accessible common area components.  According to the Davis-Stirling Act, diligent inspection includes getting on roofs, inspecting the landscaping and underground irrigation system, opening electrical panels, and much more to obtain all relevant equipment and maintenance information.

It’s important to remember that your HOA Reserve Study needs an annual review because buildings don’t age gracefully and often not according to plan.  So, the annual review is your HOA Board’s opportunity to stay on top of your reserve fund requirements and make adjustments where necessary.

To accomplish this well-rendered list, the HOA Reserve Study needs to be prepared by someone who has skills in engineering, expertise in financial projecting, and talent in investment strategy.

Make Sure All The Components are Listed

One mistake that is often made, especially if the HOA Reserve Study is done by someone who is not an expert, is that the component list is incomplete.  For example, the list may say “Paint Exterior” but doesn’t include things like trim repair and sealant.  Mistakes like that can cost you big time.

Do The Math

Let’s say one of the components is replacing the sprinkler system (not just the sprinkler heads, but the entire irrigation system) in 20 years.  Your HOA Reserve Study will divide the replacement cost by 20 years, and that’s how much will need to be allocated to your reserve funds each year.  That way, at year 20 when it’s time to replace, your HOA has 100% of the funds available.

Check The Percentage of Funding for Each Component

If the HOA Reserve Study shows that a project is 100% funded, that means the project is on track with the right amount of reserve funds in place at that point in time.  For example, using the above sprinkler system component, let’s say the cost to replace the sprinkler system is projected to be $500,000 in 20 years.  That means $25,000 should be allocated to the reserve funds each year.  If your property is now 10 years old since the time of the HOA Reserve Study, the project is considered 100% funded if there is $250,000 in the reserve account. Anything less than that, and the project is underfunded. And that puts you at risk for special assessments, difficulty getting loans, and really frustrated HOA members.

Account for Inflation

Make sure the replacement costs are based on an average of 3% inflation per year. This is an easily forgotten step in the process, but on components with long lifespans (such as our 20 year example) it can amount to being significantly underfunded.

Keep it Fair

The best way to ensure your reserve funds are at the ready is through annual assessment increases as well as reserve allocation rate adjustments.  That’s why an annual review of your HOA Reserve Study is so important.  Whether an unexpected component item comes up for repair sooner than expected or you’re funding a roof replacement in 25 years, it’s fair to everyone to spread the costs as evenly as possible over time.  After all, current members are contributing to the deterioration of common areas (in other words, they’re enjoying them while at their newest), so it’s only fair to contribute to their eventual replacement and not leave future owners holding the bag.

Get Help from a Pro

Do you and your board have the time and resources to keep up to date with your HOA Reserve Study?  HOA Reserve Studies are complex, and our professionals at The Hignell Companies can help!  Contact us for a free evaluation.  In the meantime, be sure to download our free eBook, 6 Steps to Funding Your HOA Reserve Account.

New Mandatory Disclosure Requirements for Community Managers

By Katrina E. Solomatina, Esq. –


The legislature believes that more laws are needed to assure that community managers – those who control the assets of common interest developments (“CIDs”) – do not take advantage of their clients by entering into secret agreements with vendors. While in our experience instances of such manager misconduct are rare, the legislature has a theoretical concern which these new laws attempt to address.

To this end, effective January 1, 2018 two existing managing agent disclosure statutes have been amended and two new statutes have been added to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (“Act”).

These statutory provisions create new mandatory disclosure requirements for community managers and their companies when submitting bids for services, before entering into a management agreement and at the time of contract renewal. These new laws reflect the intent of the legislature to promote ethical management of community associations across the state. California legislature believes that increased transparency is in the best interests of every community association, their members and professional managers and their companies.

Summary of the New Laws

The “disclosure statutes” require managers and management companies to disclose: (1) any business or company they have an ownership, profit-sharing or other monetary incentive relationship with; (2) any referral fee or monetary benefit they receive from a third-party document provider; (3) any potential conflicts of interest, including referral fees, from any business or company that provides products or services that benefit the association; and (4) any ownership interests or profit sharing arrangements it has with vendors it recommends or is used by the association.

Purpose Behind the New Laws

According to the California Assembly, the purpose of the legislation is to ensure that CID Boards have the tools necessary to make informed decisions about management company relationships with those providing other services to associations. It appears that the legislature felt there is a problem of property manager self-dealing and kickbacks in CIDs.

Effects of the New Laws

These disclosure requirements do not limit the companies with whom a property manager could contract for the services that the CID needs.

This law, however, requires a prospective CID property manager to disclose to the CID board of directors the following information about potential conflicts of interest before entering into a management contract:

  • any business or company in which the CID manager or CID management firm has any ownership interests, profit-sharing arrangements, or other monetary incentives provided to the management firm or managing agent; and
  • whether or not the CID manager or CID management firm receives a referral fee or other monetary benefit from a third-party provider distributing documents pursuant to existing disclosure requirements.

Further, this law requires a CID property manager to disclose if it is receiving a referral fee or other monetary benefit from a third-party provider distributing the documents that are required to be provided to an owner when he or she sells a separate interest.

And finally, this law requires a CID manager or CID management firm to disclose in writing any potential conflict of interest when presenting a bid for service to the CID board of directors. Civil Code Section 5375.5 defines “conflict of interest” as any referral fee or other monetary benefit that the property manager might derive from a business or company providing products or services to the association, or, alternatively, any ownership interests or profit sharing arrangements that the property manager has with service providers that the property manager uses or recommends that the association use. The following matrix provides a summary of the disclosure requirements:

Who What When How
Prospective Manager Disclose information required in Section 5375 of the Civil Code, including a referral fee from a third party provider of documents pursuant to Section 5300 of the Civil Code. As soon as practicable but no more than 90 days before entering into management agreement. In writing.
Prospective Management Firm Disclose information required in Section 5375 of the Civil Code including a referral fee from a third party provider of documents pursuant to Section 5300 of the Civil Code. As soon as practicable but no more than 90 days before entering into management agreement. In writing.
Manager Any potential conflict of interest defined in Section 5375.5 of the Civil Code. When presenting a bid for service. In writing.
Management Firm Any potential conflict of interest defined in Section 5375.5 of the Civil Code. When presenting a bid for service. In writing.

Use of Oroville Dam’s Half-Finished Spillway Now ‘Unlikely’

A drone view from April 3 shows Oroville Dam’s main spillway and Lake Oroville’s water level at 794.30 feet — 19 feet below the bottom of the spillway gates and 36 feet below the level that would trigger flood control releases.  (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources)

We’ll have to wait awhile to see how the rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway stands up to water pounding down its 3,000-foot-long concrete chute.

After giving the public a heads-up that the half-repaired structure might be pressed into service because of last week’s expected heavy rains, the agency announced Sunday that use of the spillway is now “unlikely.”

The extra attention to lake levels grows out of last year’s spillway breach — a near-calamity that triggered mass evacuations and exposed the flood-control outlet’s history of poor design, construction and maintenance.

DWR issued last week’s advisories after a 50-foot rise in Lake Oroville in the second half of March — due to a series of storms and dam operators’ decision to limit releases from the reservoir to almost nothing.

MNM Partners Closes MNM Business Center, A 10 story, 81K Square Foot Office Building In The Heart Of Downtown San Jose!

MNM Partners LLC, Group Sponsors Of Real Estate

MNM Partners, LLC has closed the MNM Business Center LLC group. This offering consisted of a 10 story, 81K square foot, a fully occupied office building with an attached parking garage in San Jose, CA. It is located in the heart of downtown on Santa Clara Street where numerous new development projects are currently planned. These projects includes the BART Extension to Diridon Station, Googles New Campus addition and several multiuse and apartment complexes are currently planned.

GOOGLE EFFECT – In plans that underscore the potential Google effect on downtown San Jose, developers are pushing ahead with a residential and retail complex virtually next door to where Google wants to build a village of office towers for its employees. A plan to build a seven-story complex with 249 housing units near the corner of Julian and Stockton streets in downtown San Jose is moving forward.

Ample ground-floor retail, a publicly accessible plaza on the corner, high-density residential and dramatic architecture” are among the features of the proposed development. The project is located near Diridon Station, a transit hub that today is a nexus of light rail, bus lines, Amtrak, Caltrain and ACE Train connections. In the next few years, BART and high-speed rail lines also are expected to connect to the station. All this transportation potential has heightened interest in developing properties near Diridon Station.

A short distance from the Julian and Stockton streets development site, Google is fashioning plans for a   to 20,000 of the company’s employees could work. That has led to what some observers call “The Google Effect”.

BART COMING TO SAN JOSE – A $4.7-billion final leg is proposed to downtown San Jose, first to the proposed Alum Rock station on the city’s “east side,” connected by a tunnel under Santa Clara Street to a proposed Downtown San Jose Station, which would be an interchange station to VTA lines. Like the Berryessa Extension, it would be built by VTA, but operated by BART. The original proposal had separate Civic Plaza/SJSU and Plaza de César Chávez stations, but these were consolidated into a single station to cut cost. The line would continue to the San Jose Diridon station underneath the main downtown street of Santa Clara Street (transfer point to Amtrak, Caltrain, Altamont Corridor Express and the planned California High-Speed Rail system), and the proposed BART subway station would be called “Diridon/Arena” (SAP Center). It would either terminate there, allowing for a future extension to the proposed Santa Clara Caltrain Station or go all the way to that station in the same phase of construction Project details have been finalized and is expected to be completed by 2026.

The MNM Business Center was an off-market transaction that was obtained by MNM Partners through our contact network. It is beyond argument that this area of Downtown San Jose will be one of the best appreciating area in Santa Clara County for the foreseeable future. As Google, Adobe and other technology companies continue to expand their footprint in Downtown San Jose, the redevelopment and continued improvement of this area will positively impact real estate values in this sector.