4 Ways to Cut Costs and Keep HOA Assessments Stable

Stop raising assessments. It’s a universal request, whether you’re part of a high-rise association in Los Angeles or an active adult HOA in Palm Springs. And while there are many good reasons to raise assessments (let’s face it, keeping assessments low at all costs can actually hurt your community’s relevance and cause property values to suffer), no board wants to be the “bad guy.” So before you raise assessments, take a look at these four cost-savings methods.

To get an in-depth look at these cost savings, read the full article.

1. Energy

In California (and everywhere else), it’s clear that energy costs are on the rise. And making changes to boost energy efficiency is a reliable way to save money in the long run. Partner with your professional community management company to find ways to boost energy efficiency. For instance, you may install light switches on motion detectors so that no lights can be left on when the room is unoccupied. A long-term solution (like replacing all traditional lighting with LED lighting) may require a bigger investment upfront, but will likely save money in the long run.

2. Reserve Fund Investments

Are you getting the most out of your reserve fund investments? Most board members aren’t sure. In fact, In our 2018 HOA budget survey, 72% of board members said that they weren’t completely confident in their returns on reserve funds and/or operating funds (download the full survey results). Partner with your association management company and review your current investment plan to see if there are opportunities to increase your returns. To learn more, read the article, “Reserve Funds: Six Tips to Improve Your HOA’s Returns.”

One single-family home community association in Dana Point partnered with FirstService Financial and increased their annual interest earned by more than $27,000.

3. HOA Insurance

If you haven’t reviewed your HOA’s insurance coverage recently, you may be paying more than you need to in premiums or deductibles. It’s important to work with a trusted insurance broker or agent that has experience with homeowners associations and can work with yours to get the best rate. To learn more about the intricacies of HOA insurance, download the white paper: 4 Things You May Not Know About Community Insurance.

4. Vendor Contracts

In our 2018 Budget Survey, over 57% of surveyed board members said they weren’t sure if their property management company asks vendors whether there will be cost increases in in the following year’s budget. In fact, by reviewing contracts regularly and communicating with vendors consistently, you may be able to uncover cost savings.

Other HOA Cost-Saving Opportunities – Investment Policy

While these four areas of cost savings are a good starting place, it’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list. A good way to evaluate potential cost savings in your investments particularly is by creating an HOA Investment Policy. An HOA Investment Policy is a guide you can use to help you uncover better returns on your reserve funds and potentially save money in the long run. To learn more, download the guide, How to Create an HOA Investment Policy.

Tips from an HOA Board for a Safe Halloween in Your Association

by HOA Manager –

little_girl_dressed_for_Halloween

Halloween is a kid’s delight. It’s a blast to dress up in costumes, go trick-or-treating, attend parties and most of all, eat a lot of candy. At the same time, Halloween can be scary for parents. Costumes can be dangerous, too much candy can be sickening and walking around at night can be risky, even in your homeowners association community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionoffers the tips below to make sure your little ghouls and goblins have a SAFE HALLOWEEN. It’s not too late for your HOA board to hand them out to the members in your Association.

Halloween Safety Tips:

S – Swords, knives and similar costume accessories should be short, soft and flexible.

A – Avoid trick-or-treating alone. Children should walk in groups or with a trusted adult.

F – Fasten reflective tape to costumes and bags to help drivers see trick-or-treaters.

E – Examine all treats for choking hazards and tampering before they’re eaten.

 

H – Hold a flashlight while trick-or-treating to help see and help others see you.

A – Always test make-up in a small area first. Remove it when done to avoid skin irritation.

L – Look both ways before crossing the street. Use established crosswalks wherever possible.

L – Lower the risk for serious eye injury by avoiding decorative contact lenses.

O – Only walk on sidewalks or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.

W – Wear well-fitting masks, costumes and shoes to avoid blocked vision, trips and falls.

E – Eat only factory-wrapped candy. Avoid eating homemade treats unless you know the cook.

E – Enter homes only if you’re with a trusted adult.

N – Never walk near lit candles or other open flames. Be sure to wear flame-resistant costumes.

If members will be hosting a party in your homeowners association or expecting trick-or-treaters recommend they:

  • Provide healthy treats, such as individual packs of raisins, trail mix or pretzels. Offer fruits, vegetables and cheeses to party guests.
  • Use party games and trick-or-treating as an opportunity for kids to get their daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.
  • Be sure walking areas and stairs are well-lit and free of obstacles that could cause falls.
  • Keep candlelit jack-o-lanterns and other open flames away from doorsteps, walkways, landings and curtains. Place them on sturdy tables, keep them out of reach of pets and small children, and never leave them unattended.
  • Drive safely and watch out for trick-or-treaters.
  • Be aware of the Association rules, especially regarding decorations, parking, and noise.

It’s the role of the HOA board to protect, maintain, and enhance the homeowners association. Keeping members informed or even providing a place where they can gather to celebrate Halloween – such as the clubhouse – will help everyone have a fun and safe Halloween.

Encourage your HOA board members to pass out these simple guidelines to members to promote a safe environment to enjoy Halloween in your homeowners association for parents and kids too!

Bay Area Sprawl Has Put Homes in the Path of Fires — What Now?

A home burning in Napa’s Atlas Fire. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

October’s historic fires in the North Bay are a stark reminder of a growing reality across California: during fire season, millions of people live in harm’s way. That number is only expected to increase as the population grows.

Many Bay Area cities are trying to halt the pattern of sprawl that has put so many homes on hillsides and in the path of fires.

“Certainly, it’s an opportunity for reflection and it is a moment where we can think about doing things a little bit differently,” says Teri Shore of the non-profit Greenbelt Alliance.

Shore works on land use policy, but was also one of the evacuees who fled their homes as fires roared across the Sonoma County for days on end.

“What became the Nuns Fire got within two miles of our home,” she says.

Her home was spared. Now, she’s focusing on how her community will rebuild. Even before the fires, housing was in short supply with high prices and low vacancy rates. Now, thousands of people will also need to rebuild. In Santa Rosa, fires razed fully five percent of the city’s housing stock.

Fire maps based on 2007 assessment.

Historically, cities expanded their boundaries as they grew.

“People wanted single family homes and were willing to drive for hours to have that American dream of the white picket fence and the home,” Shore says.

Those choices, made over decades, have put many Bay Area residents in the fire zone.

“Clearly, a lot of people are in dangerous areas,” says Jon Keeley, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

About a third of Californians live in the WUI, or the “wildland-urban interface,” as scientists call it. Studies show that could increase by a million more homes by 2050.

It’s an area prone to fires whether or not people live there, because many of the ecosystems evolved with fires.

“They are an inevitable feature,” Keeley says. “All you need is the conditions we saw in the North Bay. So, we need to respect the fact that these are going to happen in the future and we need to have communities adapt to the fires.”

But for city and county governments, that often comes at the end of a much longer list of priorities.

“Historically, communities have by and large assumed the state and federal government will solve the fire problem and they’ve left fire issues to them,” Keely explains. “And the communities haven’t taken a real serious look.”

The Bay Area is expected to add more than 2 million people by 2040. And Keeley says where the housing is built will matter. Instead of sprawling outward, there are ways to reduce the fire risk.

“One is to take existing development areas and fill in those areas within the developments,” he says.

Building Inside-Out

Keeley is describing “infill development,” where housing is packed into the urban core, close to shops and public transit. The trend is currently on display in downtown San Jose.

“The question isn’t whether or not we’re going to grow,” says San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo. “The question is: how are we going to grow?”

Firefighters douse embers in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa. (Sheraz Sadiq/KQED)

Like a lot of cities, San Jose looks a bit like a doughnut: growing on the edges but not a lot going on in the middle.

“We’ve got a lot of work now to revitalize that middle,” Liccardo says.

Google is currently negotiating with the city to build a tech campus downtown, which would bring thousands of jobs. San Jose is trying to fast-track housing development nearby, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Infill is often more expensive to build; permitting and zoning can be more complex. San Jose has changed downtown zoning to make it easier there.

“That enabled a tower to get a permit within 66 days,” he says. “I’m told that’s a record in the state of California.”

Long Road Ahead

But many developers are still pursuing suburban subdivisions, like a 900-home development planned for the Evergreen foothills of San Jose. City voters could see a measure to approve it on the ballot next year.

“We’re gonna fight like heck on this because we can’t continue this pattern of sprawl,” Liccardo says. “It’s utterly unsustainable.”

In the Bay Area, the hills are often where the wildfire risk is highest.

“The North Bay fires are illustrative of the perils of hillside development, certainly,” Liccardo says.

In Sonoma County, many cities have instituted “urban growth boundaries,” which rein in the expansion of development outward. But the challenge has been figuring out where to build housing within city boundaries. Denser development often faces local opposition.

Shore of the Greenbelt Alliance says the region has a new opportunity for infill close to the public transit system, the SMART train, which just started running a few months ago.

“Most of the cities along the line have station-area plans that were adopted around ten years ago,” she says. “Now we need to do it. Stop talking and planning but actually start building in the right places in the right way.”

Regional planning agencies are trying to encourage denser development through Plan Bay Area, their transportation and land use plan.

Under that, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has restricted some funding for transportation projects, giving it only to cities doing infill development. The commission is seeking to link even more funding to those goals set by SB 375, a state law that requires regions to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of miles driven by cars.

But many agree, the region has a long way to go to break the pattern that has put so many people in the path of wildfires.

Please stop calling the new Bloomberg HQ the world’s most sustainable office building. It’s not.

by Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter) –

bloomberg exterior

© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

It’s a great building with lots of green features, but there is more to sustainability than a high BREEAM score.

Mike Bloomberg is one of my favourite billionaire philanthropists, building his new European headquarters in London, one of my favourite cities, designed by Norman Foster, one of my favourite architects. But I do wish everyone would stop calling it “the world’s most sustainable office building,” which both Bloomberg and Foster (and every other website) do; it’s not.

Bloomberg walkway© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

There is a lot of green goodness in this building, and it did get a BREEAM score of 98.5 percent, the highest ever for an office development. (BREEAM is a sort of British version of LEED). There are some really interesting innovations, like the ceiling, described by Foster + Partners:

ceiling panels© Bloomberg via Archdaily

Integrated Ceiling Panels: Bespoke integrated ceiling panels combine heating, cooling, lighting and acoustic functions in an innovative petal-leaf design. The system, which incorporates 500,000 LED lights, uses 40 percent less energy than a typical fluorescent office lighting system.

greenf eatures© Bloomberg/ Green features

It has serious water conservation measures that reduce consumption by 73 percent, including vacuum toilets. There is also a Foster favourite:

Natural Ventilation: When ambient weather conditions are temperate, the building’s distinctive bronze blades can open and close, allowing the building to operate in a “breathable” natural ventilation mode. Reducing dependency on mechanical ventilation and cooling equipment significantly reduces energy consumption.

bloomberg roof© Bloomberg via Archdaily

Foster has tried this on a few buildings, notably the Gherkin, where nobody ever opens the windows. I suspect nobody will in the Bloomberg building either, given the awful air quality in London. But there are also “smart CO2 sensors that vary the amount of fresh air required when they are running the air conditioning, and a big combined heat and power (CHP) plant that supplies heat and power in a single, efficient system with reduced carbon emissions. Waste heat generated from this process is recycled for cooling and heating and, in use, is expected to save 500-750 metric tonnes of CO2 each year.”

All of these are wonderful things; Foster and Bloomberg deserve much credit. But calling it “the world’s most sustainable office building” just because it has a high BREEAM score doesn’t make it so. For example, CHP plants usually generate heat and power by burning natural gas. The most sustainable office building in the world wouldn’t burn fossil fuels.

Bullitt center© Bullitt Center

The Bullitt building in Seattle doesn’t; it has solar power and gets its heat through ground source heat pumps. But it’s not BREEAM; it is built to the Living Building Challenge standard.

The world’s most sustainable office building would consider the embodied energy of the materials in it; Oliver Wainwright notes that “the embodied energy levels are not slight, given that it contains 600 tonnes of bronze imported from Japan and a quarry-full of granite from India.” That doesn’t even include the embodied energy of the concrete in it.

Powerhouse Korbo© Powerhouse Korbo/ Snohetta

The PowerHouse Kjørbo, an office building outside of Oslo designed by Snøhetta, was designed to produce not only more energy than it needs from its solar panels, but “generates more energy than what was used for the production of building materials, its construction, operation and disposal.” It actually pays back its embodied energy.

bloomberg interior lobby and stair© Foster + Partners/ Bloomberg

The Bloomberg HQ is a lovely, very green building and London is lucky to have it. (Really lucky — Bloomberg might have built it somewhere else had he known Brexit was coming.) Bloomberg describes his ambitions for it:

We believe that environmentally-friendly practices are as good for business as they are for the planet. From day one, we set out to push the boundaries of sustainable office design — and to create a place that excites and inspires our employees. The two missions went hand-in-hand, and I hope we’ve set a new standard for what an office environment can be.

living wall in pantry© Bloomberg via Archdaily

It is a new standard, absolutely. But please, stop calling it the most sustainable office building in the world. It’s not.

This might explain why your electricity bill is so high

You’re wasting electricity and money. Here’s how to save on both.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Even when you turn off your electronics, they could still be wasting electricity. When you press the off switch, many electronics — like televisions, DVRs and satellite boxes– go into standby mode.

The Pivot Power Genius

Colin West McDonald/CNET

During standby mode, electronics don’t turn off completely. They perform updates, record your favorite shows and generally just wait for you to come back, sucking up energy as they do. This is called standby power or phantom load. The energy lost is called vampire energy or leaking energy.

According to the US Department of Energy, your electricity wasters account for 10 percent or more of your electricity bill.

It would explain how my colleague Jason Cipriani ended up saving $840 per year on his electricity bill.

Televisions, DVRs and satellite boxes aren’t the only energy users. Chances are, you have several chargers around your home and they stay plugged in 24/7. Phone chargers use around 0.26 watts when plugged in, but not in use. A laptop charger also wastes energy, using 4.42 kWh when not in use and 29.48 kWh with a fully charged laptop plugged into it. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has a full list of gadgets and how much energy they waste, here.

Test your home for excess energy usage

Want to see if your home is affected by leaking energy? Turn off your AC or heating unit and your hot water heater. Now, turn off everything in your home, but leave it all plugged in.

Then, go look at the electric meter box that’s typically located on the side of your home. Are the numbers still going up? If they are, that means that your devices are still sucking electricity.

Another, more straightforward approach is to use a plug-in device like the Kill-A-Watt or the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch that measures energy usage.

Duke Energy also has a nifty calculator that can help you see just how much your devices and appliances may be wasting… without getting out of your chair.

How to kill vampire waste

The most obvious way to stop energy leaks is by unplugging everything when you aren’t using it. But this can be a huge pain, especially when you use various items throughout the day or the outlets are behind heavy furniture.

One way to make things a little easier is by using power strips. Whenever you aren’t using your devices, flip the switch on the power strip to cut off all power to your devices so that they can’t go into standby. Some power strips even come with remotes so you can shut off power from across the room, like the Conserve Switch AV Surge Protector or the Uninex Surge Protector.

Smart power strips take this idea a step further. They have outlets that are meant for different types of devices. Some of the outlets are designated for items that need to stay on all the time, like your DVR. Other outlets are for items that go into standby mode or use energy, but don’t need to be on. When you shut off a device or disconnect your device from its charger, the power strip senses it and will shut off all power to the device.

Another option is programmable outlets, like the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch and Quirky Pivot Power Genius. These plug into your regular outlet and have an app you can use to schedule your devices to shut off remotely.

Replace energy-hogging appliances

In some cases you might decide that replacing a device or appliance is the best solution. For instance, Jason found that his old secondary refrigerator cost him $40 per month, enough to justify a more energy-efficient replacement.

Preventing Cyber Attacks, Part 2: How The Board Can Protect HOA Data


Cyber security is not something that your homeowners association (HOA) can afford to take lightly. A constant flood of cyber attacks hits businesses, governments and individuals every day, and many of them have affected Californians.

In May 2017, one such attack shut down the largest terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. In 2016, ransomware prevented a number of California hospitals from accessing important information, with hackers demanding money to unlock the data. Hackers also disrupted the San Francisco Muni system that same year. And according to cyber security experts, the severity of these attacks is only going to get worse.

To tackle the growing problem of cyber crime, the California Cybersecurity Task Force was created as a statewide partnership in 2013. A few years later, the California Cybersecurity Integration Center was created to improve coordination of information and help reduce the number and severity of incidents. In addition, representatives from all levels of California government attend the Cybersecurity Symposium each year to share their concerns and get the latest information.

Clearly, the state of California takes cyber security very seriously – and so should your HOA’s board of directors. Keeping sensitive information safe is part of your fiduciary duty to the homeowners in your community. But how does a board made up of volunteers address this issue?

In the first article in our two-part series on cyber security, we discussed how homeowners could do their part to prevent cyber attacks. In part two, we examine the steps that your board of directors can take to protect HOA information.