Christmas Decorations at your entrance

November 27, 2012

This subject comes up this time of year, usually without fail.  The question many HOA and condominium managers get around Christmas is “Why are there no decorations at the entrance of our neighborhood?”

The answer is this-Christmas is a religious holiday and some of your neighbors might not celebrate Christmas and would not be pleased to see their HOA or condo dues pay for the decoration of the front entrance for a holiday they don’t celebrate.

This does not mean that the entrance cannot be decorated. It just means that the association should not pay for it.  If you would like the entry to your community decorated for the holidays, contact your Board of Directors for approval prior to beginning.  Understand that the cost of such decorations may well come from your pocket but if spreading Christmas cheer is on your list of holiday activities, go forth and prosper provided the Board of Directors blesses it first.

Before you undertake those decorations, make sure you can do it safely and tastefully.  While you might like your home to look like the landing approach lights at JFK, your neighbors might not like that many lights to adorn the entryway.  If your entryway does not have access to an addition power source (a GFI plug), wreaths, garland and bows can be used to dress up the area instead of lights.

If you have been granted permission to decorate, make sure you remove the decorations once the holiday season is complete.  No later than January 2nd would be a good rule of thumb.  Store the decorations in a waterproof, rodent proof container and store out of the way until next year.

Living in a deed restricted community is sometimes a lesson in politics and diplomacy.  Do not be discouraged if your holiday decorations are not met with the same enthusiasm as your own.  Instead, enlist the help of friends and neighbors to complete this volunteer project.


Architectural Review

November 19, 2012

One of the significant features of living in a homeowners association is having your home improvements reviewed by an architectural review board.  If you are in a small community, this review is usually performed by the Board of Directors.  If you live in a rather large community, other homeowners usually volunteer to serve on a committee.  These homeowners will sometimes have backgrounds in construction or design.

The purpose of the architectural review committee is to ensure that your improvements conform to a set of standards appropriate for your community and to preserve the value of homes within the community.  If you look around your community you will notice that the exterior colors of the homes follow a certain trend.  White, beige, gray and other muted colors are typically the norm.  Some higher end communities require a brick or stucco facade.  These requirements are generally required by the developer when a community is first started.  Other significant builder requirements include side entry garages.  As with all other things we talk about in the blog, always refer to your Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for your particular community requirements.

It is a good rule of thumb that any improvement to the exterior of your property be submitted to the architectural review board.  This includes paint colors for your home (even if you are using the same color), fences, pools and screen enclosures.  Also included would be additions to the home.

To expedite the architectural review process, make sure you have a copy of your Final Boundary Survey to submit with your plans, especially if they include fences, pools or screen enclosures.  You will have to submit these items for county building permits as well, so make some additional copies while you’re at it.  Draw on your survey the location of your improvement, a description of the materials used and an approximate time until completion.  Check your association documents to see if there are particular requirements for fences.  Some communities allow wood fences, other do not.  If you live on a retention pond, some communities require that the fence stop at the top of the lake bank and not proceed towards the water.  If you plan to repaint your home, submit color swatches and indicate the finish of the paint (flat or gloss), indicate which color is your primary and which is the trim color and a time frame for completion.

Once you have compiled all the needed information, submit them to the architectural review board or Board of Directors.  Do not start your improvement until you receive approval from them, regardless of the time frame placed on you by your contractor.   Most documents will state that you will receive an answer in 30 days, but always check your community documents.  However, if the architectural review board requests more information that you did not submit before hand, it is possible that the time table resets upon the receipt of additional information.  It is better to provide as much information up front.


Prepping your lawn for winter

November 14, 2012

I believe we thoroughly hashed through the budget process for most possible scenarios for homeowners associations and condominiums so let’s move on to other, more enlightening things.  For instance, how to prepare your lawn for the coming winter.

Here in northeast Florida, we have our share of freezes and cold snaps that sometimes cause damage to the lawn we so painstakingly tended to last summer.  Let’s go over some tips offered by the University of Florida IFAS Extension office .

St. Augustine grass in north Florida goes dormant in the late fall, early winter, turning it to the brown, dead looking color.  If you want a green lawn year round, consider over seeding with rye grass.  Rye grass provides a green lush lawn over your existing St. Augustine grass and will actually protect your lawn should we experience freezing temperatures.

Here’s how to start

  • Rake your lawn free of debris, leaves, grass clippings, limbs.
  • Dethatch your lawn to get rid of the clippings from the summer, exposing the soil beneath.
  • Daytime temperatures should be consistently in the mid 70’s.
  • Apply the seed, a broadcast spreader works best.
  • Water 1-2 times per day for 10-20 minutes until seeds germinate, continue light watering (1/4” inch) daily for 2-3 more weeks.
  • Once grass is established water as needed to prevent wilting.

Once your winter lawn is established it will continue to need mowing.  Set your mower deck 1-2” above your permanent St. Augustine so you do not damage the dormant grass. To maintain a neat appearance, your lawn will have to mowed every week to ten days through the winter because the rye grass does continue to grow.  Fertilize at your discretion.

As we approach mid February and early March, allow the rye grass to die back and begin prepping your St. Augustine for its renewal.  We’ll cover that in February when it’s hot on everyone’s mind.

Condominiums-Required Reserves, Optional Reserves

November 6, 2012

We talked last week about preparing the HOA budget and funds that should be set aside to pay for high dollar capital improvements such as paving or roofs.  In homeowner associations, in Florida, there is not a statutory requirement to fund these reserves.  For condominiums though, its a whole different story.

In the State of Florida, condominium associations are required by law to set aside funds for painting, paving and roofs.  As was suggested is the last post, there are other significant capital expenditures that should be addressed, but are not required.  As with all the other topics we discuss here, check your associations documents for more specifics.

For a condominium, beyond the painting, paving and roofs, there are other maintenance items that should be accounted for as well but are not required by law  One that comes off the top of my head is elevators.  As much as we’d wish it were so, elevators do not have an indefinite life span.  Motors and pumps burn up, wear and tear occurs and some associations can spend upwards of $10000 for elevator maintenance and upkeep each year.  If your condominium is over 4 stories in height, boost pumps (pumps that are pumping water under pressure to higher floors) also require constant upkeep, maintenance and periodically, replacement.  A high quality pump is not cheap and the sediment content of Florida water can create endless maintenance issues month to month.

An important consideration for the Board of Directors of any condominium association, especially high-rise buildings, is to engage in preventative maintenance.  Staying current with all of your maintenance issues can help to prolong the life of your high maintenance items.  Securing the services of reputable companies to perform your preventative maintenance can save the association money in the long run.  Some condominiums employ maintenance personnel to perform the day-to-day tasks of inspection and minor repair and notification of decision makers regarding issues that develop.  These maintenance personnel replace light bulbs, paint doors, and address common area issues that may arise that do not necessarily require the approval of a majority of the Board of Directors.  By doing so, maintenance items are addressed in a timely manner instead of being allowed to languish.  The maintenance plan, and financial expenditures associated with it, can be addressed before hand by the Board but to effectively facilitate repairs, it is sometimes better to take the approach of “just get it done”.

Each condominium is unique in the extra items it chooses to budget for.  But by addressing possible failure after a number of years (15-20 years), the financial impact can be less than would be with a significant special assessment.   “Pay me now or pay me later” applies here.