Do you feel like there are better property managers out there? Have your Board members been hesitant about considering new management because they are concerned the transition process is going to be difficult?
If you relate to the above questions then you are not alone. One reason why ineffective mangers remain in business is that Board members are generally weary of the time, effort and instability they perceive as part of the manager transition process. While management transitions can be stressful and, if handled incorrectly, frustrating for all the community’s residents, a proactive Board of Directors can help to create a seamless transition.
This post will provide general guidance on navigating the management transition process. We will also provide an overview of the key aspects of the transition plan you should see from a new management company.
Don’t rush the management decision-making process. Be sure to start interviewing new management companies at least 60 days before you need to give notice to your current management company. Be sure to review your current management contract to know exactly how and when notice of cancelation or non-renewal must be given. Some management agreements may require notice as much as 90 days in advance.
Negotiate your new management contract. There is always risk associated with hiring a new management company. The manager could fail to live up to the Board’s expectations. Because of this, the Board should ensure that they have negotiated a contract with favorable terms. See our post on contract negotiation here for more details.
Give the new company ample time for transition. Make sure that new management contract is signed at least 60 days before the start date. 60 days is a reasonable amount of time for the new management company to properly transition the administrative aspects of the association (e.g., inform residents, open new bank accounts, transfer financial data), be brought up to speed on outstanding association projects, and generally be ready to go when management officially begins.
Audit your association’s official records. Once the Board has decided to make a management change, one of the first things they should consider doing is auditing the association’s official records.
NOTE: Board members often think of official records maintenance as being the manager’s responsibility and, therefore, don’t spend too much time thinking about it. While it is true that maintaining records is part of the standard management contract, it is ultimately the Board’s responsibility to make sure that records are properly kept in accordance with Florida Statutes (read more about official records requirements here). Remember, when a Board hires a management company, responsibility for compliance with Florida Statutes & association governing documents does NOT shift to the management company. Ultimate responsibility remains with the Board. As we discussed in our post on the Florida Administrative Code, relying on a management company is not an acceptable defense for failing to comply with Florida law.
Transitioning the association’s records is one of the most important aspects of the management transition. Not only is it a requirement of the Florida Statutes that certain records be kept, it is also crucial for the smooth operations of the association (particularly when new management is involved). An advanced audit of the official records may bring to light unexpected issues.
If your management company keeps all your records off property, a Board member(s) should request a meeting with the current manager to review all of the records. Bring our blog post on official records with you as a cheat sheet for everything that should be included. If records are missing, make a list of those records and request that the current management company locate them. Determine which records are kept in hard copy and which in soft. Ask the manager how email communications relating to association business are stored and how you would access them. If the manager tells you emails are not part of the official records, push back. Emails are a very important part of the association’s records. A tremendous amount of detail surrounding historical association events is lost every time an association switches management companies without retaining email records. In my opinion, this point is so important that it may be worth consulting the association’s attorney if the management company refuses to provide them.
If all the records are accounted for but they aren’t organized, don’t sweat it. At this point, you just need to make sure the records are available. Once your association has hired a new management company, organizing the official records can be something you require.
Review the association’s polices. The period prior to a management transition is a great time for the association to review its operational policies and procedures (e.g., collections, sales/ lease, parking, property access, amenities use). If the association has been relying on certain internal policies and forms of their current management company (most frequently for maintenance fee collections and violation identification/ fining), it is worthwhile to request copies of these policies. All policies should be provided to the new manager for his/ her review to ensure policies are applied consistently from one management company to the next. Consistent application helps to create a smooth transition and limits resident complaints. Any policy changes the new manager recommends should be reviewed and approved by the Board.
Establish a transition plan. Be sure to establish a detailed transition plan with the new management company and follow up on the status of the transition weekly. The following outlines the essential aspects of a transition plan. Prior to hiring a new management company, the Board should understand exactly how the new manager plans to handle the transition.
Manager Transition Plan Key Components
Board Meetings/ Transition Updates: The new manager should meet with the Board of Directors shortly after contract signing to discuss the specifics of the transition plan. The manager should also agree to provide routine updates (perhaps weekly) on the status of the transition. If possible, the new manager should attend any regular Board meetings that occur in advance of the start of the contract.
Obtain/ Organize Official Records: Management’s first big hurdle is going to be obtaining all of the association’s records from the departing management company. The manager should request the records at the beginning of the transition period, review the records, and provide the Board with a list of missing records (if any). If the new manager is having difficulty obtaining specific records from the departing manager, the Board may need to step in and request those records.
Opening Bank Accounts/ Signers: Management companies typically serve as custodians of their associations’ bank accounts. For simplicity, they will usually only work with one bank. As such, a change in management company often means changing the bank where the association holds its operating (and possibly reserve) funds. As part of the transition, the new manager will need to assist the Board in establishing new bank accounts for the association. This should definitely be done in advance of the contract start date (ideally 30 days before) to ensure there is a location for maintenance fees to be deposited. As part of this process, the Board will need to specify which Board members will be allowed to sign the association’s checks (generally the President and Treasurer). At this point, the Board should request that online access be established so that the manager, Treasurer or other Board members can check the status of the association’s accounts at any time.
Purchasing Coupon Books: With new bank accounts come new coupon books. The manager will need to order these coupon books and have them delivered to residents in advance of day one of the contract to ensure unit owners can pay their maintenance fees on time. Generally, these coupon books are accompanied by an introduction letter from the new management firm.
Resident Communication: Communicating with residents is a crucial aspect of the transition. All management companies send an introduction letter to all unit owners that generally includes a brief paragraph about the company and the manager’s contact information. In my opinion, this letter alone is insufficient. I strongly recommend that the President of the Board personally communicate with all residents explaining reasons for the management change and asking residents for their patience during the transition. Knowing that the Board made a thoughtful and well-informed decision will help to limit resident complaints. I also think the Board should confirm that the manager will not only contact the community’s unit owners but other residents as well (e.g., tenants) to the extent possible. These other residents are often left in the dark by property managers, causing them to complain to their landlords (i.e., unit owners).
Confirm Resident/ Homeowner Contact Info: The new management company should obtain unit owner and resident contact information (e.g., addresses, phone numbers, emails) from the departing management company and should work to confirm this information with each resident. The Board should communicate to the new management company any additional information they would like the management company to maintain for each resident (e.g., parking spot number, number of pets, license plate number, emergency contact).
Meeting with Vendors: The new manager should meet with all of the association’s key vendors to introduce him/herself and get brought up to speed on current projects. The manager should ensure that the association has a W-9 form and current certificate of insurance for each vendor.
Financial Updates: During the month prior to the contract start date, the new manager should obtain financial records through the previous month’s end from the departing management company. If the two management companies have compatible accounting systems, the transfer should be straightforward, with the new management company simply importing all historical data into their system. If there is system incompatibility, the new manager will simply begin maintaining accounting records on day one of the contract. In this case, I recommend making sure the association have the following reports for all prior months: (1) Balance Sheet, (2) Income Statement, (3) Budget-to-Actual, (4) Check Registers, (5) General Ledger & (6) Full Historical Ledgers for each unit owner. Read more about financial records here.
Policies & Procedures: During the month prior to the contract start date, the new manger should obtain all of the association’s current policies and procedures. The manager should review them and provide any recommended changes to the Board. To the extent possible, all key policies and procedures should be in place in advance in advance of contract start.
Annual Report/ Registered Agent: Immediately after the start date of the contract, the new manager should amend the addresses listed on the association’s Florida annual report to the manager’s address (unless Board members prefer their personal addresses). The manager should also ensure that either the manager or the association’s attorney is listed as the association’s registered agent.
Website: If the association provides a website for its communities, the website should be fully operational, with all relevant association records uploaded, in advance of the contract start date. Many managers allow for some customization of the association’s website. The Board should discuss this with the manager to ensure they are fully taking advantage of the website’s features. Read more about the benefits of a condominium website here.
This post provided only a brief overview of the transition process. If you would like to discuss the specifics of your community’s management transition, feel free to reach out.
Emily Shaw is a Florida condo owner and a director of VERA Property Management, a community associaiton management and consulting firm.