Roll out the welcome wagons and red carpet! Cultivating a community of residents who are not only satisfied with their purchase but enthusiastic about their neighbors and general surroundings can indeed be a daunting task. For those joining a brand new co-op, condo, or HOA, getting familiar with not only new neighbors, but also with the bylaws, house rules and regulations of a new community can be intimidating as one adjusts to the unfamiliar environment.
As a resident, member of a board or one who manages property, one way to make the transition smoother for new residents is through the use of welcoming committees. A properly organized and educated welcoming committee could very well be a determining factor in the assimilation and engagement of new residents. It also makes for good morale – and good morale means the turnover rate remains low.
Many properties, from HOAs in suburban settings to high-rises deep within major metropolitan areas, have chosen to implement welcoming measures for new association members. Helping new folks learn the ropes and introducing them to their neighbors is a simple move that has the power to keep an association close as well.
So whose responsibility is it to help your neighbor feel welcomed into their new home, and by extension, into your community? While the bylaws of a given building or association may spell out the documents and information to be given to a new owner upon buying into the community, the members of the board might opt to take the time to give new owners or shareholders a more personal welcome with a packet of information about amenities, activities, social programming within the community, and even highlights of the surrounding neighborhood. Welcome responsibilities can also be divvied up between the professionals who manage the property, or current residents who have volunteered to act as a formal welcoming committee.
While not all communities have a formal welcoming/orientation policy in place, industry pros say that doing so is definitely a good move; it’s one of the best, easiest ways to foster the sense of community cohesion that makes an association feel like a true community. According to Susan Fitch, a property manager and president of AKAM On-Site in Dania Beach, Florida, “[Our] best practices are to provide new owners with a formal orientation upon approval of the sales or leasing application. This practice introduces new residents to a designated welcoming committee, representative for the association, or a member of the management team. The orientation experience should provide the newcomer with a clear understanding of the rules and policies of the community and include an introduction to some of their neighbors as well as the management team. The experience should be warm and welcoming, as well as informative.”
Another upside to formally welcoming and orienting new residents is that it gives an association a chance to educate the new person about the rules and guidelines governing their new home. Long-time residents can be apprehensive about the addition of a new resident to their community – and understandably so! Not everyone who buys a condo comes in with a full grasp of the responsibilities that go with living within an association. Those coming from other forms of property, like rental apartment complexes, may be used to more lax rules than that of an HOA, or may not understand that they – and not a landlord – are now responsible for many of the repairs, maintenance, and expenses that they previously were not. Educating new arrivals about what they are and are not responsible for, and about the rules about using amenities, common spaces, and other features of the property can go a long way toward helping them transition into the community more smoothly.
Depending on the community, ‘education’ could mean sitting down and going through all the documentation given to the new resident and answering any questions or concerns they have about house rules or other regulations. According to the pros spoken to for this article, the following points should definitely be considered:
• A form requesting basic contact info of the new resident/owner.
• Contact information for the company who manages the property.
• Contact information for key members of the board, as well as information on any special committees the board maintains, and how to contact them properly.
• Governing documents, regulations and rules – as well as working links to that information online, if available.
• Assorted forms that may be required by an association, including – but not limited to – pet registry forms, balloting information, and so forth.
• Information on how to pay fees and assessments timely and conveniently.
• Information on amenities, including rules about safety and parental supervision, hours of operation, and reservations where applicable.
• Information on cable or internet hookups, trash protocols, and municipal services.
Beyond those basics, it’s up to individual boards or orientation committees to determine what else should be included in their community ‘welcome kit.’ Some provide information and materials that may be fun, useful and/or exciting for a new resident. These can include:
• Coupons for nearby businesses, such as a furniture or home goods store.
• A map that highlights points of interest, including landmarks and places to mingle with locals.
• A coupon for a neighborhood fitness facility if their new property does not have one.
• Historical information on the city, surrounding neighborhood, and building itself.
Some communities make a point to set up a meet-and-greet for new and current residents to get together and become better acquainted. Some properties even take the time to set up singles events for adults who live in the building or association to mingle over wine and hors d’oeuvres. It’s all up to the individuals or committee members tasked with rolling out the welcome mat.
Safety and Security
More associations are also using their orientation process to do a bit of background work on new residents. Indeed, some properties have their managers perform background checks on potential buyers, looking at their credit history, any prior litigation against a landlord or HOA, and for any criminal information in their history.
According to Richard Holtzman, president of Prairie Shores Property Management, LLC, a property management company in Chicago, “In the condominium associations that we manage, many of the boards require a brief orientation meeting with all the prospective owners to share with them the building’s amenities, rules and regulations and procedures. Some of them require a photo, taken during the orientation, so that everyone knows who lives in the building. [In condos,] this process is helpful so that the new owner understands the move-in process and is fully aware of the requirements. [In the context of a co-op community,] all the boards have an extensive interview process as part of the approval to purchase shares. These meetings include an orientation, but a much deeper interview process is required to ensure that the new shareholder understands that they are purchasing into an apartment building environment, and they understand that the house rules are different from a condominium association.”
Practices like these, of course, can bring peace of mind – not just to an association’s administrators, but to the new resident as well. It’s always easier to assimilate into a new community when you know the rules, expectations, and boundaries of that community.
So, once that buyer has closed the deal, all approval processes have been carried out, and the new resident has been made privy to all the rules and regulations they are expected to follow as they live and exist within the association and part of a brand new community...what next? Well, according to the pros, the efforts of any good welcoming community do not just stop there. It is important to follow up with your new shareholder or unit owner to not only show that they are a valued member of the association, but also to further help them with the task of settling in.
“I believe that providing... new residents with this level of quality experiences goes directly to increasing the value of the owner investment,” concludes Fitch. “A happy, well-informed resident tells others of their experience, including their real estate agent. These agents will return with their buyers to the communities that provide a great on-boarding experience for their members!”
Oba Gathing is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Chicago Cooperator.