Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is it Possible for a Board Member to Have a Happy New Year?

As we look at the start of a new year, one can only wonder what life has in store. Nobody has been demonstrably successful at predicting the future but of one thing you can be sure…things will change. There will be some good changes coming and some bad changes coming and how you adapt to them will reflect in how successful you will be in whatever endeavor you are pursuing.

If you are a condo board member, you will be facing some changes that will not only affect you but all of the association members who have chosen you to be their fearless leader. With this in mind, I would venture to guess that some of the changes are going to require you to make decisions that you’d just rather not have responsibility for. You know that some of the residents are not going to be happy and will be wondering “What was the Board thinking?”

Well, I’ve heard said that the key to success is making more correct decisions than wrong ones. The problem is how can you be sure, that in the end, you meet this criterion? One way is to consult with your other board members but if none of you has ever been faced with this particular problem before; your decision might as well be the flip of a coin.

Luckily this is one of those times when an experienced management company can save the day. There are only so many things that can happen in a condo association and if you are looking to solve a problem, there is little doubt that sometime, somewhere, that same problem presented itself to a different association before now. So, consult with your management company, present the problem and listen to what your manager has to say. The manager is not going to make the decision for you because that’s your job but he or she can offer advice based on experiences that you and the other board members haven’t had.

Dowling Properties has been serving condo associations in the Near-West Suburbs for over 25 years. If you are thinking about using a management company or considering a change, let our experience be your guide. Call us at 708-771-0880 and let one of our management specialists assist you and your board with those tough decisions you will no doubt be facing this coming New Year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Is My Unit so Cold? / Hot?

By Jim Digre

Winter officially arrived today but all of us who live in Chicago know that Ol' Man Winter always comes to the party early and stays longer than appreciated. He's like an obnoxious relative that comes to visit during the Holidays. You know he's coming and you dread his untimely arrival but after a few visits, you learn how to deal with him. Just like your annoying relative though, winter does have some good aspects if you look for them. I mean who can say that a fresh snowfall isn't pretty or that skiing, sledding and ice skating aren't fun activities? However, the primary problem with winter is that it's COLD!

Because many of you condo owners live in buildings that are 60 to 90 years old you run into the problem of keeping a warm and cozy home when the Ol' Man decides to send out Jack Frost to demonstrate how cold he can make it. The building's heating plant and how it works isn't something the average condo resident gives much thought to until it gets seriously cold. Because many of the old condo buildings in the Chicago area still employ steam radiant heating systems and even if there is a new boiler in the building, the problem of proper heat distribution to the various units can be a problem for the association and its residents. Some owners complain of inadequate heat and, when the system is adjusted to better heat their units, others complain that it is too hot. What do you do?

If you've experienced living in a building with a central steam heating plant, you are no doubt familiar with the various noises that this type of system makes. The comforting hiss of air escaping the relief valve (that silver thing mounted on the side of the radiator) and the occasional clanking of the pipes from their expansion and contraction is your indication that the system is running and heating your unit. But, when the clanking of the pipes sounds like someone is beating on them with a hammer or hot water starts to spit and sputter out of the relief valve, the sounds aren't so comforting and something needs to be done. Very loud banging in the pipes is indicative of problems in the system that should be addressed by a qualified and experienced heating expert that knows the ins and outs of steam systems.

As a unit owner though, there are some things that you can do to help yourself if your unit is too hot or cold. If your unit is too hot, there is a simple solution...turn one or two radiators off. Just remember that steam radiators can not be adjusted by turning the valve partially on or off. If you want to create the above mentioned problems partially closing the valve to your radiator will do it! This happens because the steam condenses in the radiator while it is heating your unit and the water needs to flow back out the pipe (in a single pipe system) that the steam came up. A partially closed valve will not allow the water to properly drain from the radiator back to the boiler. When the steam comes back on it has to force its way past the collected water causing those clanking noises. Water collected in the radiator may then be forced out the air relief valve and on to your floors. If water is spitting out the relief valve and the supply valve is completely open then water is collecting in the radiator either because the radiator it clogged or it is tilted away from the supply pipe. Put a level on the top of the radiator and check to see that it is level or slightly tilted towards the supply pipe. If not, put some shims under the legs of the radiator opposite the supply pipe and that should solve the problem. If not, you may need to have the radiator flushed out or replaced.

Radiators that are not heating up when the system is running present a whole different problem. If the air relief valve is not working properly, the air pressure in the radiator will not allow the steam to enter. That is the first thing a unit owner should check after making sure the supply valve is turned on all the way. If you know the boiler has been running for a while and you don't hear the air hissing out of the valve or the valve isn't clicking open and closed, then it needs to be replaced. The valves are easily obtained at companies that service steam systems or your local hardware store. They are not expensive and easy to replace. Just make sure the supply valve is off when you change it or you could receive a serious burn from escaping steam when you remove the valve.

Rather than go into the complexities of a steam system and all the other reasons that a particular unit is not heating properly, I would suggest that the association of any building with a steam plant search out and find a reputable HVAC company that is experienced and knowledgeable in the operation and engineering of steam systems. There are many air vents in a steam system besides the ones on the radiators themselves and checking for their proper operation and sizing can go a long way towards making your steam heat system operate at maximum efficiency and keep everyone warm.

Dowling Properties is in the business of helping condo associations solve day to day operational problems and have been doing so in the near-west suburbs for over 25 years. For information about our services and how we might be of help to your association, please call 708-771-0880 or visit our web site at

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Understanding Common Area Drains and Vent Pipes

By: Jim Digre

Hidden behind the walls of every condo owner's unit is a myriad of plumbing pipes. They consist of supply, drain and vent pipes. The supply pipes are the source of hot and cold water to each unit, the drains obviously take away the waste water and the vent pipes serve, in combination with fixture traps, to allow sewer gasses to be vented outside (vents) and keep the gasses from entering the units (traps).

Today I want to talk about common area drains and vents. These pipes typically run vertically and serve the needs of multiple units. They are common area systems and fall under the responsibility of the Association to repair. Keep in mind however, that if the problem is in a pipe branching off of the common pipe and serving only your unit, the repairs are your responsibility.

Since these pipes serve multiple units in any given tier of a building, when there is a problem with either a common vent or drain, it will most likely cause symptoms in more than one unit in the tier. So, if you and your neighbor(s) are both or all experiencing the same problem (slow drains, backups, sewer gas smells, unusual sounds coming from drains), you can be relatively sure that it is a common area pipe or vent that is causing the problem. If this is the case you should contact your board or management company to explain the problem and seek help in getting it fixed.

A clogged common drain will usually cause sink, shower or toilet backups in the units nearest to and above the point of the clog when water is used on the floors above them. If a main drain is clogged below the first floor, the first floor units can sustain serious backup problems when water is in use by multiple units above them. Common area blockages can be caused by many things but are usually the result of non-soluble particulates being put in the drainage system. Rags, construction materials (paint, plaster, etc.), children's toys and anything else you can imagine are the type of things that can cause these clogs. Be aware that although these common pipes are the responsibility of the Association and a shared repair expense for all unit owners, if it is determined that you caused the problem through your own negligence, you may get stuck with a very costly repair bill. Never letting little children play around the toilet nor allowing construction materials to be put into any drain can save you and your neighbors plumbing problems that can be expensive and complicated to repair.

A blocked vent is a relatively common problem caused by anything from leaves, to dead squirrels and birds, to ice dams in very cold weather. Symptoms range from bubbles in the toilet bowl when it is flushed, to slow drainage, and all the way to siphoned (empty) traps and sewer gases entering the building. This happens because vents also serve to balance air pressure in the drain system. A bad vent blockage can cause a vacuum to develop in the drain and some or all of the water in your sink traps and or toilet to be sucked out when someone uses the toilet or fixtures above you. Should you notice fluctuating water levels in your toilet or smell sewer gas in your unit, you should suspect the possibility of a vent problem in the building.

I hope this post has given you a little better understanding of what's going on in the pipes behind your walls.

Dowling Properties has been serving the needs of condo residents for over 25 years. When thinking about a management company consider our experience and expertise and let us guide your association smoothly to a successful future. Call 708-771-0880 or visit our website at:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is this Thing Called Fiduciary Duty?

From time to time you may hear that the board of the association operates in a fiduciary capacity for the homeowners. Or you may read about the board’s fiduciary responsibility in the governing documents. Just exactly what does this mean?

Fiduciary duty simply means the board has an ethical and legal obligation to make decisions in the best interests of the entire association. That’s a small explanation for a very big responsibility.

Fiduciary duty includes a duty of loyalty to the association, which means that board members should never use their position to take advantage of the association. They should never make decisions for the association that benefit themselves at the expense of the association and its members.

Fiduciary duty also includes the duty to exercise ordinary care. This means board members must perform their duties in good faith and in a manner they believe to be in the best interest of the association, with such care as an ordinary prudent person in a similar position under similar circumstances would use.

In short, boards must act in the best interests of the association and act reasonably.

Board members fulfill their fiduciary duty by:

 Developing and using a formal budgeting process

 Establishing and adhering to budgetary guidelines

 Making sure the budgeting process reflects the wishes of the association members

 Promoting understanding and acceptance of the reserve accounts among the members

 Collecting sufficient fees to adequately operate the association

 Soliciting bids and negotiating appropriate contracts

 Authorizing expenditures

Friday, December 3, 2010

Assessments as Important as Mortgages and Taxes

When you sit down to pay your bills each month, do you consider your association assessment a low priority? If so, think again.

According to the National Consumer Law Center’s (NCLC) Guide to Surviving Debt, “Condo fees…should be considered a high priority.” In fact, NCLC considers community association assessments in the same category as mortgage payments and real estate taxes—a category ranked second only to feeding your family—according to the Guide’s “Sixteen Rules about Which Debts to Pay First.”

Assessments pay for services like building maintenance, snow removal, water & sewer, heat (in many cases), landscaping, refuse collection and cleaning that you would pay no matter where you lived—either as direct out-of-pocket expenses or indirectly in a higher rent payment. The association, however, has collective buying power, so when all services and utilities for everyone in the community are passed along to you as a monthly assessment, you’re actually getting a bargain.

So, next time you get out your checkbook, remember to put your assessment near the top of that stack of bills. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Running for the Board—Do You Have What it Takes?

If you’re considering running for your association board, take a few moments to ask yourself the following three questions:

Do I have the time?
As a board member, you will need to devote at least several hours of your time each month to association business. In addition to regular monthly board meetings, you will need to be active in email discussions and occasional special meetings. During special projects, you may need to spend a little extra time on association business. Some board members may also spend a little more time than others if they work with a committee

Can I make tough decisions when it’s required?
The primary role of the board is to conduct the business of the association. This doesn’t just mean approving the budget, but also developing and enforcing policies. Board members are required to step outside their immediate circle of family and neighbors and make decisions based on the greater good of the community.

Can I do all this and have fun, too?
It isn’t all about policies and tough decisions. Our community is only as good as we make it, and establishing and maintaining a sense of community is a part of a board member’s responsibility. Planning and attending functions such as our picnics and being a presence in the community are as important as any policy decisions you may make.

Being a board member can be frustrating at times, but it may also be one of the most rewarding ways you’ll find to volunteer your time. If you’re interested in running for the board or would like more details about board’s responsibilities, please contact the manager or a current board member.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Important Information for Condo Unit Landlords

In this time of economic turmoil, more and more unit owners are leasing out their units when they have to move and are unable to sell. If you are an owner who leases your unit, you can make the leasing experience successful and positive for everyone by understanding your responsibilities. This will help preserve your property value specifically and maintain the association’s property value in general.

Your tenants may not be familiar with common-interest community living. Please take a few minutes to explain to them that living in a community association is very different from living in a rental apartment community. Specifically, your tenants, like all residents, are subject to the rules and regulations of the association, and it’s up to you to educate them and see that they comply. Your association normally will assist you in this area, but the responsibility lies with you. It is recommended that you provide your tenants with written copies of all policies and rules and advise them on the proper use of the association’s facilities. You can obtain copies of these and other useful documents from the Board or property manager.

It is also strongly recommend that you have a written lease agreement with your tenant. As a lessor (landlord) of a home in a community association, the lease you use must require tenants to comply with the association’s governing documents. Typically, in the event your tenant fails to comply with these documents, including the bylaws, or its rules and regulations, a representative of your association will first contact your tenants in an attempt to remedy the problem.

If your tenant does not correct the violation, the association will then contact you and expect you to remedy the violation using the recourse available to you through your lease agreement. If you are unable to correct the violation, the association may pursue appropriate legal action against the tenant, and possibly against you.

It is important that you provide the Board and property manager with the names and contact information of your tenants. This information is necessary if the Board or management company needs to contact your tenant for any reason and of course in case of emergency.

Follow these simple steps and you, the tenants and the association will all have a positive community association living experience:

• Provide your tenants with copies of association rules.

• Educate tenants about the need to follow association rules, and see that they comply.

• Advise tenants on the proper use of association facilities.

• Use a written lease agreement.

• Make sure your lease requires tenants to comply with all association governing documents.

• Provide the association with contact information for your tenants.

Renters: If you don’t have a copy of the association rules or you’d like more information about the association, please contact a board member or manager.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Collected Assessments and Established Reserves = Fiscal Viability

By Jim Digre

One of the biggest responsibilities that a condominium board faces is maintaining the fiscal viability of the association. The operating income of the association comes from the assessments paid by the unit owners and in the light of rising costs, it is inevitable that those assessments will need to increase, if only to keep up with inflation. However, no condo owner wants their assessment raised and there are some who blithely wonder just why assessments should ever have to go up. Well, now that we are in a time of financial crisis, when personal incomes are suffering, and foreclosures abound, the problem of fiscal viability verses assessments becomes an even greater concern to the Board and the association.

Because of the ongoing financial crisis, many boards are having a difficult time collecting some portion of the monthly assessments needed to run the association. When you pile on top of this a history of poor fiscal management, major problems for the community can arise that may take years of strict financial austerity to overcome. In parts of the country, some situations have gotten so bad that buildings that were once thriving condo communities are looking more like slum projects on the "bad side of town". Units get abandoned, repairs go undone, and general neglect of the property becomes the norm.

Hopefully we are starting to see a turnaround for the economy and those associations that are struggling will have the chance that things will get easier financially. In light of all this though, there are some associations that seem to go on weathering financial storms as if nothing was happening at all and I'm not talking about just communities full of rich people. I'm talking about those associations run by boards whose members truly understand their fiscal responsibilities.

The Illinois Condominium Property Act specifically lays out the responsibilities of the board and what they can and can't do. So, when elected, the first thing board members should do is to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the provisions of the act. The second thing is to read and digest the Decs and Bylaws of their own association. Since assessments are the life blood of the association, part and parcel to these documents is what the board can and must do to enforce the collection of past due assessments. In addition to the collection of assessments, establishing a workable budget that contains provisions for adequate reserves is critical to achieving the financial where-with-all to avoid a crisis when the economy implodes.

"Adequate" reserves is a nefarious statement that can be interpreted in many ways. Most commonly, because of Government lending guidelines, it is thought of as a minimum of 10% of the annual budget. However, those associations that stay viable and avoid special assessments approach their budget, assessment and reserve requirements in a specific and technical manner that addresses the actual needs of the association not just an estimated guess. Understanding that reserves are meant for scheduled repair and replacement of common area elements not "extra" money, separating them from the operating budget and the undertaking of a reserve study to see what they actually need financially is what creates a successful association that can "weather the storm".

If you are wondering what your association can do to improve its fiscal viability and avoid the need for special assessments,  e-mail me and I will happily send you a free report entitled "Reserve Study Know How". In this report you will learn how to do your own reserve study at a fraction of the cost charged by reserve study companies.

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to Sell Your Condo in Today's Tough Market

By Brynn Alexander

Condo owners have the same problems home owners have in this tough market but with one added disadvantage. They're selling a condo.

Buying a condo is buying into lifestyle. A lifestyle that is very different from owning a house. The upside of owning a condo is little to no maintenance, they are usually in trendy neighborhoods, and many have amenities like swimming pools and workout rooms. The downside is you have no yard, you have a common wall(s) with your neighbor(s), and little freedom when it comes to major remodeling.

Some buy condos not because of the lifestyle they offer but because of their value. You can get more space for your dollar. However, those that were looking at condos a few years ago can now afford to buy a house.

Knowing what attracts buyers to condos is one of the keys to successfully unloading your property. The other major factors you'll need to know are price, quality, and hiring the right real estate agent.

"It's All About Price"

You're not going to get the same price in today's market that you would have received from your condo a few years ago. In order to sell your condo you can't price it competitively you have to price it to beat your competition.

Additionally, it's harder for first time home buyers to get a loan to buy a condo. If they can't get one, then the 20 percent down usually turns them away.

"It's all about price," says Mary Ann Grabel of Greenwich Fine Properties in Greenwich, Connecticut. "People who really want or need to sell are willing to take less than what they paid two or three years ago."

If you're dead set on getting top price for your condo then be prepared not to sell. It's that simple.

"The 'Wow' Factor"

"If it doesn't shine, nobody's going to buy it," warns Cyndi Johnston, a broker with RE/MAX Equity Group in Portland, Oregon.

Not only do condo buyers want the lowest price possible, but they also want the best quality possible. If that makes them sound picky it's only because they are picky. Condo buyers have that luxury.

Obviously, you'll want to "stage" your condo as best as possible. That means you'll be removing about half of your belongings, taking down pictures and other personal mementos, and getting rid of all pets (moving them to a friend's house). Basically, you'll want the condo to look as generic as possible-inviting to prospective buyers.

Besides the staging, you'll also want to remodel any weak spots. We don't mean redo the kitchen, but if the counters are in bad shape or the carpet needs replacing now is the time to do it. A fresh coat of paint is not enough in a tough market.

"Part of the reason is that you have all these decorating programs on TV," says Tom Apligian, a realtor for Re/Max in Plano, Texas. "People want to walk in and say 'wow!' The "wow" factor is very important today."

"In What Circles?"

You'll want a knowledgeable, responsible, and capable real estate agent. You'll also want one that knows how to market a property.

To help you pick an agent, interview at least five. Compare and contrast their fees, their resumes, and their marketing and promotion ideas. Try to find the right agent for you-one that will go the extra mile, knows the local market, and is well-connected.

" should ask your selling agent, 'In what circles will you be promoting my home?' Many times, the sale comes down to who you know," advises Johnston.

Once you find the right agent, make sure you work with them on marketing your condo. In these tough times it pays to be creative. Nothing, no matter how crazy it may sound, is off limits.

"Like Pulling Teeth"

A lot of condos are built in great locations with excellent views. If your condo has an excellent view take a picture, preferably at a favorable time of day (sunrise or sunset).

While your camera is out, take lots of pictures of your condo. Make sure your pictures include outside areas (like decks and patios), how light filters in, and storage areas.

Tell everyone you know that you're selling your condo. Word of mouth is a great marketing tool. Even if your friends and co-workers aren't interested they might know someone who is.

In order to buy a condo many lenders are going to need information about the Home Owners Association. The sooner you start this process the better.

"Getting the HOA to fill this stuff out is like pulling teeth," laments Ernest Cooper from RE/MAX Equity Group in Portland, Oregon.

Compiling all the necessary information beforehand will help speed up the sale when you finally find a buyer.

"What's Wrong With That Property?"

As hard it might sound, take your condo off the market after 90 days. That doesn't mean you're done trying to sell it and you have to live there forever. It just means your condo needs to take a break. After awhile you can put it back up for sale.

"If a house sits on the market, people start to wonder, 'what's wrong with that property. How come it's not selling?'" explains Elizabeth Weintraub an agent for Lyon's Real Estate in Sacramento.

Brynn Alexander writes for, a comprehensive directory of home professionals and an in-depth resource for home owners and home buyers. Visit the blog where you can read original and useful articles such as How to Hire a Home Repairman.

Article Source:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Condominium Community - Know Thy Neighbor

By Jim Digre

Many people who purchase and move into a condominium have just left apartment living and may have difficulty understanding that there is a distinct difference between renting an apartment and owning a condo unit. Living in a apartment inherently creates a situation where the landlord or building manager is responsible for your living conditions. If something the landlord. If the property is poorly maintained or a neighbor is creating a the landlord. There really is no reason to get to know those living in such close proximity to you. There are many people who do get to know their apartment neighbors but most renters never get beyond a fleeting "Hi" should they happen to pass in the hall.

Moving into a condo presents the new owner with an entirely different dynamic when it comes to the relationship between themselves and their neighbors. Like apartment living, you are still living in close proximity to others and many of the same problems inherent in apartment living exist in condo living too. However, there is no landlord to call upon when it comes to repairs in your unit or conflicts with your neighbors. Yeah, there may be a management company and there is the condo Board and yes they can help advise you but the responsibility for your living conditions is yours.

Every condo owner shares in the ownership of the property (you now are the landlord) and are therefore dependent on one another for creating a community where everyone enjoys being there and each interact to the benefit of all. This kind of community can only be achieved when you get to know your neighbors and we are not talking about fleeting "hellos" in the hallways.

Getting to know the people in your association is best achieved by attending board meetings, working on committees and participating in any and all events your association puts on. Conflicts are resolved and understandings are more easily reached when you more than just casually know your neighbors. Participate in your community. Get to really know as many people in your association as possible and you will find that condominium living can be a truly wonderful experience.

Dowling Properties strives to be the Premier Management Company in Chicago's near-west suburbs. We have been serving condo communities for over 25 years and can offer quality advice on how you can create a community that works together for the enjoyment of all. Call us at 708-771-0880 or e-mail us at . We are happy to serve your communities needs.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What Does a Condo Management Company Do?

By Jim Digre

When the typical condo owner who's never been on the Board thinks about what their management company does, the first thing that usually comes to mind is landscaping and cleaning of the building. This isn't something that should come as a surprise since all they really see is the building grounds and common areas. What they don't realize is that their management company may not be directly involved in the maintenance of the building other than contracting for the crew that does the work. Of course, a good management company will do regular inspections of the property, part of which is to observe how well the maintenance crew is doing its job. They then will report to the Board on what they have observed and may offer corrective suggestions.

Actually, the real purpose of a management company is to relieve the Board Members of the burden of day to day management of the association. The operation of a condominium association, especially in a large complex or building, can be incredibly demanding. Between budgeting, bill paying, inspections, contracting of services, dispute resolution, assessment collection, banking, financial reporting and tax filings, most condo board members who hold full time jobs are rapidly overwhelmed by the scope of the task.

Hiring the right management company enables the Board Members to function solely as decision makers and then rely on the property manager to insure that those decisions are properly carried out. In addition, since most Board Members are not well experienced with what it takes to run a corporation (which is what an association is), an experienced management group is invaluable in providing advice on what to do in any given situation that may arise.

Proper management of your association goes a long way towards maintaining not only the value of the property but insures that you have a viable association that runs smoothly and effectively. Most people who live in a condominium do so because they want to own property but don't want all the hassles associated with home ownership. Effective management is what makes that a reality.

Dowling Properties has been in business for over 25 years and is one of the oldest property management companies in the near-west suburbs, We have a dedicated staff that would be proud to serve your association in a professional, responsive and pro-active manner. We can help any association function at its best. You can contact us by phone at 708-771-0880 or by e-mail at: customerservice@dowlingproperties,com and we would be happy to provide a no-obligation proposal and quote for our services.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Past Due Assessments: What Should A Board Do?

In our previous post we talked about the importance of collecting past due assessments in order to maintain the value of your condo building. One of the things we mentioned was that legal action should be used only as a last resort. That is all well and good, but what does the board do besides communicating with the defaulting residents and initiating legal action?

According to the Law firm of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, as outlined in their pamphlet "THE ART AND PRACTICE OF COLLECTING DELINQUENT ASSESSMENTS" one of the first things a condo Board needs to consider is the establishment of a formal collection policy.

Why Establish a Collection Policy?

A formal collection policy is the foundation of a successful program in order to:

♦ Maintain necessary cash flows

♦ Reduce financial loss from owner defaults on assessment payments

♦ Establish and maintain reserves

♦ Present a sound financial picture to potential lenders for the association or a mortgage
company for potential purchasers

A board must establish a systematic approach to delinquencies. This can usually be done
by the board without owner approval. When a board formulates such a policy, it must be
communicated to the owners on an ongoing basis. An educated community is a well-run

Consequences of Uncollected Delinquent Payments

By not having a tough but fair policy in place:

♦ Innocent owners’ assessments have to be increased to cover the deficit, either by way
of increases in the operating budget or through special assessments.

♦ Essential maintenance may become unaffordable and put off when needed.

♦ The property begins to appear run-down — which, in turn, reduces property values.

♦ Borrowing from reserves may become necessary to cover shortfalls.

♦ Disharmony may occur between paying owners and the board for its failure to take

If the ratio of delinquencies to paid-up assessments is out of proportion, mortgage lenders may begin to reject applications and the association may not be able to obtain a loan to make essential repairs that need to be financed.

Establishing a Firm Collection Policy

To Establish a Firm Collection Policy

1. The board should consult with its attorney, accountant and manager to set up
guidelines. A formal resolution of the board should be adopted at an open meeting of members that:

♦ Specifies the problem

♦ Delineates the authority for taking the approved action

♦ Designates the procedures to be followed

♦ Designates the circumstances under which the procedures are required or permitted

♦ Establishes deadlines

The final policy should ultimately be included as part of the association’s handbook or
completed rules and regulations.

2. Set a firm due date for assessments and the levying of a late fee (usually the 15th
of the month), subject to the rules and regulations and Declaration.

3. Outline the steps to be taken by the manager or person responsible for collecting
assessments when a payment is overdue.

4. Allow for payment plans in cases of special need and financial hardship (so long
as it is not abused).

5. Specify when a delinquent assessment should be referred to legal counsel. The
manager should note that this is automatic once a delinquent account reaches a specified age or amount. (We generally recommend no later than sixty (60) days except in special cases.)

6. Provide for the collection of any costs associated with collecting delinquent
assessments and the assessment of attorneys’ fees at the time they are incurred.

7. It is critical that this policy be communicated to all owners ongoingly so there is
no question as to what the procedures are.

By waiting too long to turn over an account, an association may lose out if a mortgage foreclosure is filed against the unit or the owner goes into bankruptcy. In a foreclosure, the lender will assume ownership of the unit before the association has a chance to collect its money.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Retaining Property Value in a Declining Market

By: Jim Digre

The economic conditions brought about by the housing collapse in the United States has had a devastating affect on the condominium market for Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park and Berwyn. To be frank about it you could say that the ability to sell your condo, especially if you have a one bedroom, is virtually non-existent. Conventional Wisdom says the market will come back and all you have to do is hold on. The problem with that is it doesn't take in to consideration life changes that require people to move on to different housing arrangements. Knowing this, many owners are very worried about the value of their unit and what to do if they should have to move for one reason or another.

There are a number of steps that condo owners and association boards can take to help mitigate this situation. First and foremost is to do what it takes to get your building FHA approved. To be blunt, there is absolutely no excuse or rationalization for not doing so. The predominant buyer for condos, especially one bedroom units, is the first time buyer. Low-down and no-down conventional mortgages that these buyers need are currently extremely rare if not completely unavailable. So, if you expect to have any market for your units and want to avoid foreclosed or abandoned units, get this done. Nothing will reduce the over-all value and marketability of your units more than a large number of foreclosures in the building.

Secondly, the Board needs to review whatever restrictions exist on allowing owners to rent out their units. The number of rentals in a condo building can adversely affect the ability of borrowers to get a mortgage for a unit in the building, but this is no excuse for not establishing a workable rental policy. Having a rational and fair rental policy enables those owners that must move and can't sell to be able to continue meeting their mortgage obligation, and most importantly for the association, to pay their assessments.

Thirdly, the matter of pets in the building or complex should be considered. According to Wikipedia, 63% of households in the United States own one or more pets. When it comes to selling a condo in your building, if you have a no-pet policy, 6 out of 10 potential buyers are eliminated from what is right now not a huge pool of buyers in the first place. Eliminating a no-pets rule can go a long ways towards maintaining the values in your building.

In addition to the above three recommendations, the Board needs to pay close attention to building maintenance. Making a good first impression on a potential buyer and retaining property value falls heavily on curb appeal and over-all cleanliness of the building. Keeping the grass cut and edged (unfortunately an area often overlooked) along with weeding and edging the shrub and flower beds can do wonders for the appeal of your building. You don't necessarily need tons of flowers to make your landscaping appealing, although it does help, you just need to keep things neat and clean. Blowing papers, empty bottles and miscellaneous trash on the property are a statement to observers that the people who live in the building don't care about it and is a huge turn-off to a potential buyer. The Board needs not only to insure that the maintenance personnel are doing the job they're being paid for but also to constantly remind residents that it is every one's responsibility to keep the place clean. If you see some trash, pick it up. Everyone will benefit and you will not only enhance the value of your property but will enjoy living there more.

Finally, and this is an area that can create hostility and resentment, the subject of assessments must be addressed. It seems that the first thing that many condo owners do when money gets tight is to stop paying their assessments. Somehow they manage to make the monthly mortgage payment (so they don't get foreclosed on) but figure they can skip the assessment. Condo Boards and management companies that take a laze-fair approach to collection of past due assessments are not only cheating the paying residents but also condemning the building to a gradual decline in value. Without the assessments, the Board will be unable to pay the expenses of maintaining the building.  The Board, working in conjuction with the management company must pay attention to the status of un-paid assessments and take the necessary actions to collect what is due. Using legal action should be the last resort. Someone on the board, along with a management company representative, if needed, should first meet with the offending resident(s), and find out why the assessments aren't being paid. They should then try to work out a solution that is fair and equitable to both the resident and the association. Remember, the further an owner gets behind, the more difficult it will be for them to catch up. Action needs to be taken right away and followed up on or more and more residents will stop paying. What may end up happening is, "if he's not paying, why should I?" will start to spread through the building and that can only spell disaster for all concerned.

If you want more information on how to initiate the above suggestions, contact your management company. If they can't help, give us a call here at Dowling Properties. We would be happy to sit down with you and explain how working together we can keep your property at its highest value.

Contact us at: 708-771-0880 or visit our web site at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities

Principles for Homeowners and Community Leaders
Community Associations Institute

Homeowners Have the Right To:
1. A responsive and competent community association.
2. Honest, fair and respectful treatment by community leaders and managers.
3. Participate in governing the community association by attending meetings, serving on committees and standing for election.
4. Access appropriate association books and records.
5. Prudent expenditure of fees and other assessments.
6. Live in a community where the property is maintained according to established standards.
7. Fair treatment regarding financial and other association obligations, including the opportunity to discuss payment plans and options with the association before foreclosure is initiated.
8. Receive all documents that address rules and regulations governing the community association - if not prior to purchase and settlement by a real estate agent or attorney, then upon joining the community.
9. Appeal to appropriate community leaders those decisions affecting non-routine financial responsibilities or property rights.

Homeowners Have the Responsibility To:
1. Read and comply with the governing documents of the community.
2. Maintain their property according to established standards.
3. Treat association leaders honestly and with respect.
4. Vote in community elections and on other issues.
5. Pay association assessments and charges on time.
6. Contact association leaders or managers, if necessary, to discuss financial obligations and alternative payment arrangements.
7. Request reconsideration of material decisions that personally affect them.
8. Provide current contact information to association leaders or managers to help ensure they receive information from the community.
9. Ensure that those who reside on their property (e.g., tenants, relatives, friends) adhere to all rules and regulations.

Community Leaders Have the Right To:
1. Expect owners and non-owner residents to meet their financial obligations to the community.
2. Expect residents to know and comply with the rules and regulations of the community and to stay informed by reading materials provided by the association.
3. Respectful and honest treatment from residents.
4. Conduct meetings in a positive and constructive atmosphere.
5. Receive support and constructive input from owners and non-owner residents.
6. Personal privacy at home and during leisure time in the community.
7. Take advantage of educational opportunities (e.g., publications, training workshops) that are directly related to their responsibilities, and as approved by the association.

Community Leaders Have the Responsibility To:
1. Fulfill their fiduciary duties to the community and exercise discretion in a manner they reasonably believe to be in the best interests of the community.
2. Exercise sound business judgment and follow established management practices.
3. Balance the needs and obligations of the community as a whole with those of individual homeowners and residents.
4. Understand the association's governing documents and become educated with respect to applicable state and local laws, and to manage the community association accordingly.
5. Establish committees or use other methods to obtain input from owners and non-owner residents.
6. Conduct open, fair and well-publicized elections.
7. Welcome and educate new members of the community - owners and non-owner residents alike.
8. Encourage input from residents on issues affecting them personally and the community as a whole.
9. Encourage events that foster neighborliness and a sense of community.
10. Conduct business in a transparent manner when feasible and appropriate.
11. Allow homeowners access to appropriate community records, when requested.
12. Collect all monies due from owners and non-owner residents.
13. Devise appropriate and reasonable arrangements, when needed and as feasible, to facilitate the ability of individual homeowners to meet their financial obligations to the community.
14. Provide a process residents can use to appeal decisions affecting their non-routine financial responsibilities or property rights - where permitted by law and the association's governing documents.
15. Initiate foreclosure proceedings only as a measure of last resort.
16. Make covenants, conditions and restrictions as understandable as possible, adding clarifying "lay" language or supplementary materials when drafting or revising the documents.
17. Provide complete and timely disclosure of personal and financial conflicts of interest related to the actions of community leader, e.g., officers, the board and committees. (Community associations may want to develop a code of ethics.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lofts and Condos - How to Deal With a Neighbor's Shrieking Dog!

By Andy Asbury

Not everyone is crazy about animals in the house.

If you are a new condominium owner and you are one of these people, I empathize with your perspective. A Lofts and Condos specialist in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, I myself love both dogs and city life. However, I understand how the smells of pets in confined spaces can be overpowering. Dogs do shed hair on everything!

However, sooner or later your neighbor will adopt one.

When that happens, the dog is likely to shriek for hours at a time. The barking can be shrill, piercing through doors and walls. If you are extremely sensitive to this issue, it can make life seem pretty difficult.

The good news is that, usually, dogs adapt to their homes within a week or two. After that, you should hear them only infrequently, for example, when someone opens a stairwell door.

Meanwhile, if you can be patient, some tolerance for pet owners will help keep your property values high as it keeps your building open to a larger pool of potential buyers. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), sixty three percent of American households have a pet! Sixty-three percent-and the AVMA said half of them consider pets to be family members.

Some perseverance can also preserve a relationship with the new dog owner. You may find that this neighbor is otherwise the most courteous person in the building!

This is not to say that nothing can be done to address your concerns. If a neighboring dog is bothering you, contact your property management company or Home Owner Association (HOA) to find out whether the unit has registered its pet. In many buildings, doing so is a requirement. That way, those groups can help you monitor the situation.

If noise levels do not stabilize, there is additional recourse. In this case, more of your neighbors will take your side, including those more amenable to pets. If necessary, your HOA can issue fines to the pet owner with each continued, daily offense. Also, most cities have detailed noise ordinances with provisions for apartments and condominiums. In Minneapolis, codes stipulate that a person inside a condo should not be able to hear noises from other units before 6 am or after 10 pm. That means that after 10 pm, calling the police can become an option.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Your Condominium Reserve Fund Functional?

By []Robert J. Burns

In my younger days with an engineering consulting firm, my mentor offered me some memorable advice. When your solution appears more complex that the client's problem (which it did) then it's time to check your data. That advice could well apply if you're putting together a reserve fund plan for your condominium association or HOA.

The ultimate intent of a capital reserve fund study, of course, is to know if your reserve account will cover the cost for replacing the common area components over the long term. And if it doesn't, what do you need to do about it. The first step in checking the adequacy of reserves is, naturally enough, to determine the cost to replace each component in today's dollars. Dividing the replacement cost by its service life in years tells you how much should be set aside annually to replace it. Multiplying that amount by the years of use tells you the total dollars that should be in reserve today replace it when it's time to do so. Summing up the values for all components yields the amount you should have in your reserve account today to replace all components according to their individual schedules.

Clearly then the numbers used for expected service and anticipated remaining lives of components will have a significant outcome on the bottom line. Using handbook values of the construction industry for typical service lives does not always work. One size does not necessarily fit all. If the material used departs significantly from typical level workmanship then the handbook value is going to lead to flawed conclusions. The same applies to the expected remaining service life. If unique conditions have been causing accelerated wear of your roof shingles, then clearly some informed adjustment is needed. Also, any deferred maintenance that shortens the expected remaining life, clearly impacts on how the reserve fund needs to accumulate. But maybe replacement may not be needed right now. Perhaps the component could be repaired and placed back on track with a revised service life. You might accommodate that with a separate entry in the plan.

Intuitively, we understand that if a building component is in poor condition or is performing better than we expected that adjustments need to be made in the timing of its replacement. But there invariably instances arise where a refined judgment is unquestionably needed. In our experience, it's rare to see projects in which that is not the case to some degree. And, of course, it helps when explaining things too others if that judgment is accompanied by the opinion of a recognized professional. Take time to think through the parameters that will structure your reserve plan. It will only be as sound as the data that feeds into it. []

Burns Associates-Engineers, "Consultants to the Condominium Community", has been providing engineering services to common interest developments since 1989. We combine recognized competence in the engineering disciplines with a strong focus on economic analysis to produce a work product that will have lasting value for our clients. Reserve study work products are provided in electronic format that facilitate unlimited testing of funding options to meet future changing conditions.

Innovation led by experience. That's how we see our part in helping to improve the performance of common interest development properties and the economics of their operation. We look forward to the opportunity to be of service.

Article Source: [] Is Your Condominium Reserve Fund Functional?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What's Going On In The Housing Market

Are you starting to wonder why things aren't getting better for the condo market? Here's a little insight into what's going on in the housing market.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Management Alternatives (part. 2)

This is the continuation of a two part series in which we cover the functions and duties of a property manager.

The functions and duties of a property manager are usually itemized in the management agreement. Some firms offer different packages to different size buildings which makes hiring a management firm more feasible to condos of all sizes.

Although the duties of a manager can be quite lengthy, there are six major areas that cover all the duties:

     1. Advise and receive counsel from the board. Keep and active dialogue and attend meetings as agreed.

     2. Maintain owners' records to include mailing addresses, phone numbers, parking and storage assignments.

     3. Handle all financial records, reports, budgets, assessment collections and reserve accounts.

     4. Negotiate service contracts, one-time contracts, pruchasing and procurement of insurance. Here's where a pro can save an association money.

     5. Supervise maintenance personnel and support staff.

     6. Inspect, report, schedule repairs and follow up to completion of work.

Good management not only involves carrying out duties but having a competent organization that employs proven management techniques. The ability to handle individual complaints professionally and to keep in mind the entire building's welfare at the same time requires skill.

If a board decides to hire a management firm, it should talk to several. Pick a firm that can do the best job for the association at a fair price. Review the management agreement. Consider the pluses and minuses of a small or a large firm. Consider the location of the firm to your building.

Consider the make-up of your building and the level of management you require, along with the personality of the firm and the manager it will assign. Ask what firm is best suited to meet the building's objectives?

Since management is a people oriented business, pick out a good personality for your association. The selection process itself can be a learning experience, as you define how your building will be managed.

This completes our series on Management Alternatives. We hope you found it useful and informative.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Management Alternatives

This is the first of a two part blog on whether to hire a management company for your property. It was written by Owen Dowling.

One of the primary decisions that faces a new condominium board is whether it should hire a management firm to act as its agent to run the building.

Several management alternatives are available to a board. Self management is one technique especially suited for a smaller building that is cost-conscious and has board members with the time and the talent to do a good job.

Many property managers are quick to point out valid pitfalls inherent in self management, but this is often the best alternative for a small, well-designed building with 12 units or fewer. Lack of experience is ofter cited as a good argument against self management.

A resident manager could be employed by a board to perform duties under the direction and control of the board. This alternative requires an experienced board because it must supervise its own manager. The trend is to develop a strong dependency on the resident manager, and this is the primary pitfall with this type of management. It is dependent on the quality of the individual selected.

The alternative that many medium to large condominium building select is to hire a professional property management firm.  The management agreement typically outlines the duties of the agent property manager to the Board and vice versa. These agreements are generally quite specific and tailored to meet the needs of a particular board.

There are six basic reasons to consider hiring a property management firm:
1. Experience and knowledge of property management and buildings in general is of primary importance.
2. The management firm is sensitive to the special concerns of condominium boards and owner problems. A feel for the condo-community is a very important perspective.
3. Managements ability to anticipate problems is as important as the ability to solve problems.
4. Continuity of service unaffected by owner and board member turnover and board member burnout.
5. Equity protection - a well-run building looks better, operates efficiently and produces optimum resale value.
6. A management firm provides a fresh external perspective that is unbiased and not subject to the special interests of a few owners. Professional thoughts and actions are always desirable.

Our next blog will cover the functions and duties of a property manager.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What is a Condo?

Condominiums are buildings in which individuals separately own the air space and structures inside their unit as well as the surfaces of floors, walls, and ceilings, but they jointly own an interest in the common areas that they share such as the elevators, hallways, dividing and outer walls, swimming pool and parking lot. Maintenance of these areas and allocation of funds becomes the responsibility of a condominium association, also known as a unit owners' association. The association is run by a Board of Directors consisting, at a minimum, of a President, Secretary and Treasurer.

The Board Members are elected by the unit owners of the condominium building and serve a maximum term of two years. There is no legal limit however to the number of terms that a Board Member may serve . The Board members are responsible for the operation of the association and since condo owners will be affected by board decisions, active participation in meetings and discussions is important and beneficial to each unit owner.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Concerned About Making Your Mortgage Payment?

I came across a web site that provides a good deal of information for home owners that have concerns about making their mortgage payments. Below is a sample of one of the things that's on the page but it covers so much more and just might be a good place to start if the pressure of making your payments is getting to be a little much for you.
Head to or call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673)

Changing Conditions Bring Out Scammers...Read Below & Protect Yourself!

Beware of Foreclosure Rescue Scams - Help Is Free!

•Beware of anyone who asks you to pay a fee in exchange for a counseling service or modification of a delinquent loan.

•Scam artists often target homeowners who are struggling to meet their mortgage commitment or anxious to sell their homes. Recognize and avoid common scams.

•Assistance from a HUD-approved housing counselor is FREE.

•Beware of people who pressure you to sign papers immediately, or who try to convince you that they can “save” your home if you sign or transfer over the deed to your house.

•Do not sign over the deed to your property to any organization or individual unless you are working directly with your mortgage company to forgive your debt.

•Never make a mortgage payment to anyone other than your mortgage company without their approval.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monsoon Rain - Is it Climate Change?

As everyone knows, monsoon rains fell on the Chicago Area over the week-end with some places receiving as much as 7-1/2 inches of rain overnight on Friday. Don't know if it was because of climate change or just another freak of nature so common to Chicago but all you condo owners out there should be checking on your storage and utility areas.

Most of the flooding was caused by drainage system back-ups with some areas seeing as much as 1 to 2 feet of water collecting in the low areas such as boiler rooms, laundry areas and storage spaces. Living up off the ground, sometimes we forget about those areas until we happen to go down there later and find items that were stored to be mouldy and ruined.

Water damaged can be mitigated fairly easily if it is handled quickly. It is important that waterlogged items be removed and standing water be drained or mopped up. High levels of humidity in the closed spaces of a basement area can lead to mold formation. The best way to avoid this is by getting a good quality de-humidifier operating in the flooded area. What I mean by good quality is one of industrial grade that can be rented from places like Home Depot or from a mitigation company. They should be kept running for 5 to 7 days or more to draw all of the water out of the walls and partitions. Badly soaked drywall should be removed and replaced after the supporting studs have thoroughly dried with the de-humidifier.

If you have concerns about water in your building, you should contact your management company. They can point you in the right direction to help keep any  problems from arising later.

Friday, July 23, 2010

News Release - July 2010


Recent Survey Shows That Local Condo Owners Have No Real Idea
What Their Management Company Does

A random survey of condominium owners in Oak Park and Forest Park has produced some revealing insights into how management companies are perceived by building occupants. The survey was conducted on the street over the past couple weeks by Jim Digre of Dowling Properties, a local management company, for the purpose of enhancing their customer relations and business development.

While none of the respondents were asked who their management company was, the answer to "What do you think are the responsibilities of a management company?" ran the gamut from keeping the building clean to handling disputes between neighbors. The survey also revealed the number one complaint to be a lack of communication and slow or no response from the property manager.

Now working with Dowling Properties, Digre has been a condominium developer and realtor in the Oak Park area for the past ten years. When asked about the survey, he stated "Having conducted a number of turnover meetings to new condo boards, I can say that the results came as no big surprise to me". He went on to explain that most condo owners like the idea of "no hassle" living so few of them want to serve on their association board and because of this, they know little of the responsibilities involved in the successful operation of the association.

Those brave souls who do step up and take the reins quickly come to realize that unless they are willing to take the job on a full-time basis, they are going to need professional help. However, the lack of knowledge about what it takes to run the association makes management company fees a point of contention when trying to get the annual budget approved by residents. "I don't think they do much for what they charge" was one of the survey responses Digre received.

"Over the next few months we plan on changing that perception; at least as far as our company is concerned" Digre said. He wasn't willing to share the details but went on to say that Dowling Properties will be establishing communication programs with their clients that demonstrates to all the residents, not just the board, the real value of their management company. We can only wait and see how that turns out but most people will probably agree that it's a worthy goal.

Established in 1989 and located at 400 Lathrop in River Forest, Dowling Properties, LLC is one of the oldest property management companies in the area, Dowling has been serving local condo association for over 20 years and is dedicated to having Happy, Satisfied Customers.

For more information about Dowling Properties and what they can do for your association please visit them on the web at or call 708-771-0880.