A Welcome Change: Managers Slim Down Their New-Owner Packets
Welcome packets for new owners in community associations are going through a makeover in more and more communities. The trend can be summed up succinctly: Less is more.
A Necessary Nuisance
The welcome packet should be more than a cursory administrative task. Done right, it can generate positive feelings toward the community, the association, and the manager. It could even spur interest in volunteering. “You want to get off on the right foot,” says Erik Robinson, senior community manager with Aperion Management Group in Bend, Ore. “You don’t want a new member’s first interaction with the board or the manager to be a violation letter. You’re never going to get back that feeling of a really bad first impression — you’ll be fighting an uphill battle with that owner from there on out.” Providing critical information, on the other hand, can pave the road to a productive relationship. “An informed member is a happy member,” says Lisa Turner, president and CEO of Silverleaf Management Group in Loganville, Ga., which manages more than 140 associations.
Does Size Matter?
Traditionally, welcome packets have come stuffed with information on a wide range of topics — contacts, assessments, rules and regulations, the governance structure, amenities, utilities — and all kinds of forms. In short, they could be overwhelming. “In the past what we found is that we could send out these really elaborate packages, and they’d get stuck in a pile with a bunch of other stuff that new homeowners get,” Turner says. Once there, the packets may never be reviewed. “When people are moving into a new community, they’re dealing with a lot of things,” Robinson says. “I’m not sure the HOA and the CC&Rs and bylaws and the rules are the first thing they’re thinking about.” Savvy managers have responded by significantly trimming their packets. “We’ve reduced our packet in favor of pushing homeowners toward our online system,” Turner says. “We can keep the information as current as possible that way, and it keeps costs down.” Her firm has pared down its welcome packet to a three-paragraph letter, along with information on how to register for the community’s online portal. “We want the portal for each community to be a self-serve situation,” Turner says. “We try to put up as much information as possible.” New owners also receive a “static cling” sticker with a QR code owners can use to directly access the portal. “Where that might not have been an easy communication tool two years ago, QR codes are much more familiar to people now,” she says. “They’ve been using them for restaurants and such.” How do boards feel about this different approach, though? “The boards really like that now owners have all the information need, without a budget item for welcome packets.”
Whether included in a physical packet or online, managers should ensure their clients provide new owners with the essentials, including: A welcome letter. A warm, friendly, and informative letter can set the right tone from the beginning — and give some clarity to new owners uncertain about how associations work. “We have a cover letter introducing the governing body of the association and the manager, with an overview of the governance of the community,” Robinson says. “We also include a graphic that shows what management does versus what the board does.” If your client opts for a heftier print packet, the letter also should outline the contents included. Rules and regulations. It’s helpful for owners to have access to both the full set of governing documents and a summary. The summary can highlight the rules that are most important to day-to-day living in the community, such as leash requirements, parking restrictions, and delivery hours. “We’ve developed a summary of the rules and regulations for a number of our communities,” Robinson says. “Owners should get those during the closing process, but not many people want to sit down with a 50-page CC&Rs.” FAQs. “The board and management should have a good idea of what the most common questions are. They vary a little by community, but there’s a lot that’s very similar,” Robinson says. For example:
- Where and how do I pay my assessments?
- What do my assessments cover?
- What are my maintenance responsibilities?
- How do I report maintenance issues?
- How does the architectural review process work?
If the community has amenities, you’ll want to provide information on hours of operation, access codes, reservation systems, and applicable rules. You also can list information regarding utilities and local service providers, but that type of material is more optional. “We really focus on the HOA-related things,” Robinson says.