Friday, April 4, 2014

(DORA) Division of Real Estate - Property Manager Licensing (HB13-1277) Open Comment Period

The state of Colorado, Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA, Division of Real Estate, Office of the Ombudsman, is currently seeking public comment regarding the proposed rules for the licensing of community association managers. A public comment form has been provided in which individuals and trade groups may make comments on the proposed guidelines. Although licensing will not be required for "ALL" association managers until July 1, 2015 the proposed rules (if adopted) will take effect on January 1, 2015.

The specific rulemaking areas are as follows:

 
 
If you have questions or need assistance call Cory Nicholson at 303.894.2334 or email at Cory.Nicholson@state.co.us.
 
If you are a homeowner, board member, or property manager, now is the time to provide your constructive input into the licensing process. Additional changes may be required and will most likely be introduced during the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Support for Microsoft Products expiring April 8, 2014. What will your organization do?

On April 8, 2014, support for Windows XP and Server 2003 will no longer be available. With an estimated 45% of the small and mid-size businesses currently utilizing Windows XP, financial challenges lie ahead. For most, the standard practice will be to run down to their local retailer and begin purchasing new equipment either in mass or on a as needed basis. The major problem with this strategy is that it is inefficient and may lead to spending additional funds for unnecessary software. For example, if one purchases a new computer at their local retail outlet they will generally find that the version of Microsoft Office is either a Student or Home version. Very limited in its features and/or capacity. Thus, the purchaser will be required to upgrade to a larger version of Microsoft Office. This upgrade will cost the small and mid-size business more money. In addition, the software license is a per device license (one software download per device). However, one way to remedy this problem would be to merely contact a member of the Microsoft Business Partner Network and a Value Added Reseller (VAR) and purchase a Software Assurance Agreement. This way, the small business owner is protected and receives the latest upgrades and software support per license. Another strategy would be for the small business to purchase the software upgrades directly from a Microsoft Business Network Partner and Value Added Reseller (VAR) directly and add additional devices and/or software to its licensing agreements. Thus, protecting the entire organization. However, this still leaves us with the issue of current hardware. Although the organization will now have the latest version of Windows (Windows 8.1), the question becomes one of whether or not the current equipment has the capacity to run the full version of Windows 8.1 on the present equipment. Those are questions that a Microsoft Business Partner and Value Added Reseller (VAR) are trained to provide you with directly. However, is that the best option available? What if your organization could keep its current hardware, upgrade to Windows 8.1, and have access to several Microsoft Office 2013 programs at once? What if you could obtain licensing for not just one device, or per individual but obtain licensing for five (5) devices per individual instead? What if those five (5) devices could include a variety of smart phones, tablets, desktop PC's, etc.? What if it were possible to retain your present On-Premise Server configuration and still access the data 24/7, 365 days per year? What if all of the employees within the organization could actually do the same (either on-premise or remotely)? The answer? Microsoft Office 365. With Windows 8.1 and Office 365 the organization may (in many cases) retain its current hardware, and by utilizing Windows and Microsoft Office Apps., conduct business anywhere in the world simultaneously. True collaboration and integration with Microsoft Outlook, Linc, and SharePoint allows such capabilities. Instead of purchasing large volumes of equipment, and even larger volumes of software, the small business owner can cuts his/her IT overhead costs dramatically. For example, it is estimated that the costs (in real dollars) for IT and technical support (on a per employee basis) costs the business organization as much as $75,000.00 per year, per employee). By migrating much of this technology to the cloud, and obtaining software via a Lease Agreement, the small to mid-size business will experience an immediate savings in technology costs. In addition, the organization will have access to the latest software programs and upgrades, and will be able to maximize its resources by have licensing on a per individual (versus per device) basis. Now is the time to start thinking about how to position your company for future growth and expansion with minimal overhead costs. Microsoft Office 365 can offer what no other program package offers, true collaboration and integration along all of the Microsoft Software packages. Also, with compatibility view, the business owner can still operate their older software programs (those that operated with Windows XP) without having to replace them as well. the best of "ALL" worlds and a significant cost savings for the organization. Team Strategy Inc. is a Microsoft Business Partner and Value Added Reseller (VAR) specializing in the small and mid-size business application arena.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Funding for Homeowner Association HOA Capital Improvement Projects. What are the choices?

For the vast majority of Homeowner Associations HOA in America, capital improvement needs nearly always outpace the financial resources available to fund such projects. For many, Capital Improvements, Reserve Studies, Reserve Allocations, Annual Assessment Increases, and Special Assessments all send chills up and down ones spine. Especially, if you are on the Board of Directors. Today, many Homeowner Associations HOA's are feeling the pinch of greatly depressed interest rates. CD's (Certificates of Deposit)that once could be counted on to provide 7 to 8%, are barely eclipsing 2%. Even Federally-Backed Securities (such as the 10-year Treasury) cannot be counted upon to provide the type of returns necessary to keep up with inflation. Inflation, you ask? Yes Inflation. But inflation has been at an all time low! Yes, inflation has barely eclipsed the radar screen. However, one cannot merely look at the Consumer Price Index (basket of goods) and assume that inflation doesn't exist. Closer analysis will reveal that several products, especially those utilizing petroleum or other fossil fuels, have steadily increased. Asphalt, roofing materials, and concrete have steadily increased over the years. What one must really consider is the loss of Purchasing Power. For example, if you track the price in value of the goods $1.00 would purchase dating back to 1900, one will find that purchasing power has decreased (on average) a whopping six (6)% per annum. Ask any Senior Citizen if their Pension or Social Security Cost-of-Living increases have provided the financial security they had hoped they would. The same can be said for Homeowner Associations. With approximately 10,000 people retiring each day, HOA's were once thought of (for older Americans) as a being a safe bet. No more home maintenance or landscaping worries, and a well established set of standards and guidelines that aided in Real Capital Preservation. Thus, Senior Citizens could easily rely upon the Association and its governance to provide peace, tranquility, and resale value. Those days, however, are quickly dwindling. With interest rates at an all time low, Seniors are faced with homes and communities with rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, and the possibility of marked increases in monthly assessments and/or financial obligations looming over the horizon. Never mind that most homeowners in America have experienced a thirty (30) percent or greater decrease in their home values. What does one do? For most Homeowner Associations (HOA), the strategy is merely to preserve the associations capital (Reserve Funds) for future use. Whenever necessary, raise annual assessments, and seek either a bank loan or special assessment when a crisis hits. Much of the loss can be absorbed by having the potential financial impact covered under the commercial general liability coverage. This strategy, however, presents two major problems. First, just how much in monthly premiums will it cost to cover these items and what will be the deductible? And secondly, it is extremely difficult to find a risk underwriter that is willing to cover items that should have been addressed via a routine maintenance program. SELF-FUNDING: What then is the solution? One alternative would be to seek to Self-Fund Capital Improvements. What is Self-Funding? Self-Funding, is much like Self-Insuring. Instead of paying high monthly premiums, many HOA's set their deductibles to higher levels and place adequate funds in their Reserves as an Insurance Deductible Reserve Allocation line item. Then, when a crisis strikes, they have the funds in their Reserves available to off-set their deductible commitments. Another strategy, however, would be for the Association to invest in itself. For example, a Special Assessment is often viewed by the individual homeowner as a one-way street. Owners are assessed, the funds are collected, the project is completed, and those who do not pay find that a lien is placed upon the unit, or they end up in foreclosure. What if Special Assessments were treated more like an investment. If the Association is going to shop for a loan, whether it be collateralized by real estate, or the future assessment earning potential of the Association, would not the Association be required to pay back the funds with interest? What if the Association loaned the funds to itself? If it did, the Association would be paying back itself, and could negotiate its own interest rates. It would not have to pay origination fees, settlement costs, and the Association Board of Directors could in essence determine the length of the loan. In addition, the interest payments that would be allocated from the Operating Fund and would be normally forwarded to servicing the debt, could actually serve as interest payments or dividends to the Association members. This is just one idea. CERTIFICATES OF PARTICIPATION: What if individuals outside of the HOA Community could provide funding to the Association in the form of a Certificate of Participation? Unlike Crowd Funding as it relates to equity, a Certificate of Participation is an investment (much like equity investing) in which there is risk and returns are not guaranteed. Also, the investment is not federally insured by the FDIC or some other federal agency. However, consider this. Numerous government entities throughout the state of Colorado have effectively marketed Certificates of Participation for the building of infrastructure without raising tax revenues. However, unlike an Investment Bank or Broker/Dealer, these Certificates of Participation could be marked and managed by Registered Investment Advisors. All at a fraction of the cost. Better yet, if a bank or other financial institution will only lend at 6.5 to 7.0%, the Homeowners Association would agree to pay say 4 to 5% for the loan for a set amount, and over a set period of time. The Angel Investors would receive monthly payments of 4 to 5%. Either way, both parties would win. This Win-Win situation would be a benefit to Associations as they may require funds for short-term projects, emergency needs, and/or large-capital improvement projects. With the Registered Investment Advisor receiving only an origination fee on the original amount borrowed, the long-term costs of such a process are greatly diminished. In addition, there aren't any credit checks, and the Association still retains its autonomy, and assessment/lien authority. Better yet, the property is not collateralized, and neither do the owners of the Certificates own equity in the Association. With our ability to earn and save diminishing each and every day, Homeowner Associations are being challenged in ways never before imagined. The true test for any Property Manager is their ability to aide their clients with these financial challenges. Unfortunately, most Property Managers do not possess the educational, financial, and licensing necessary to propose such alternatives. Team Strategy Inc. is currently formulating such a program for its clients and Colorado residents. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact Team Strategy Inc. at (719) 594-4003 or visit our website at http://www.teamstrategy.org. Team Strategy Inc. is a full-service property management company headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado providing administrative, financial, legal, and technology services. The financial team at Team Strategy Inc. are Colorado Registered Investment Advisors and are FINRA members. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not necessarily represent those of Team Strategy Inc., its staff, and/or employees. This information is not a solicitation and should not be construed as such. Interested individuals and/or investors are encouraged to request a Prospectus and conduct due-diligence research prior to investing. Additional information regarding Team Strategy Inc. can be obtained from the state of Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), Securities Division and/or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Property Managers and Financial Education

I recently interviewed with a local HOA seeking to replace their present property management. One of the questions I was asked was "Why does it matter that a property manager have a background in finance and/or economics?" My response was to take their financials which I had received copies of and use it as an Object Lesson.  The HOA had approximately $157,000.00 in the Capital Reserve Account. A Reserve Study conducted in 2010 indicated that (at that time) they should have had approximately $210,000.00 in their Reserves. thus, a short-fall of $53,000.00. Move forward nearly three years and one can see that they remain behind.
 
Further, they had placed approximately 98% of the Capital Reserve Funds into a two-year CD earning approximately 1.75%. These funds were placed with a local bank. So, to that, I began my explanation.
1) Diversification: The funds were placed with a single bank and if the bank went in Receivership they might have difficulty obtaining their funds. Funds should have been spread among other local financial institutions.
2) Liquidity: The funds were placed into a commercial paper document that had an early withdrawal penalty of 10% and would be locked-up for two years.
3) Risk: There wasn't an indication that the funds were FDIC insured.
4) Return: The funds should have been laddered with various interest rates and lengths of maturity.
5) ROI: Based upon this scenario the rate of return (1.75apr) would have been lost if the association required the funds during the two year period. (Risk Aversion).
 
The Association's Reserve Fund policy required that the Association receive the highest rate of return (ROR) available. By not having a professional manage the funds, the present scenario resulted in an Opportunity Cost to the Association as the funds would be locked in and therefore not available for investing if and when rates began to move upward.  Needless to say, the President of the Board of Directors and their former property manager devised this strategy. Neither of whom hold any formalized training in budgeting, finance, investing, and/or economics. As a result, our organization did not end up managing the property for two reasons: 1) I informed the Board Members that I didn't do STUPID, and 2) We weren't really interested in as much as the President was the one who convinced the other Board Members to go along with the strategy.
 
To that end, as part of a Reserve Fund Management Strategy, property managers, management companies, and board members should (as part of a Full Disclosure Policy) be required to refrain from such decisions if a friend of theirs is the Local bank President, or they have personal funds and/or loans with the Financial Institution. 
 
David C. Stiver BA,MA is a Colorado Registered Investment Advisor, a FINRA member, and Property Manager. 
 
 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Conflicts of Interest and Conflicting Interest Transactions. What Homeowner Association HOA Boards of Directors Don't Often Know.

For some, the stories I am about to tell could never have happened. However, what I am about to say is real and nothing was ever made up. Several years ago, 2003 to be exact, the homeowner association in which I reside ran into some difficulties with our Property Manager. As Treasurer, I was responsible for making materials disbursements to our roofing company from whom we had contracted to install a stone-coated steel roof. The arrangement with the roofing company called for our association to be invoiced for the cost of materials, and the roofing company would invoice for the labor once each building had been completed.

Things were moving along well enough, however, at some point in time our owners began to notice that the project had stopped. We inquired of our Property Manager at the time and she assured us it was because the crew had to be pulled from our project to complete another. After approximately 90 days, as Treasurer, I personally contacted the roofing company to ascertain as to the status of the project. It was at this time that I was informed that the crews had been pulled due to lack of payment.
If your a homeowner association board member this story may be starting to sound all too familiar.

Ironically, I had been routinely stopping by our management company's offices to sign checks. What I learned is that there wasn't enough funds available so the checks were being voided to pay operating expenses. These expenses included the monthly management fees. As such, the Board of Directors elected to place the company (in accordance with our governing documents) out to bid. As a result, they merely quit.

Shortly thereafter, I was approached by our electrician regarding a bid which had been submitted for replacing approximately 16 wooden light poles with aluminum and metal halide lighting. During a walk-thru of the property he informed me that he would decrease his bid by 20%. I inquired as to why he could do that. He responded by stating that "Since your association is now self-managed, the 20% represents the fees that I would have to pay to the management company for receiving the contract."  It wasn't long thereafter that the Board of Directors sought bids from three (3) separate painting contractors. All three stated that they had been trying to procure business with our association for nearly 20 years and were always out bid by our previous management company's preferred provider.

In 2005, the state of Colorado legislature was in the process of drafting and enacting Senate Bill 100. It was at this point in time that our landscaping contractor had inquired if Senate Bill 100 would have any effect upon his business. I explained that it mainly dealt with specific issues surrounding the Homeowner Association's Board of Directors and governance policies. I stated to him that I thought that the legislation did not go far enough to protect homeowner rights. In particular, I would have liked to have seen legislation regarding "Conflicts of Interest" and "Conflicting Interest Transactions" as they relate to the relationships between management companies and individual contractors.

During this time, our landscaping contractor serviced approximately 12 individual properties for our previous management company. In return, he indicated that he had performed a wide range of "Free Landscaping" services for the management company and its owner. I would later learn that the "preferred" roofing company provided "FREE" roofing services to the owner. Likewise, the "preferred" painter provided "FREE" and/or reduced painting services. As a property manager, I routinely hear stories regarding just how this relationship actually works. In some cases, the property manager works diligently to insure that the Board of Directors is led in such a direction as to insure that the "preferred provider" receives the contract.

In some cases the bid is increased 20 -30%. Then, when it comes to paying the invoices, a master invoice is then sub-divided into two separate payments with the contractor receiving 20-30% less. In other situations, the Board of Directors authorizes the payment, and the contractor immediately forwards a separate payment to the management company. Some management companies will tell you that they do not make their money off of managing the properties. If this is the case, then just how do they make their money?  In many cases, its has very little to do with governance as much as it does with often "undisclosed" business relationships.

If nothing else, the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) should incorporate some form of governance guidelines for property managers. At the present time, none actually exist. Thus, the homeowner association Board of Directors is often left in the dark. This makes them, and the residents they represent, the victims. It is one thing to utilize tools such as reserve studies, dues increases, or special assessments to hide much of this activity, it is another to do so knowing that the associations are spending far more than they should.  At this rate, the homeowner associations will always be behind the proverbial "eight ball".

Thus, as many homeowner association Boards of Directors are reviewing their balance sheets, maybe they should ask that their property managers and/or management companies fully disclose their working relationships with the various contractors. Especially if the association is expecting to venture into a major capital improvement project. This is stuff that one cannot make up. Board of Director members have a fiduciary duty to their associations. If the management company will not willingly disclose these relationships the Board of Directors should actively seek bids from other competing companies, regardless of the number of years the current management company has been with the property.

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware.

In the mean time, if your Board of Directors is presently seeking new management they should ask for the following:
- Confidential Policy
- Privacy Policy
- Conflict of Interest Policy
- Full Disclosure Policy


If the candidates are reluctant to provide such information you may just want to move on.

For samples of the above policies visit our website at http://teamstrategy.org/teamstrategy/sub_category_list.asp?category=15&title=About+Us

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Should HOA Managers in Colorado be licensed?

Do you support the licensing of individual Property Managers in the state of Colorado? The Colorado Springs Gazette is currently conducting an on-line survey. Visit the following link and make your voice heard.

http://www.gazette.com/news/vogrin-134723-hoa-homeowners.html

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Future of Homeowner Associations...

If your a community association, older established homeowner association, or a small homeowner association, chances are the level of volunteerism and/or community involvement has drastically declined over the years.  For most associations, those Board of Director members who were once actively involved are now faced with an inability to find volunteers.  Those born during the Great Depression, or who lived thru World War II and understood the notion of volunteerism are dying in record numbers.

For the Baby Boomers, who approximately 2000 per day are turning age 60, college age children are moving back home.  Faced with the worst recession since World War II, the Baby Boomers are dealing with declining incomes, depleted 401k's, reduced or non-existent savings accounts, and job lay-offs never thought imaginable.  Add to that bankruptcy, and/or foreclosure and the picture becomes more bleak.

As such, the future of neighborhood, residential, and/or commercial associations is somewhat dismal at best. Where will the volunteers come from? Who will manage the association after the present Board of Directors is gone? Will our association stagnate or merely die?  Will our association become part of the management portfolio of an otherwise uncaring professional management company? Or will our properties merely crumble and decay into nonexistence because of limited resources?

These are all very important questions that many Homeowner Association HOA Board members would most likely want to ignore. At least until their term of office has expired, or they have moved.  The problem with most associations is that complacency will most likely be the order of the day.  Unless a professional management company is on the sidelines ready to adopt the troubled property, they will most likely stagnate and die. The notion that Homeowner Associations can continue to operate as a business entity as they did 20 years ago is nothing less than flawed thinking.  Those management companies that fail to recognize this issue will find themselves having revenue related difficulties as well. Thus, it is imperative that Homeowner Associations, like commercial businesses develop some form of succession plan in the event of declining volunteerism, community involvement, or revenues.

As they saying goes "A failure to plan constitutes noting less than planned failure."