Founded in 1971 on the principles of urban renewal and development, The Habitat Company has grown to become a 1,000-plus member team with nearly 20,000 units under management across the Midwest. Today the company is a full-service residential real estate company committed to the highest standards in management, service and development. According to the company's founder, Daniel Levin, each of the company's projects is "an investment in the future of the community and the lives of the people who will live and work there." The company has taken this statement as a guiding principle and continues to strive to make a positive impact through integrity, expertise, and innovation in its management practices.
In 2010, The Habitat Company launched an initiative to upgrade the quality of web-based transactions available to both residents and prospects. Previous experience had proven that in order for a technology solution to be effective it would need to be robust, stable, and easy to implement and use. Habitat implemented online transactions that integrated directly with their property management software to help team members spend more time interacting with their residents. In order to achieve maximum buy-in at the property level, Habitat looked for a technology provider that could respond quickly to feature requests and bugs. They also wanted to provide services that would resonate with residents and prospects to make sure to drive online participation. "Our goal is to provide our residents with 24/7 service," said Mark Segal, President and CEO of Habitat.
Habitat selected a test property and introduced Property Solutions portals and payments in May 2010. Working closely with their account manager, they created merchant accounts, gathered property information, and set up inviting, easy-to-use websites and resident portals. By July they were ready to expand the roll-out to additional properties.
Maureen Vaughn, Habitat's Vice President of Marketing and Communications, developed a top-down approach to training and promotion for the new systems. "Each month we have a "One Hour - One Topic" meeting with our managers where we introduce, promote, and reinforce new initiatives," explained Vaughn. The "One Hour - One Topic" meetings were instrumental in bringing team members up-to-speed with the new payment system and building enthusiasm in those on the front lines. Vaughn also made sure to schedule follow-ups with individual property managers to make certain they felt confident using the new technology.
"As our trust in Property Solutions' technology solidified, we began to rely heavily on the seamless integration between our Yardi property management software and our website to post real-time availability and specials accurately," said Sheila Coss-Stanko, Property Manager at Kingsbury Plaza Apartments. "In addition, residents check their account, make payments, place work orders, and communicate with management online. The technology is an extra tool in our cache that gives us an advantage in the competitive market.
As a way to build excitement among residents and promote healthy competition between properties, Habitat involved all participating properties in a contest for best adoption rates. They provided promotional signage to each leasing office and offered a reward to the community with the best participation in online payments. In addition, they asked property managers to remove the drop box in order to give personnel a chance to promote online payments when residents come to the office. "We wanted to make paying online painless for our residents," explained Vaughn, "so we cover the transaction fees for all ACH payments. That way, residents who choose to pay by eCheck don't spend any more than they would if they use a paper check."
The combination of top-down promotion and a stable technology platform helped Habitat achieve the results they were looking for. "The product and support led to a smooth roll-out and fast adoption of online payments by our residents," said Segal. The company was so impressed with the performance of the first property, that they rolled out similar solutions across their entire market-rate portfolio.
Contests and promotions played a big part in the success of the new system. "Our contest was very successful," explained Vaughn. "The property that won is seeing over 60 percent online payment participation and several other properties saw similar results." Property managers report that the efficiencies created by online transactions help them focus more on residents and prospects. "The ease of online rent payments reduces the work-load for our team members and allows us more time to provide the best customer service for our residents," said Marguerite Batau, Property Manager at Medical District Apartments. In order to maintain excitement, Vaughn plans to continue efforts from designing fresh promotional events to developing scripts for managers and leasing personnel to use when interacting with customers.
Within seven months of implementation, Habitat observed significant increases in online payments. Market-rate properties averaged 30 to 65 percent online and e-payment participation and achieved a 135 percent increase compared to previous programs. Vaughn expects participation to continue to grow. The combination of a dependable, secure system for online payments and aggressive promotion at the corporate and property level has proven to be a successful combination for The Habitat Company.
Being a member of a condominium association board of directors
is an important role. An association board is the community's
governing body and they can be responsible for every aspect of the
association from finances to rules, operations, communications and
sometimes even social activities.
Association board members come with a wide variety of qualifications. Each member brings a different level of skill sets based on their life and work experience. Some members may be quite seasoned in serving on a board, and for others, this may be the first time they have had the opportunity to participate in this type of an organized group. Each member of your board of directors plays a vital role in the success of your association, whatever their experience.
Since an association's board of directors is concerned with most everything in, on, or around the building and surrounding property, your board members are privy to a wealth of financial and legal information regarding the association, property owners and more. Maintaining confidentiality is one of the most important obligations that an association board member must adhere, both legally and morally. And, for The Habitat Company, a leading property management and development company, it is our obligation to educate board members because it will promote a strong board and eliminate any potential legal problems that the board of directors could be culpable- should any confidential information be divulged. When everyone understands their roles and operates within the parameters of the by-laws and rules agreed upon, it bodes well for not only the board, but the association members.
Since some board members may be friends or neighbors with the association members they are serving, it is essential that confidentiality is neither breached, nor compromised. Although it may be innocent, a board member might inadvertently talk about what went on at the most recent board meeting. However, it is important to remember that executive sessions, board meeting details, agendas or actions are not for public consumption.
Board members who share any type of association information revealing delinquency, such as foreclosures, fines or warnings, as well as fiduciary can be in direct violation of the by-laws and the board of directors can face some harsh punishment. In many instances, new board members are unaware of the legal and ethical importance of upholding confidentiality and how violating this can result in costly litigation for the association.
To avoid any confusion to board members' roles, we have found that early education of association board members of their duties and responsibilities by providing new board members with a board member welcome packet has helped create a strong united front, resulting in a healthy condominium association. Information is power and your board members can greatly benefit from knowing their roles from the onset. Remember, this may be a new experience for some of your board members and providing them with the proper tools in the beginning is essential as a contributing member to your association board.
The new board member packet can include the most recent Condominium Act of your specific state; copies of meeting minutes from the previous year along with a guide detailing how your board of directors operates and their expectations of members.
Board of Directors Handbook: This is an effective way to educate your new board members. This handbook serves as a great tool for not only welcoming new board members, but also allows them to fully understand their role and responsibilities. Some of the information that board members may find helpful in the handbook include:
• Board Member Responsibilities: A detailed list defining specific duties allows board members to understand exactly what they are responsible for, leaving no room for ambiguity or interpretation.
• Board Mission and Core Values: For a better understanding of the association's goals, including your property management company's mission statement and core values helps board members act according to the condominium association's principles.
• Board Powers and Duties: Detailing the powers and duties as specified in the association's by-laws as to their governing authority clarifies how a board operates.
• Board Fiduciary Responsibilities: This refers to the obligation that the board members have to handle the association's financial tasks, which is both a moral and legal responsibility.
• Board Officer Responsibilities: This defines each officer's role and lists the officers' particular duties. This helps board members understand how each office operates.
• Board Operating Principles: This is a great guide for all board members to understand how they will conduct themselves as an operating unit acting on behalf of the association community and placing special emphasis on these values.
• Board Meeting Procedures: For those members who have never served on a board, this is a great tool for letting them know how meetings are to be conducted and the specific rules and procedures that will be followed. The Habitat Company has found it helpful to include Robert's Rules of Order, a standard in how meetings are to be run.
• Appendix: This can include the association's master deed and condominium by-laws.
Your board can decide what should be included in your association board of director's handbook. Having this available to your board members alleviates any possible misunderstandings and informs each member to their roles, duties and responsibilities that they must follow. Maintaining confidentiality by member will help to create a solid board of directors who are focused on the best interests of the association and its members.