RealManage Blog

7 Simple Steps for Preserving Curb Appeal in Homeowner Associations

Written by Mary Arnold, CMCA®, AMS®National Director of Training and Community Association Management Support

Anyone who has ever served on the Board of Directors of a Homeowner Association has experienced the frustration of homeowners who fail to mow their lawn regularly or properly maintain their home.  “How can they do that?” you may ask, “when they agreed to abide by their rules when they purchased their home in our community!”  Even when owners are notified of rule infractions, it can be difficult to get everyone in the community on board.  Over the years we have found some tried and true measures to help you resolve these issues for the greater good of the community when a homeowner seemingly thumbs their nose at the rules.

 

First, let’s face it, fines do not always work.  In fact, fining communities often incur a higher incidence of violations per resident than communities who do not implement fines.  Fines create more tension and angry homeowners who refuse to pay the fine nor correct the issue out of spite, causing the violation to linger even longer.  They also make more work for the Board as there will be more disputes to be heard and reviewed at board meetings, taking up time and increasing costs to the association.  They can also have a negative impact on the association’s financial reports by falsely inflating revenue due to fines that are levied, but not paid.  So if fines don’t work, what does?  

1. Frequent Communication. This is an important tool in maintaining community standards.  If homeowners truly do not know what is expected of them, they may struggle to conform.  Here are some things to consider: 

a) Many homeowners genuinely want to care for their lawn properly, but this may be their first home purchase, and they just don’t know how. Publish newsletter articles with helpful lawn and landscaping tips during the spring and summer to emphasize timely horticultural care.  Your landscape professional can usually provide you with these.
b) Post these tips on your community website. 
c) Include a photo of a property deemed “in compliance” alongside one that is not. Photos instantly set expectations at a glance (excluding any identifying markers such as addresses; the photos need not be of a home in your community). 
 
2. Implement a “Yard of the Month” program. Award a Yard of the Month sign to proudly display in the winner's yard each month and then rotated around to the subsequent winners.  One sign does not cost much but will bring you countless benefits.  If it is in your budget, accompany the sign with a monetary reward.  Is it’s not, ask the association’s landscaper or local neighborhood businesses to sponsor the Yard of the Month program with gift cards to be awarded as prizes; they may be all too happy to do so for the free advertising it would bring.  Acknowledge the winner(s) in your community newsletter, website, etc.  People love public recognition, and you it might just provide the inspiration to practice better maintenance habits that some of your homeowners are lacking!
 
3. Provide Education. Coordinate and host landscape and lawn care seminars with local nurseries and/or lawn care providers, providing door prizes and light refreshments to attendees.  This will help educate your homeowners on the basics of lawn care while serving as a social gathering at the same time!

 

4. Group Repairs. Appoint a Committee to coordinate with a vendor to perform bulk repairs at a discounted group rate to homeowners who wish to opt in.  Many homes were built at the same time and may be experiencing the same issues due to aging.  For example, are numerous homes at your having issues with their fence?  A contractor coming to one house to fix an aging fence will surely cost more than if he can visit 5 or 10 houses on the same day.  With this method, you can correct and possibly even prevent violations while offering a convenient and affordable service for your residents.

5. Create Pre-Approved Lists. A homeowner will be able to perform repairs to their property if they know in advance what paint/stain colors and/or other materials are approved for use (i.e., garage, front, or storm door styles, window styles, fencing styles, roofing materials and colors, etc.).  It will minimize any delay created by the owner having to wait for approval to re-paint their home or re-stain their fence if they can just review the pre-approved list and proceed.  The quicker they can cure the violation, the quicker curb appeal is restored.

6. Stop sending violation letters. “What is that?”, you say?  Yes, you read it right, stop sending letters.  While it may sound counter intuitive, if the first 2 or 3 notices didn’t compel the homeowner to cure the violation, chances are, neither will a 4th, 5th or 6th.  If all required notices have been delivered and the violation remains, it’s time to implement other remedies provide more effective than an endless succession of letters:

 a) Self help. Most governing documents provide for self help; exercise your self-help option and ask your landscaper to perform a force mow.  (Or ask your maintenance service to repair the fallen fence, or relocate the highly visible trash can behind the owner’s fence, etc.).  When the invoice arrives, bill it back to the homeowner.  With this approach, you’ve achieved your ultimate goal of curing the violation, and thereby improving curb appeal.  And, it will not take be long before word spreads that if you don’t maintain your property, the association may do it for you and you’ll receive a hefty bill!  Sometimes nothing provides more incentive than the almighty dollar.

 b) Legal Engagement. For those violations where self-help is not an option (i.e., a boat in a driveway which you cannot remove), ask the association’s attorney to send a letter.  More often than not, virtually the same letter on attorney letterhead will result in the cure the association seeks, without the need for any further action.  In most cases, the cost of the attorney’s letter can be charged back to the owner as long as proper notice requirements were followed.  In the rare instance where a letter alone does not cure the violation, the Board has the option to consider further legal action.  Just as in the case of self-help, word will quickly spread throughout the community, enticing more owners to make an effort to maintain their property and heed notices they receive early in the process.

7) Recognize well-kept homes. When driving through your community, you can’t help but notice the one house that always has an impeccable lawn, or the most beautiful seasonal flowers, or that is just consistently clean and free of any violations.  Make a note of their address and send them a quick note of thanks, or give them an honorable mention in the next community newsletter.  The residents will appreciate being recognized for doing something right instead of only when they do something wrong, and this positive reinforcement serves to motivate others in the community to uphold the same standards.

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