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Homeowners’ safety net

Community: Young company assists neighborhood associations in keeping up with issues

Posted: September 7, 2010 8:15 p.m.
Updated: September 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.

From left to right, Greg Marquez, with Mountain View Landscaping Co.; Alex Woltman, board president; Brad Watson, managing director; and Kevin Harbison, director of operations, check the aesthetics of the pool, spa and landscape during a recent meeting at a community pool in the Plum Canyon area.

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Property Management Professionals of Valencia, a young company borne in the collapse of the home-building industry, provides skilled assistance to homeowner associations by helping board members make informed decisions.

Board members elected to represent homeowner associations often have their community’s best interests at heart, but not always the skill set to effectively manage the innumerable maintenance, repair, insurance, architectural, legal or financial issues confronting the association.

Principals Jim Carr, 43, and Brad Watson, 34, each have an extensive background working in the industry. When large residential developers began closing their Valencia offices, Carr and Watson each needed to create new employment opportunities and did so by forming their present company.

Launching the business in 2008, they now manage close to 5,000 units and are still growing.

“Almost 100 percent of our business is straight referrals,” said Watson. “Board members at communities we manage are referring other homeowner board members to us.”

Today, the company employs 11 people and expects to extend an offer this week to a twelfth person.

“We meet talented people every day. At a time when everyone is laying off, it’s really cool that we’re able to grow when so many companies are downsizing.”

Industry background
As the attraction of homeowner communities grew quickly in the past couple decades, entrepreneurs saw a lucrative business opportunity in starting up property-management firms. But many did not have a building, financial or property-management background.

Where we differ,” said Watson, “is that we’re very proactive. We become value-added members of the homeowner boards. We actually bring the boards’ ideas.”

Carr served as senior vice president for the L.A.-Ventura division of KB Homes. Watson was director of planning at KB Homes. Both men sat on, or helped create, multiple homeowner boards while the properties were in development.

“Brad and I have refocused on redefining how homeowners associations are managed. We hire only property managers with in-depth industry expertise while our competitors simply hire people to administrate,” said Carr.

Saving money
The firm’s in-depth industry expertise has saved board members money and headaches.

Watson said that he doesn’t simply sign off on invoices. He used utility bills as an example. He said he matches every account number on the invoice to the community’s meters to ensure that the homeowners actually own what they are paying for.

“In the last year, I found that an HOA had actually paid $80,000 for a park that was never their responsibility to pay for.”

Previous property-management firms routinely signed off on the invoices for six years, apparently without ever checking to see if the community owned the park, which it did not.

Watson said homeowner boards hire management firms because they don’t have the time or expertise to go through every invoice. He said his firm reviews all bills meticulously.

In another instance, PMP discovered overcharging by a vendor serving one of the communities the company manages.

The bill was unreasonably high for the service required.

Watson called the landscaper to go through each line item charged.

“It’s important to create accountability with the vendors,” he said.

Service as key
Property Management Professionals hires people from home builder customer-service teams. Watson says his firm believes it imperative to hire a higher caliber of people who know how to communicate with homeowners.

“We handle complaints very differently. Our first step is to pick up the phone or connect by e-mail before passing on a complaint.

“We find out what’s going on with a homeowner who is the subject of a complaint,” said Watson. “We want everyone to feel as if someone heard their side of a story.”

The key to good support, Watson said, was in being proactive. He said other management companies often don’t do anything until the board asks them to take on a task, essentially babysitting.

“We actively work with communities to drive down their costs,” said Carr.

Expertise
Adding value to homeowners’ boards can also be in the form of knowledgeable guidance, taking some of the stress off board members who may not have any training or background in areas the board members are expected to manage.

“Board members are volunteers. We work for free. Property Management Professionals has taken a lot of burden off our board,” said board president Alex Woltman of the St. Clare community in Plum Canyon.

Woltman added that PMP has made a massive difference. When St. Clare contracted PMP’s services, the firm came on site and walked through the entire community, stopping at every house, in assessing the community’s needs.

Due to PMP’s background in the building industry, the firm is able to assist with architectural reviews, saving boards and homeowners time and money.

Boards typically have to hire consultants and architects to review many of the requests, even though that expense would not always be necessary if someone with the expertise on the team could review the plans first.

“Because we have a history of working with developers in building new communities, we review every request first, avoiding many of those additional expenses for the homeowner communities,” said Watson.

After reviewing plans, PMP can advise the homeowner individually, or the board, as to what changes might be required before submitting a plan to an architect, saving both parties time and money.

At the end of the day, Watson said, the final decisions still rest with the board, but that board members are provided with sufficient information to feel comfortable making an informed decision.

PMP also helps boards, or board members, by providing training. The firm recently held a private seminar on finances for a board member who said he wasn’t comfortable making some decisions because he lacked the expertise.

Budget forecasting
Woltman, of the St. Clare community, said PMP’s service fees are comparable with other management firms the community has used, but that the homeowners are receiving a higher quality of service.”

Many property management firms offer a basic service package for a fee, but add on charges for all the incidentals making it very difficult for homeowner associations to accurately forecast and budget.

Property Management Professionals includes all the incidentals in its pricing models, such as paper, copies, envelopes and any other incidental that typically might be an add-on fee with other firms.

Bundling all the services into one fee allows board members to accurately plan for both the future and budgets, Watson said.

Property Management Professionals is located at 27413 Tourney Road, and can be reached at (661) 295-4900.

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