RITE of SPRING

One of the most cherished traditions in townhouse land is the spring walk-through inspection. Gather the Board and amble around, see what winter has left us with. It is a great bonding experience and it reasserts ownership in taking inventory of your property’s needs.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, I tend to advocate for the minimalist approach. What should capture our attention are things recently out of the ordinary—as within a season or two. Some will argue for an all-inclusive list, following that great American adage, “if some is good, more is better”.

And certainly, one can be pleased with possessing the definitively comprehensive to-do list. But if there isn’t follow up with the to-doing, compiling the uber-list is a misuse of everyone’s time. (Spring walk-through lists have a shelf life of maybe six weeks. No one refers to them come autumn.) In my humble opinion, the list should be comprised of two types of items: 1—Things the Association should fix quickly; 2—Things the homeowner should fix quickly (be they from a repair or behavioral standpoint).

Sure, all the bad gutters or roofs with missing shingles can be identified. If this is going to be a project, why not let those who are going to fix them make the notations? They’ll do a better job. It is tempting to see information for its own sake having an archival or referential purpose. However, information of this sort is very temporal as Mother Nature never stops working.

Anyone besides me remember the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda? To Castaneda’s assertion that “knowledge is power”, Don Juan replies: “What good is knowledge if it is useless?”

In House or Out House?

Currently undergoing a kitchen remodeling, I am craving a home cooked meal. A Sunday roast beef dinner which I will pull from my brand new refrigerator and cook in my brand new oven—once they are purchased and installed. There won’t be any out-sourcing here, this will be done in-house.

Whether to out-source a task is a decision we are continuously making. Time management certainly factors into the calculation. We ship our printing and mailing to a very competent shop, not so much because I can’t stand the taste of envelope glue (which I can’t) but because stuffing envelopes isn’t the best use of our time. Our clients expect us to apply ourselves to more essential matters.

Yet time and convenience do not run the show. There are certain tasks which we see as requiring our personal attention—even if they can be out-sourced.

A Real Estate Disclosure Certificate is a document necessary for selling a townhome or condo. Some firms out-source their production. We do these in-house because we believe that accuracy is best ensured by direct oversight. And we have a buck-stops-here attitude.

Likewise with logging work orders or just plain answering questions. We aren’t Luddites but neither are we enamored with an over-weening reliance on technology. (“Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.” “On a scale of 1 to 5, how well did this answer your question?”) Guilty as charged to being control freaks. But in the service of our clients, we believe that’s a good thing.

A President’s Day Salute

Even though the name never technically changed from Washington’s Birthday, Happy President’s Day to all you advocates of democracy.

While set aside as a day to celebrate and contemplate the occupants of the Oval Office, I wish to redirect acknowledgement to those who have served as chief executives of their homeowner community. The president is the most visible member of the Board of Directors and thus often enough flak-taker-in-chief for complaints and problems.

Management’s primary liaison with the Board and the community is the president. When we need advice or a sounding board or a command decision, we approach the president. Other Board members are as involved as they are (and we are fortunate to have quite a few who are quite so). The president by virtue of the office, is necessarily most involved.

Thus we love our presidents for their willingness to serve doubly: as a Board member and as CEO. We are grateful for the uncounted and unpaid hours they devote to their Association. We hope that, as Management, we have been of assistance sufficient that they would consider the office again at the next Annual Meeting.

Thank you for your service to your community.

DAM ICE

To be clear, we do not condone profanity in this space. But I’m not above employing lame puns. A topic for any winter once the snow piles up is ice damming. You see all that snow on your roof? It’s fine where it sits unless it’s the spot where the roof meets the gutters.

When it’s liquid, water just follows gravity: off the roof, through the gutter, down the down spout. Solid water accumulates in the gutters and along the roof edges. The freeze-thaw cycle gets involved. It partners with warm air escaping from the building. And suddenly, you have a ridge of ice.

Would that it would stay that way. But the building heat and the weight on top reduce the bottom layer to liquid. This water has to go somewhere, so it will work its way up under the shingles and in through the soffits.

Voila! You have an indoor water feature on your wall or around your window.

There are short term and long term strategies for remediation. The common denominator with the short term is to rid the roof of the ice. Recommendations run the gamut, from shoveling to chipping to melting (ice melt wrapped in socks or pantyhose—I’m not kidding about this). The problem is, it can snow more than once in a winter. Then back to square one, with a lighter wallet.

A primary cause of ice damming is inadequate insulation. Warm air and cold air just shouldn’t be talking to each other. In the warm months, consider an energy audit and insulation upgrade. Doubtful it will offer a 100% fix. But in winter, in Minnesota, we seek manageability, not perfection.

Water is best in bath tubs and tea kettles, while ice belongs in a glass with a beverage (or under your skates). Wishing you a minimum of departure from these locations.

Should All Acquaintance

A couple weeks ago you would’ve caught me grumping about another wimpy winter. If you live up here, you ought to be able to exercise your bragging rights. Green grass in December just doesn’t cut it. Suffice it to say that Old Man Winter knocked me back on my heels. And days later, it’s a slush party. And the holiday weekend was a skating rink. Go figure.

Last week of the year. Punch your tickets for 2017. Tis a time both to look back and to look forward. What went right and what can be improved? Tis a time to finish all those leftovers just in order to recommit to the treadmill after January 1st.

Mere coincidence or Divine Intervention that Christmas and Hanukkah fell on the same day? And Kwanzaa began the day after. Perhaps it’s a hint that we just all need a bit more coming together.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Best Wishes for a Prosperous New Year.

Snow Daze

The first snow fall has come (and gone). When Mother Nature finally gets serious and the snow sticks, who’s gonna plow it? By now, you should be under contract with a snow clearing firm. I like to have my clients signed up by early October, at latest. I’m old enough to remember the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.

Invariably after a heavy dump or a sustained event (as the industry likes to call it), the question arises: So where are the plows? At times the complaint is justified. Plowing snow ain’t rocket science but it is a complex dance of getting crew and equipment from one site to another within a certain time window. Sometimes the dancers step on each other’s feet and sometimes they fall right off the stage.

Most often, however, the question is posed from an incomplete understanding of the contract parameters. Most professional firms hew to standard industry language such as: plowing begins within “x” hours of “x” inches (i.e. the trigger depth). When an event tops a certain inch mark, a new set of parameters applies. An open-up plowing of drive lanes will occur, typically by 7:00am or 5:00pm with the final clean up occurring within “x” hours of cessation of the snow fall.

Of course that’s confusing. But the take-away is that professional snow clearing services may not be in synch with your particular job schedule or the myriad other times you need to be out in the world. When dozens of neighbors are gathered together in a community association, that sort of customization isn’t possible. Not to say that contract parameters cannot be enhanced. Like Alice’s Restaurant, you can get anything you want but you have to pay for it. That is a discussion I am continually having with my Board members. Is the additional cost worth the upgrade in service?

To appropriate Jeremy Benthem: the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Happy Snow Days!

Burn Baby Burn

Ah yes, that time of year. We go from trying to avoid the heat to encouraging its presence. If you’re a diehard, you’re still waiting for the weather to make you turn on the heat. If you’re like me, you’ve capitulated already. For most of us, it’s either furnace or boiler heat.

A furnace is instant on and that first whiff of burnt stuff is a reminder that you should’ve cleaned the ducting. Maybe next year. A furnace is all yours and only yours. You don’t share it and you don’t share maintenance responsibilities. Always a good idea to have it tuned and tested regularly. (For me that means every two years.) Know the filter change regime. If that’s a “duh” point for you, be sure your tenants know if you rent.

By contrast, a boiler is a big, slow cooking tea kettle. It can take days to get up to temp and can be tetchy when outdoor temps aren’t that cold. Not nearly as nimble as a furnace but then again it’s often designed to heat larger areas.

A boiler is community property. You all share its expense and its heat distribution. If your radiator valve is closed or if you blow a zone valve, your neighbor may be feeling it. If your radiator is working fine, all you really need do is keep it clean. (Especially true with those baseboard models.) If you see water, then you need to call management or maintenance.

Here’s wishing everyone happy heating days. Rumor on the street is that this winter won’t just be making a cameo appearance like the last one.

HEART of DARKNESS

We still have until next week before the official conclusion of summer but c’mon, you know autumn is out there. A week ago, the sun set ten minutes later than today. September is the month wherein daylight diminishes most dramatically. (Six months earlier, March is its opposite.)

If you’re like my wife, you really mind this dying of the light (rage, rage). If you’re like me, less daylight is mostly an inconvenience in that it’s hard to see in the dark. Great time to check those photo-cells and timers on your outdoor lights. For my properties with hard-to-reach lighting this is the second time in the year I dispatch a firm to ensure everything is burning properly.

If you have a furnace, a test fire is a good idea now. You may also want to have it tuned but be prepared to stand in line. But doing so isn’t as inconvenient as a three-in-the-morning emergency call to Service Plus. Trust me, there is something disconcerting about seeing your breath inside your home. Most homeowners know to change the filter regularly but do your tenants know?

If your home has boiler heat as opposed to a forced air furnace, you are much less in control of when the heat starts coming. It’s usually a committee decision and usually precedes a nice warm Indian Summer by a few days. As boilers can’t just be flipped on and off like a furnace, expect to be uncomfortably warm until the weather drops into its 30-40 degree mode.

If you have an outdoor spigot, don’t be like me. Turn it off on the inside and ON on the outside. You don’t want to trap water that will freeze and split open that nice brass fixture.

Time to awaken the jackets and coats from their summer slumber. Time to dash about madly like squirrels, gathering our acorns for the underbelly of the year.

Gone to the Dogs

Ah yes, the dog days of summer. Did you know that the origin of this phrase has nothing to do with our canine friends? It referred to Sirius, the dog star, which is glowing brightly this time of year. The Ancients thought it contributed heat to the Sun which made these days extra hot.

But here we are talking about our BFFs and not some light in the sky. It’s always good to be up on your Association’s policy regarding pets. It’s not unheard of to find weight and height restrictions for dogs (especially in apartment style condos). I’ve even seen breed restrictions—which I believe to be misguided. There are no bad breeds, just bad owners.

Two of the most common complaints I hear have to do with dog owners allowing their pets to be off leash and allowing them to relieve themselves wherever. Not coincidentally, these are the two most common reasons associations ban pets outright. The vast majority of dog owners are conscientious and responsible. But true to human nature, the bad apples tarnish the bushel and are the ones who most influence pet policy. It does not take a village to raise Lassie. But Lassie running around unattended and killing shrubs is reason to raise the dues.

Opposite the responsibility side of the coin is the side of prerogative. Board members should be aware of Federal regulations regarding service and comfort animals. By definition, a service or comfort animal is NOT a pet. Your association may prohibit pets…but these aren’t pets. Board members are well advised to avoid a dog-gone costly mistake and seek legal counsel before enacting a detailed pet policy.

21 Bum Salute

The “annual” flags have been rolled up in the wake of another Fourth of July. Like Christmas trees, they come out once a year. As for myself, I prefer to fly the flag on every holiday calling for it that I can. That’s right, I’m a proud American and I think most of us would answer to that charge. Presenting the Stars and Stripes is one very visible way to demonstrate respect for our country.

Everyone knows there are rules of flag etiquette. I am still surprised by those who conflate a seemingly overweening need to proclaim their patriotism with apathy or ignorance.

To wit:

A large print ad in the newspaper features a family gathering. Picnic table loaded with food and a flag hanging vertically on the house in the background. How more American can this get: family, home, country, sustenance? This one got my dander up enough for a letter: the union was on the right. When displaying the flag vertically, etiquette requires the union always to be on the left. A professionally and painstakingly staged ad photo and they missed this?

A couple of super-patriotic homeowners liked to display their flags all the time. As in after dark. Sun up to sun down unless directly lit is the rule. I have no idea as to motivation. But I have noticed a common intent to justify these sorts of etiquette breaches with breezy references to friends having served or of being of the correct political mindset. Only in America can you consider yourself a staunch patriot while dissing the national symbol.

Any car dealership which flies umpteen flags like they were streamers or balloons. What’s the point here? We’re so patriotic that we have more flags that particles in the universe? More flags does not equal more respect. Rather, to me, it cheapens the symbol.

I didn’t make these rules up. And I don’t get to make up my own rules here. Just like I don’t get to have a flag with 51 stars (c’mon Puerto Rico). There’s a certain standardization required in what constitutes respect. That way we all know it and we know what it isn’t.

God Bless America.