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.

Irrigation Tales

It being a steamy late spring day, I am reminded of how important (and often misunderstood) irrigation systems are to a community. I like to compare them to that 1967 Oldsmobile you found in your grandpa’s barn. Many of the parts are original and the thing always need tinkering.

Irrigation systems are fairly straightforward: plumbing, clocks and a little electricity. Nonetheless, they exhibit a certain mysterious nature which at turns proves puzzling and vexing. Herewith for your amusement, quotes and anecdotes of the irrigation system.

“The sprinklers haven ‘t gone off all week.” That’s because it’s been raining during their timed operation. Rain sensor: an inexpensive little device worth its weight in precious metal. I remember being at a meeting where a couple of know-it-alls were guffawing about the fact that the sprinklers had been going off in the rain. No rain sensor: buy one. The system doesn’t know it’s raining. But the system does know what time it turns on.

There’s always the OMG moment when one witnesses a busted head. A miniature geyser, which looks more disconcerting than it is. They are readily and quickly replaced and you use more water in the shower than a head does even after a few days. “If my siding is damaged, the association is paying for it!” Siding is generally impervious to low psi water.
One guy called to tell me that the sprinklers had watered his car overnight. So the heads are pointed on the driveway? No, he was parking on the lawn.

“I belong to a country club and my lawn needs to look like that.” Are you considering paying a greens fee? The typical commercial lawn contract includes herbicide, fertilizer, irrigation and a weekly haircut. Country clubs look like they do because they have a staff of degreed turf management professionals. (In fact there are several academic journals with the words “turf”, “management” and “science” in their titles.) Don’t be thinking you can shop Bylery’s on a Cub budget.

Stay cool and green.

Movin’ On In

That time of year (actually all year is that time of year)—this particular part of it being extra hectic—when the rental community is alive and buzzing. Really it starts in earnest in April and continues until the kiddies are back in school.

It’s a tight rental market out there (under 3% vacancy rate). Even still I pride myself on the fact that I don’t get my clients’ properties rented in just a day or two—unless of course they want me to. That means we were asking less than we ought. Pricing is of critical importance. It can determine whether it’s wise for you to consider being a landlord in the first place. However, it is pretty much out of your hands and determined by the market.

Condition is something you do and should affect. Even with a less than 3% vacancy rate, you want to attract the type of tenants who appreciate and respect a well-kept property. You will spend money and/or elbow grease to find these tenants. When a place is in good condition, you are making this statement: “This is how I keep it and this is how I want it returned because I care about it”. I’m not suggesting a complete paint job or changing out the floors on every turn-around. But it is amazing the impression a clean oven and refrigerator can make.

Balance is key. You aren’t offering hotel service but you don’t want the dead flies on the window sill.

DRAT-O, IT’S OTARD

I was having a chat with a colleague the other day on the scintillating topic of OTARD. The acronym stands for Over-The-Air Reception Device and it encompasses the FCC’s
rules and regulations regarding mostly satellite dishes with respect to condo and townhome communities.

Both of us nodded knowingly as each in turn shared stories about overreaching Boards of Directors attempting to put the clamps on satellite dish installation. While specific locations can be mandated—to a certain extent—associations cannot mandate prior approval and cannot outright prohibit installation. This can come as quite a surprise to some associations. The homeowner does not need permission and this is not the purview of architectural review.

Now granted, this is a thumbnail briefing. The regulations are dozens of pages in length as they were drafted by the FEDERAL Communications Commission. OTARD came into being as a means to ensure access to information. To my knowledge, the FCC has always prevailed against an association in the event of a dispute. And that can mean fines along with whatever money the association had had to spend on legal counsel. The moral of the story here is make sure you’re talking to someone with more than a nodding acquaintance of OTARD when the satellite dish issue arises.

When you ask your management professional about OTARD, the answer should be: “Do you have a minute?” or “Let me send you some information”. It shouldn’t be: “Huh?” or “Let me get back to you”. That’s usually code for unconfessed ignorance of the subject.

I’m constantly amazed to learn about all the esoteric parts of a car which the auto mechanics know about. Well they should. They’re the experts. These parts can have a very real impact on the functionality of the vehicle. That’s why you have experts around: to keep you from the deleterious consequences of ignorance of the esoterica.

The “H” of Spades

If the headline pun falls flat for you, then you’ve never been a fan of Motorhead. Lemmy Kilmister passed away in December, having brought into this world such 200 mph hits as “Ace of Spades”. Rest in Peace, Lemmy.

Wild party animal that he was, he was also fond of cracking open P.G. Wodehouse on the tour bus. The things you may not know.

Coming up on tax time, that “H” means something a little different. But wait, isn’t there another month until April 15th? Not if you’re a corporation and all community associations are non-profit corporations. The corporate deadline is March 15th. (Don’t worry, your manager knows this and also knows about the free six month automatic extension.)

The 1120-H form is the federal tax form your association has to file. NOT to be confused with the 1120 form. That single H makes a difference when you get to the bottom line.

Several years ago, Urbanwood took over management of an association only to discover that previous management had been filing 1120 forms. We changed that faster than you can say: “Render Unto Caesar”. And surprise, the $200 or so the association owed in taxes every year magically went away.

I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of the tax code that make that possible. I also won’t do your taxes for you: Urbanwood is a management, not an accounting firm. Our job is to know a little about a lot and to know those who know a lot about a little.

Know what who you know knows.

Wishing You the Very Best of Everything

I believe this was a line intoned by Ed McMahon years ago in a Budweiser Christmas commercial. Old Ed could read the ingredients on a cereal box and make you want to buy the product.

I have nothing against Ed McMahon or cereal. But this meaningless sort of jabberwocky posing as communication has got me started and running. “Our team offers best in class empowerment by reaching out and circling back to drill down to the passionate implementation of our process utilization modalities.” What does this even mean? Frankly nothing, since I wrote it.

But we all recognize this type of language. We see it wherever someone is trying to make us feel good and/or convince us of their professional expertise in order to persuade us of something. (Usually to buy or buy into what they’re selling.)

A couple years ago, I started compiling a list of such words and phrases: those which, when linked together, have the appearance of saying something very important while actually being bereft of content.

Nothing, in fact, is new under the sun. After some work on this list, I realized I was merely retracing Ambrose Bierce’s steps by appending his Devil’s Dictionary. It’s not that I eschew erudite vocabulary. I believe words have meanings which can be subtle and can be used to convey thoughts in a more or less precise manner. Sometimes the 25 cent word works best, sometimes the ha’penny.

The rules of style at Urbanwood are: keep it clear, professional and substantive. Levity is okay, even encouraged when one is blogging. But for heaven’s sakes, avoid being vacuous.

4 RENT 4 U

Usually I don’t speak Twitter-ese but I couldn’t resist in this instance: too eye catching. Whether it be single family homes or within community associations, the rental market is a prominent presence. Here at Urbanwood we bring some unique advantages to our rental property clients.

For instance:

**The Twin Cities Metro area is our base of operation and area of knowledge, not just another franchise location.
**You will speak with an owner of our company every time you call or write. We are not only top of the food chain, we are the food chain.
**A real estate license is a requirement but we are also Realtors which, among other things, allows us to tap the Multiple Listing Service for its marketing advantages.
**We’re local and long-term. We have a combined total of over 32 years in management and I’ve had an active real estate license since 1991.
**As our client, we’ll know you by name and know your property. No additional identification required.

We must be doing something right. Of our current client portfolio, 75% have chosen to retain us for at least two years. And if your townhome or condo community retains Urbanwood as its management firm, consider the overlapping advantages of having us manage your individual unit.

We invite you to contact us to find out how we may be of service.

What’s that Sound in the Basement?

I won’t strain your patience with clichés about crisp autumn days and long walks amongst brilliantly colored leaves, although I do love this time of year. “Crisp” will not be a way to describe the weather in a few months.

What’s great about this time of year is the return of the hot shower. After months of putting the soap to work immediately after toweling off, there is the pleasure of hot water, second only to the morning’s first cup of coffee.

In this month of Halloween, everyone loves a good Boo but not when it’s the water heater giving up the ghost. They do tend toward sudden death: honest, it was working fine yesterday. I hope no one ever shares my experience of coming downstairs (for that first cup of coffee) and wondering what is up with the sound of running water in the basement.

That’s the devilish thing about those appliances. They work until they don’t. You can potentially extend the lifespan by draining off a cup or two from the bottom tap once a month. This can help to siphon off sediment from the bottom of the tank. While you do this, take a couple seconds to feel the tank bottom for wetness. There is no cure for age, especially with a piece of metal holding water. And what did we learn in school? Water is the ultimate solvent.

Ethical?

Ethical behavior is something we here at Urbanwood take quite seriously.  Ethics is the study of right conduct.  It’s not enough for us to keep our books clean and be truthful to our clients.  We must comport ourselves in an ethical manner.  Long ago, Susan and I decided to frame Urbanwood along the lines of a Kantian ethical system.  Emmanuel Kant’s maxim: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.”  Astute readers will recognize this as a regenerated version of the Golden Rule.  “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”.

Granted this is Old School and makes no mention of John Rawls nor Jeremy Benthem , both of whom have added significantly to the study of ethics.

Let’s not needlessly complicate matters.