Top 5 Problems with Self-Managing your Condo or HOA and Solutions

You know what? Becoming a self-managed community may not be right for you. It may be more work and you may have to learn a lot of new ways of doing things in an unfamiliar industry. But if you are looking for a low cost alternative to full property management, have a core group of active volunteers and have some industry experts to help, well then being self-managed might be the perfect choice for your association.

Over my career I’ve worked with hundreds of volunteer board members. I’ve trained boards at Community Associations Institute (CAI) events and answered a lot of board member’s questions. I’ve sat with dozens of boards looking for accounting help and other support services for their self-managed community and know what their concerns are. From these experiences I’ve come up with a list of the top 5 problems with self-management and how to overcome these problems.

Concerns About Safeguarding Funds
I have come across several common issues with self-managed communities regarding the safekeeping of money. Some boards don’t feel comfortable bothering their neighbors about money and the association suffers a cash flow problem from late payments and worse in some cases the unit owner sells and the delinquent amount is never paid. Another issue has been where the association trusts the President or Treasurer and finds out they don’t have as much money in the bank as they thought – some of the money is gone. If you have a domineering board member who controls the bookkeeping, checkbook and bank accounts you may have reason to be nervous and can work to learn more about the community’s financial picture.

Solution: Enlist a strong, competent, dedicated and honest board member to do some of the financial tasks and have another board member review their work. The rest of the board still needs to have access to financial reports to ensure proper checks and balances. Another option is to hire a 3rd party to help the Board with the community’s monthly financial tasks. In either case a board member with thick skin or a company won’t have an issue enforcing payments, adding late charges and advising the board to start collection actions to ensure payment. Additionally, make sure the financial reports get done monthly, make sure the board gets bank statements or can view bank balances online and also get reports on what bills are being paid. Lastly, the board has to read the reports that are given and then ask questions. By following these transparency tips your chances of fraud will be greatly reduced. (For more information on preventing fraud at your community see our downloadable article on this subject located at the bottom of the main page of Community Financials.com).

Lack of Understanding of How to Operate a Community

Let’s face it you didn’t get taught in school how to run a community. Some of the problems you face are not what you encounter at work and the scale of problems are much larger than if you previously owned a house. The lack of knowledge can lead to 1) making mistakes that cost money and 2) taking more time at doing a task which if you pay by the hour will also cost more money. An example is you have recurring maintenance issues that eat away at your budget. It may be difficult to figure out the root cause and face doing a capital project to fix the problem correctly; in the meantime you waste money on repairs. Another example is not understanding your state’s community association laws and after pursuing the wrong course of action against a unit owner, they sue the community and this costs the association money.

Solution: The first solution is to enlist the help of neighbors who have special skills. You may be living with a construction project manager, an architect or a structural engineer in your midst. Ask these people if they would consider being a committee member and help with a special problem the community has. If no one wants to volunteer or no one with these skills lives at the community then hire experts. Experts are like having a coach or mentor. Instead of trying to figure something out each time for the first time, hiring an expert speeds up the process and ensures better results. Lastly, get informed. There are training courses for community Board members along with helpful printed educational materials from Community Associations Institute (CAI). Check out your state’s CAI chapter ad ask when they are holding the next “Condo Inc. – The business of running your community” (formally “The ABC’s of Operating your Community”). At the course you’ll learn from industry experts on legal, insurance, maintenance and management issues plus learn a lot from the Q&A session. Bring your legal questions, and get free legal advice!

Don’t View Some Expenses as Good Investments

I have come across some boards that are “penny wise pound foolish”. They don’t want to spend money period. I understand not wanting to spend money which requires raising common charges or a special assessment. But there are some expenses that are a good investment.

An example is not choosing the low bidder. In construction projects the low bidder often does a poor job that has to be fixed, or doesn’t get completely finished and you have to hire another contractor to finish the job or you get wacked by additional charges that take you way over budget. An even better idea is to hire a structural engineer or architect to design your capital project. This expert will make sure the job being done is the right one (not one the low bidder conceived) and will ensure the materials used are the correct ones (not the cheapest materials to do the job). Finally, when you bid out a job you get apples to apples comparison – as you’re not receiving 3 different ways to do the job at 3 very different prices.

Also, I’ve seen communities try to save money because a board member’s friend is a generalist attorney. But you end up spending more hours and money because the generalist is not familiar with the specific condo or HOA statutes and laws.

Lastly get your association’s financial reports periodically audited by an accountant. Some states require this to help safeguard community funds. But mandated or not it is a best practice. If you can’t afford the cost to do this annually you can do this every 2 or 3 years. The audit is a small price to pay for additional peace of mind.

Solution: Choose the winning vendor based on who provides the best value which takes into consideration expertise and quality not just price. Make investments and hire an expert. You will not get embarrassed and you will sleep better at night. Over time experts pay for themselves, they save you time and money.

Lack of Systems Like the Management Companies Have
Homeowners today are used to the best online tools that big corporations offer. Also many community residents have used online tools provided by management companies. These tools are especially useful when a homeowner travels for work or has a second home. When communities become self-managed typically these tools are not available. The board’s “customers” are it homeowners and you’ll want to keep them happy – one way is to give them the latest tools.

Solution: Purchase industry specific software, get trained on it and use it at your community. Industry specific software has a lot of advantages and features geared to operating communities over generic accounting software. Alternatively, you can hire a vendor to help your community and use their systems. For example boards may hire a community association accounting service to do the monthly financial tasks. This service may include features that you want like online payments and a web portal that allows homeowners to view the association’s documents online.

Poor Risk Management

I have seen some community Boards try to save money by not being adequately covered against risks. Some examples are: Hiring a handyman or other workers that don’t have workman’s compensation insurance. Or having a contractor start a project without first getting an updated certificate of insurance that names the association as an additional insured. Also if you don’t track when your regular vendors’ insurance expires you are no longer covered when it does. Lastly I’ve seen where the board doesn’t carry fidelity bond coverage or work with a bookkeeper with this coverage that protects you in the case of theft.

As a single family home owner you may accept these risks and choose a vendor that costs less to save some money. But as a board member you have a fiduciary obligation to protect the association and its funds. Some handymen and contractors cost more because they have to pay for insurance and that is a good thing for your association. If there is an accident at your community it can be very costly.

Solution: Ask your vendors for insurance certificates, stay up to date with vendor insurance expirations. Keep a spreadsheet or have your bookkeeper track it in their software and a best practice is not to cut a check to a vendor without getting an updated insurance certificate. Get together with your community’s insurance agent and have them teach you what you should see on a vendor’s insurance certificate to cover against a loss. Also ask your agent about the association’s policy and see where you may need to add coverage.

Summary

Problems always have solutions. By overcoming these top 5 issues that self-managed communities encounter you can have a great experience that meets or exceeds that of communities that pay for full management at a fraction of the cost.

Setting Up a Community Garden in your HOA

Summertime is the time for planting, nurturing, and harvesting, both when it comes to delicious fruits and vegetables, and when it comes to your community. Warmer weather encourages neighbors to get out of doors, meet one another, have picnics and barbeques, and socialize in ways that they cannot during the winter months. One of the ways that a community can come together during the summer is to invest in a community garden. If you have never had one before, now is the time to bring the idea to the board. Here are a few tips for setting up a community garden in your HOA.

 

Get Permission From the Board

Before you really get started with your idea to set up a community garden, it will be necessary to get the backing and permission of the board. Set aside a time during a meeting where you can discuss ideas and vote on the idea as a board.

 

Get Help From the Community

Once your board has approved the idea, it is time to get the community involved. Try to get volunteers from both the board and around the community to help with construction and planning. Make sure to use as much community talent as you can before hiring anyone to do the job for you.

 

Make it Look Attractive

A community garden should be a place where anyone from the community can come to enjoy the beauty and the peace that the garden affords. Spend time and resources planning the space to be not only a place to grow plants, but a place to sit and enjoy a chat with a neighbor. Consider placing inviting benches and a table to encourage repose.

 

Make it Functional

Equally as important as the beauty of the space is the functionality of the space. The best community gardens are those that are sectioned out into specific plots that homeowners can rent out for the summer. These plots should be raised both to accommodate older residents, and to keep weeds from taking root in the gardens.

 

Protect the Plants and Plots

Even a small bunny can cause havoc in a garden. To prevent them, and other critters, from munching on the plants, install a fence around the area. To help further protect the plants, it will also be necessary to establish a few basic ground rules and posting them near the entrance to the garden.

 

Install Sprinklers

Not everyone has a green thumb, and many people travel during the summer season. To help everyone in the community out, it may be helpful to install a sprinkler or soaking system to ensure that each plot is getting the moisture that it needs even if the owner of the plot is out of town or forgets to visit the garden.

 

Set up a Sharing Page

There is nothing more neighborly than sharing the bounty of a harvest. One excellent idea is to set up a sharing page on Facebook where owners of the plots in the community garden can go to find or share produce that has been grown in the garden. That way, if one plot has a bounty of squash or cucumbers, they can be shared with the whole community.

 

Having a community garden is a great way to beautify your neighborhood and bring people together during the summer. Use these tips to get started, and you will be well on your way to a community garden.

Five Ways for Your HOA to Make Extra Money

At times, the expenses of an HOA can exceed the amount that is brought in by monthly HOA fees. As a result, residents can be hit with special assessments which can be a shock to homeowners and a large blow to community moral. However, if your HOA board is hardworking and creative, it can find many ways to bring in extra money without unduly burdening homeowners. Here are five ways for your HOA to make extra money and boost your budget in the coming years.

 

Rent Out Your Clubhouse

If you have a clubhouse, it can be a great asset for bringing in extra funds to your homeowners association. The clubhouse can be used for birthday parties, business meetings, baby showers, fundraisers, and many other events. If the space is not already being used, consider making it available, and advertise so that the community is aware of its availability.

 

Advertise in Your Newsletter

Your monthly newsletter can be a great way to bring in a little extra money each month. Reach out to local businesses and offer the space to them for advertisement. Businesses can pay your HOA for space in which to put advertisements or coupons, and can in turn grow their customer base.

 

Allow a Cellular Tower

There are both pros and cons to allowing a cellular tower on unused roof space. One of the pros, however, is having a little extra cash each month. It can bring in up to $3,000 a month to your association. In addition to the rental fee, your HOA can gain by having superior cell service on your property .

 

Use Your Surrounding Environment

Take a moment to consider the natural area around your community and try to think of ways that you can utilize the space that you often take for granted to make money. Do you have a hill that can be opened for community sledding, or a river or lake that can be used for rafting or fishing? Is there a nice plot of land that can be rented out to the community or residents for a community garden? Do not let these natural features go to waste.

 

Think About Storage, Parking Spaces, and Other Underused Areas

If there are spaces in your community that are currently going unused such as a parking area or empty buildings or sheds, it is time to think about how these areas can be used to start generating income. Transform empty buildings into storage units that can be used by residents or anyone in the community. Rent out parking spaces, and see if there are any indoor areas that can be rented out by teachers for fitness or art classes.

 

There are many ways that an HOA board can use current assets and amenities to begin making extra money for the community. All it takes is a little bit of thinking outside the box, and the  willingness to put in a small amount of time and effort. Use these five ways to start the process of earning extra income. The homeowners in your community will thank you!

What is the Difference Between HOA, POA, and COA?

If you are looking to purchase a home you may be confused by the overwhelming multitude of terminology and acronyms that exist in the world of real estate. When it comes to HOAs, POAs, and COAs, it is important to understand the difference. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, this is actually a mistake as there is a significant difference between the three and how they function.

 

Homeowners Association (HOA)

A homeowners association is usually comprised of a group of similar homes and residences along with the common areas and property that is shared by the community as a whole. HOAs usually conform to a strict set of regulations, and requires all residents to likewise adhere to these regulations. Rules regarding anything from appearance of homes to number and type of pet are established to improve the quality of life of all of the residents. The aim of the HOA is to create a beautiful and comfortable community that helps to raise overall property values in the neighborhood. Although these rules can seem quite strict, they are agreed to and usually appreciated by the members of the community as they dramatically increase the desirability of the area. Members of an HOA can expect their fees to assist in the upkeep of pools or other common amenities, as well as opportunities to connect with other homeowners.

 

Condominium Owners Association (COA)

A COA is specific to owners of condominiums. Owners that are a part of these associations own their specific condominium and then share the ownership of the grounds and the building among other condominium owners.

Members of a COA can expect their fees to go towards the basic maintenance and repairs on the property as well as the care of any common areas such as the upkeep of lawns and snow removal.

 

Property Owners Association (POA)

The biggest difference between a POA and COAs or HOAs is its primary function and goals. Whereas the focus of an HOA is entirely residential, a POA can govern multiple types of property such as residential and business. The goal of a POA is to improve an entire area, neighborhood, or even an entire town. POAs can implement zoning restrictions, undertake development projects, and beautify community areas. POAs often focus their attention more on the overall health of the community by engaging in plans to develop businesses and increase property values across a large area.

If you are purchasing a home, you may actually find that a home is part of an HOA and a POA. It is helpful to ask if this is the case before purchasing the home and if there are any additional fees.

 

POAs, HOAs, and COAs can be extremely beneficial. If you are looking for a home, considering one that is part of one of these associations can ensure that you live in a community that is well-loved by all of its residents and will be sure to gain in value.

Which HOA Documents Take Precedence Over the Others?

What do you do if one of your HOA’s governing documents conflicts with another document or with your state or national rights? Do your board members and HOA manager know how to handle this situation if a homeowner or member notices a conflict in the writing?

As an HOA board member, while it’s important to review and understand all governing documents of your association, you’ll need to know how to filter through all of the information and know which document to follow if someone finds something that’s not consistent.

In case this does happen, use this hierarchy guide to help decide which rules come out on top.

1. Federal and State Laws and Statutes

Keep in mind these laws and statutes take precedence over your HOA’s governing documents. Examples would be the Americans with Disability Act and the Fair Housing Act.

2. Recorded Map, Plan, or Plat

A map or plat that was recorded with your association’s county before any lots were sold are next. They are there to establish maintenance responsibility and property location.

3. CC&Rs (Deed Restrictions)

Your deed restrictions are part of the owner’s document which details expectations and limitations for usage of land. These are the top priority in HOA documents, and are therefore the hardest to make amendments to.

4. Articles of Incorporation

When the HOA is legally created as a corporation, this document is filed with your association’s state.

5. HOA Bylaws

The purpose of your association’s bylaws are to establish guidelines on the association’s internal affairs. You’ll find member and board requirements and record keeping guidelines in this document.

6. Board Rules/Resolutions

HOA resolutions are policies that are formally enacted and adopted regarding areas like collections, common area regulations, and covenant enforcement. Rules can only be adopted by the board if they don’t conflict with the governing documents and after they’ve been reviewed by the association’s attorney.

Eight Golden Rules for Boards of Directors

This article originally appeared on Associaonline.com’s Living Better Blog.

By Mike Packard at Associa

Board members must interface with their membership, management team, association vendors and other members of the public pragmatically at all times. Following are my personal “Eight Golden Rules” to assist you with achieving that goal:

  1. Always be a straight shooter.People admire this trait in other human beings more than almost every other characteristic. Those who quibble or, at worst, lie about something are destined for failure. Effective and respected board members always practice this principle.
  2. Praise in public; criticize in private. Never publicly ridicule nor scold someone. “Someone” is any of the many, many people that you interface with as a board member. People who rebuke in public are neither respected nor admired. When I was an officer in the military, I never, ever witnessed someone being admonished publicly (except in “boot camp”!).
  3. Read, read, read.The world, and certainly the responsibilities of serving on a board of directors, require staying abreast of legal issues, state statutes, finance, insurance, risk management, etc. Unless you keep current on public events and issues, you will suffer in terms of lacking a better understanding of how to perform your job as a board member.
  4. Emulate the quality traits you see in others.To do so is “OK plagiarism”!
  5. What goes around really does come around. Treat others as you would like to be treated. An axiom for this is “never throw anyone under a bus as there will certainly be a bigger bus coming for you”. This rule complements rule # 1 but deserves its own place in the hierarchy of “golden practices”.
  6. Never get in a hissing contest with a snake.Those few people in your community who may want to pick a fight are not worthy of your energy and time. When confronted, turn the other cheek as you cannot nor will not win battles with those kinds of folks!
  7. Don’t put something where you don’t normally put it. If you violate this edict, men, it’s in the back seat of your car, and ladies, it’s in your purse. Life is too short to be looking for stuff when you should know where it is in the first place.
  8. Don’t borrow something of value from a friend or a team member. How many times have you violated this important universal rule and damaged or lost that item of value? Be honest! Too many times?

 

These tips will help you become a better person and, most importantly, a person of influence. Influential people are the most respected in any profession, and this is especially true for the profession of leading community associations as a board member.

 

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5 HOA Terms Every Board Member Needs to Know

Whether you just got elected to the community association board or you’ve served for years, you want to make a good impression. Knowing these common HOA terms will help you sound like you know what you’re doing while you get up to speed or serve as the refresher you need to keep growing as a community leader.

  1. Fiduciary Duty

The highest ethical and moral obligations and duty of good faith a person is charged with for fulfilling their responsibilities. The board of directors of a community association has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of the association.

This is a fancy sounding term that applies to the board of directors of a community association. It boils down to trust. The straightforward definition of “fiduciary” alone is stated as: involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.

That definition is not very practical. In a nutshell, when you are a board member for a community, you need to act for the good of the community as a whole and not for yourself. You have a duty to make decisions for the benefit of all instead of just your home or your friend’s homes nearby.

I know of one board member in a condo association who was great friends with one of her neighbors, but that neighbor fell behind in their assessment payments. Even though it might’ve been tempting to look the other way, the board member joined the rest of the board in applying their community association’s written collections policy in this situation. This put the community first over the board member’s personal interest and ensured equal treatment of all homeowners.

 

  1. Governing Documents

The declaration, bylaws, operating rules, articles of incorporation or other documents which govern the operation of the association.

The governing documents, sometimes referred to as the CC&R’s (Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions) is where the HOA and the board get their authority. They will spell out exactly what you can and can’t do when governing the community.

Governing documents are arranged in a hierarchy of descending authority:

  • Plat map
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Declaration
  • Bylaws
  • Rules
  • Manuals/Policies

In general, the documents above the line cannot be changed by the board alone; it will be spelled out in the documents themselves how to do so. They will require a vote of the membership, usually an approval of 66 percent or more of the residents, to actually pass changes to these documents.

The documents below the line are more fluid and can clarify the property restrictions in the documents above them, but cannot contradict documents higher in the hierarchy. For instance, if the Declaration says rentals are allowed, the board cannot pass a Rule saying no rentals are allowed. You may, however, be able to set parameters around rentals or procedures to follow if the Declaration is vague. Always check with an attorney for your state’s specific laws when implementing Rules.

As a board member, you should actually read these documents and understand the hierarchy of them.

 

  1. Business Judgment Rule

Actions taken by directors of a community association in good faith, that are within the powers of the association, and that reflect a reasonable and honest exercise of judgment, are valid actions.

The business judgment rule is a presumption that in making a business decision, the directors of a corporation acted on an informed basis, in good faith and in the honest belief that the action taken was in the best interests of the corporation, in this case, a not-for-profit corporation or homeowners association.

Given that the directors cannot ensure success, the business judgment rule specifies that the court will not review the business decisions of directors who performed their duties (1) in good faith; (2) with the care that an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would exercise under similar circumstances; and (3) in a manner the directors reasonably believe to be in the best interests of the corporation.

The business judgment rule along with directors and officers insurance will cover you as a board member for any decisions you make, even if they turn out to cause more problems than they solve for the community. However, the big caveat is that you must follow the spirit of the rule.

Did you act in good faith? In other words, did you deal with homeowners, vendors, and management in an honest and fair manner. Did you utilize care? In other words, did you read the board packet and understand the information in it prior to the meeting when making your decisions. Finally, did you act in the best interests of the community? This goes back to the fiduciary duty: acting in the best interest of the entire community and not in the interest of your friends, your neighbors or yourself.

 

  1. Insurance

A practice or arrangement by which a company or government agency provides a guarantee of compensation for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a premium.

In light of the natural disasters in 2017, including multiple hurricanes on the east coast and wind and hail damage in the midwest, you’ll want to make sure you understand your community’s insurance policy.

You’ll want to know terms like “per building” versus “per occurrence” deductibles, and the answers the key questions: Is there a per building cap? Is there a percentage wind or hail deductible? Do you have or need flood insurance? Do you have a basic, broad, or special form property policy (sometimes referred to as “all risk” coverage or “named peril” coverage), and what does that even mean?

Just for the record, “special form policy” covers everything except what is specifically excluded within the policy. “Basic and broad form policies” only cover the perils that are specifically named in the policy and excludes everything else!

Invite your insurance agent to a board meeting or schedule a conference call to ensure you know and understand what kind of coverage your community has so you can effectively communicate that to your members and/or homeowners. Condominium and townhome owners will need to have a personal lines policy (HO-4, HO-5, HO-6, etc.) to cover their personal belongings, their personal liability, to cover a possible deductible assessment, and for any physical property not protected by the community’s property policy. It’s also wise to ensure your community’s insurance agent specializes in community association coverage and can readily explain the insurance needs of your community according to its governing documents (including any insurance-related amendments or resolutions).

As mentioned above, you’ll want to ensure you have a directors and officers policy that covers the association and its board of directors for both monetary and non-monetary claims. Some policies in the marketplace exclude coverage for non-monetary claims, so it’s especially vital for the board to review this policy closely since non-monetary claims make up roughly 60 percent of most association-related D&O claims.

You cannot expect a homeowner to understand the association’s insurance policies if you as a board member don’t understand them. That’s why it’s imperative that you partner with an experienced agent to ensure your association’s policies make sense, and that they address all of the community’s exposures to loss.

 

  1. Objectivity

The quality of being objective; not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased.

As a board member you are going to be making decisions for the community, and you’ll never be able to please everyone. Some owners will want more services and be willing to pay for those services; other owners will want to keep assessments as low as possible by any means possible; some owners will have purchased in the neighborhood because of the rules in place; others will want there to be absolutely no rules whatsoever.

You may have to make unpopular decisions such as raising the assessments to cover increasing costs for insurance, landscaping, or repairs and maintenance expenses as buildings get older. You’ll be selecting contractors, and sometimes they will do a poor job. Or, in trying to keep costs low you will choose fewer services and then owners will complain that they aren’t getting the service they “used to” receive. You are in charge of enforcing the Rules and Regulations and governing documents, making decisions on possibly fining owners that do not comply or enforcing them to remove that fence that is too tall. You just have to remember that all owners agreed to abide by the governing documents when they purchased in the community and apply the standards fairly and uniformly to everyone.

Don’t take it personally when someone acts inappropriately in response to you simply performing your duties as a board member. They are usually not mad at you but mad at the situation, and they may even apologize in the future.

Be prepared for these conflicting situations and act objectively knowing deep down you’re being a true community leader.

 

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How to Protect Your Home From Flooding and Other Disasters

In 2016, natural disasters accounted for $23.8 billion in covered losses in the United States. When a flood, storm, or other disaster unexpectedly shows up on your doorstep, it is already too late to take any protective measures. Although some damage cannot be prevented, there are some steps that you can take to reduce the harm to your home and protect your family in case of these events.

Flooding

In terms of sheer destruction and cost, flooding is one of the top natural disasters in the United States. Here is how to protect your home as much as possible:

  • Know your risk: Check flood maps to see if you are living in or near a flood-prone area.
  • Buy flood insurance.
  • Keep your most valuable belongings on a higher floor as well as any electronics.
  • Raise your home if possible, especially if you live in a modular or mobile home.
  • Elevate any appliances that you can to reduce potential damage to them. This mostly applies to appliances found in the basement including the washing machine, dryer, and furnace.
  • Install a sump pump. Make sure it has a backup that is powered by a battery in case of a power outage.
  • Seal any cracks in your home’s foundation and consider putting in a floor barrier. These waterproofing steps will help reduce the amount of water coming into the basement in the case of a flood.
  • Have a flood safety plan in place and learn your evacuation routes.

Keep in mind that there are many types of storms that can lead to flooding, but there are also other causes such as burst pipes, improperly sealed basements, and poor drainage systems.

Storms: Hail, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Lightning

Early summer marks the beginning of hurricane season, which can bring storms that affect people thousands of miles away from the actual hurricane path. There are threats from many of the natural phenomena that can occur with a storm. Lightning, hail, heavy rains, and howling winds can do major damage to a home either directly or indirectly by causing other objects to crash into or fall on top of the home.

 

Hail

  • Use sturdy roofing materials to help protect against hail damage.
  • Keep cars in your garage or somewhere undercover nearby if you know that a storm is coming.

Tornadoes and Hurricanes

  • Consider reinforcing your roof with clips that attach the roof more securely to your home’s framing.
  • Seal roof joints with a moisture barrier to help protect against water intrusion.
  • Make sure to regularly trim trees around your home. This will ensure that there are fewer weak branches that can break off and come through a window.
  • Check door hinges and locks to make sure they are in good condition.
  • Put important belongings and papers in a safe that is fireproof and waterproof.
  • Regularly clean your gutters, as you will need all drainage systems working properly in the case of heavy rains.
  • Immediate preparation for tornadoes and hurricanes includes boarding windows, closing shutters, and bringing in anything that could be launched by heavy winds.
  • It is important to evacuate if directed to do so by local emergency services.

 

Lightning

  • Lightning during a storm as well as heat lightning can cause significant damage to a home.
  • To protect your home, there is the option to install a lightning protection system, which attracts the lightning, harnesses it, and then directs it away from your home.
  • It is also important to install surge protectors or to unplug everything when there is a threat of lightning, as a strike as far as a few miles away can cause a power surge that will destroy electronics and other systems in your home.

Animal Disasters

Even in the city, there is the risk of animals causing damage to your home. Rodents such as rats can get into the walls of your home and chew through wires, leading to the potential for fires. They can also spread germs and illnesses, especially to people with weakened immune systems, the very young, and the very old. Raccoons are notoriously smart and incredibly strong; they will rip off window screens and even tear holes in the roof to gain access to your home.

  • Eliminate easy access points by trimming tree limbs that hang over the roof.
  • Cover gutters with a fine mesh screen. Rodents love to use these as their personal highway and may be using it to get inside. They also tend to form nests in gutters, which blocks rainfall and can lead to flooding issues and water damage. Clean out the gutters before covering, or you will be stuck with the smell of dead rodents for some time.
  • Cover your trashcans securely. Don’t count on a lid keeping the raccoons out.
  • Eliminate bird feeders on the porch or very near the side of your home because other animals may come to feed, see themselves in the window’s reflection, and become confused and cause damage.
  • Cover outside food and bring in food dishes so that you do not end up with wild animals, including bears, on your property or even inside your home.

Natural disasters can be terrifying for anyone who experiences one. By taking steps now to help protect your home against potential damage, it can be one less thing on your mind while you focus on keeping your family safe.

Buying Vacant Land to Build a House — 6 Things to Do

Buying a finished home is a tricky process.

Building a house from the ground up isn’t any easier. Finding land for sale is the easy part — the real work happens as you move to turn your vision into reality.

The payoff is well worth the effort, though. If you’re truly committed to building a home of your own, you’ll want to do these six things in order.

1. Set Out Your Vision for the Parcel

First, set out a cohesive and comprehensive vision for the parcel. Early on, this vision will consist of broad strokes: placement of the main house and outbuildings, driveways and other rights of way, infrastructure improvements, and any special features you’d like to include.

Eventually, you’ll need to create a schematic that can pass muster with local zoning authorities. If you’re not up to the task, consider hiring a site planner.

2. Have Cash on Hand

Lenders are generally reticent to underwrite vacant land purchases. If you are able to secure a loan, it’s unlikely to cover more than 50% of the transaction. Shore up your cash position accordingly.

3. Get to Know the Property

Before you build, you need to be intimately familiar with the property: grading, timber coverage, wetland areas, existing rights of way or easements, neighboring uses. Consider conducting a proper land survey. The more you know upfront, the less likely you are to encounter serious issues during build-out.

4. Understand Local Codes

Understand your obligations under local zoning and building codes. These regulations vary widely by jurisdiction, so it’s important to check directly with local sources for up-to-date information. You’ll also need to understand for what, if anything, you’ll need to pull building permits and when, if ever, you’ll be required to file site plans or schematics with the proper authorities. Since this information could significantly affect your building plans, it’s important to ascertain it as soon as possible.

5. Feel Out Your Neighbors

Before you build, get to know your neighbors, or at least learn as much as is publicly available about the parcels adjoining your land. As long as your building plans comply with local zoning and building codes, your neighbors have limited recourse — but making the effort to reach out and explain your position nevertheless engenders good will.

6. Put Your Financial Plan in Motion

You’ll most likely need to finance the initial purchase of your vacant plot out of your own funds. Once that’s done, you’ll find it much easier to secure a loan to finance your lot’s build-out. Before you begin applying for loans, tally up your expected construction costs and research values for comparable homes in the area. You’ll need to make a convincing case.

A Home of Your Own

There’s no place like home.

That’s doubly true when “home” is a place you’ve helped create. If you’re prepared for the unexpected, building your own house is a rewarding, life-changing experience — one that will pay dividends for years to come.

 

Interior Designs to Add Life with Your Plain Painted Condo

Many people are buying furnished condo units to save them from the renovation work. They just need to add essential furniture and personal items and they’re done. However, there are some who prefer a bare home, which is like a canvas where everything starts from scratch. An unfurnished condo unit will require more work and money than a furnished one, but it gives homeowners the liberty to apply condo design ideas that suit their taste and purpose.

Designing a condo unit doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. With simple touches, you can turn a bare space into a stunning home. Here are 8 design tips you should try.

Creative photographs as design pieces

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Adding life to your interior design can be the easiest thing to do. A plain wall can be the perfect backdrop for creative photographs. Images printed in large sizes are gorgeous design pieces for your living room or bedroom. Black-and-white photos are perfect for a minimalist condo design. Instead of boring holes on your condo walls, you can explore fun ways of displaying photographs such as hanging them vertically on twines.

Hang decorative cloths on your white walls

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How to give life to a boring condo unit? Play with colors, shapes and patterns. Hang decorative curtains or rugs on your bedroom walls. Luz, a 52-year-old businesswoman and serial traveler, scored lovely patterned cloths in a busy souk in Dubai. She draped the cloths drape across the white-painted walls in her bedroom.  The geometric patterns on the design pieces gave life to her dull life space.

Mix and match colors and forms

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Mix and match design techniques in your bare condo space. Andrea, a millennial bachelorette, recently bought her own place in the suburbs. She found her plain walls an opportunity to display her creative flair. White and other neutral colors serve as a backdrop for bold design elements. Post large photographs of beautiful landscapes, and furniture pieces in various colors and geometric forms. Splashes of greens will enhance the overall look of your condo space.

Give life to your room with treasured reads

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Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges once said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Make your condo home look livelier with a collection of good books. Install built-in shelves in your living room and stack your treasured reads. Some library owners arrange books by subject while others according to the color of book binds. A vintage sofa and patterned carpet will add warmth to your mini library.

Create a focal point in your condo home

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A focal point is essential in interior design. It takes the eyes away from the less attractive features from the room, influences the arrangement of furniture pieces, and re-energizes the space. How to create a central point in your plain condo home? It may already have a focal point such as windows overlooking a skyline or a fireplace. A stunning sofa in vibrant color or a beautiful artwork can serve as an effective focal point in your condo home.

Transform your home into an autumn-inspired space

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Patricia, a single mom and blogger, created a warm and welcoming family room with stylish carpets, rugs and throw pillows. You can play with patterns, colors and textures. Can’t think of color combinations to try in your plain condo unit? Explore Pantone’s Fall 2017 palettes. “While comforting, enveloping colors and ease are crucial to the seasonal feeling, standout shades include a pale pink Ballet Slipper, a refreshing Golden Lime, and a bright Marina blue. These hues add a striking touch when paired with the classic autumnal shades of Navy Peony, Neutral Gray, Butterum and Tawny Port,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

Add natural elements in your condo kitchen

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Studies show that incorporating natural elements into interior design has health benefits. “In my world of healthcare design the goal first and foremost is to reduce stress. So, to an audience of some 700 designers I said, ‘Imagine a stressful time in your recent past. If you could escape anywhere in the world to help reduce your anxiety, where would you go?’ After giving them a moment to reflect, I asked them to think about the elements of that environment, the features that contribute to their calm, their sense of well-being,” says Rosalyn Cama of design firm Cama, Inc.

How to give life to your boring condo kitchen? Install natural wood cabinetry or bi-fold doors perth that is both warm and contemporary. You can also add indoor plants including succulents and peace lilies. Indoor vertical gardens are trending these days. You can install one in your condo kitchen.

Create depth and character with stylish lighting fixture

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How to breathe life to your condo home? Try matching your condo paint with your lighting décor. Lighting can create focal points by accentuating a painting or a sculpture. It can rid a room of shadows and develop depth and space in condo homes. The fixture can add a stunning design element in a plain space. Lighting store Lowe’s gives a tip in choosing a fixture style: “Start with a favorite element in your room and look for a fixture that complements it. If you have a more modern sofa, look for lighting with clean lines to enhance your space.”

Designing a plain-painted condo is like creating an artwork on an empty canvas. It gives you the liberty to mix and match colors, textures and forms. Whether you want a modern industrial home or a countryside-inspired space, a plain condo can accommodate these for you.

Author Bio: Jeanette Anzon is the writer and editor for AdventureDweller.com. She mostly write about home improvements, home guides and designs, and real estate investments.