A Helping Hand for HOAs CAI-NJ

A Helping Hand for HOAs

Running a successful co-op or condo—whether you're a shareholder or a manager—requires a lot of outside help. There are landscapers to contract, attorneys to query, owners to deal with and hundreds of other tasks each day that require informed decision-making and input from other sources. When faced with the challenge of meeting all the needs of your housing organization, it certainly would be nice to have a host of resources in just one place.

The Community Associations Institute (CAI) was formed to serve such a purpose. According to their mission statement, CAI is a national organization dedicated to "fostering vibrant, competent, harmonious community associations." For more than 30 years, CAI has been a leader in providing education and resources to the volunteer homeowners who govern community associations and the professionals who support them. The organization's members include community association volunteer leaders, professional managers, community management firms and other professionals and companies that provide products and services to associations.

The second largest chapter of the national organization happens to be its New Jersey chapter—and the New Jersey chapter is rising to meet the needs of its more than 2,000 members, one question at a time.

Form & Function

"We represent all aspects of community living," says Curt Macysyn, who has served as executive vice president of CAI-NJ for the past six years. "We have members who are accountants, attorneys, landscapers, bankers, board members and we have 1,450 certified Community Association Volunteer Leaders; they all assist in making communities more well-rounded."

With a paid staff of just five, the CAI-NJ office in Mercerville has its work cut out for it. Regular check-ins, strategic planning meetings and a checks-and-balances leadership structure help keep everything running as smoothly as possible.

CAI's executive committee is made up of five elected members; 15 serve on the board of directors. The board and executive committee meet once a month to address issues with recent or upcoming court rulings and general business at the both national and local level of CAI.

David L. Ferullo, CPA, a senior audit partner with The Curchin Group, an accounting firm in Red Bank, currently serves as president of the New Jersey chapter of CAI. Ferullo has been involved with the organization for nearly 20 years, serving on the education committee for about 15 and also as the board liaison to the education committee. "Members of the board of directors are elected for a three-year term and can be re-elected for an additional three years. This is my sixth year on the board, which just happens to coincide with me serving as president," Ferullo says.

"Leadership roles here progress similarly; most people on the board start out on committees." Finding individuals willing to be of service hasn't been a problem. "We have a very active group of members," continues Ferullo, adding that strong New Jersey chapter leadership has had a positive effect on the organization at the national level. "New Jersey has a high proportion of nationally placed officers. The current national president is from New Jersey, and it isn't the first time that's happened. Some active members aren't satisfied to just deal locally—they get involved at the national level, too."

Education & Resources

Educating homeowners and industry professionals is clearly the major focus of CAI's activities, whether they're calling members' attention to changes in legislation, handing out flyers or sending an e-newsletter with industry information. Handbooks, seminars, lectures, accredited online and home-study courses, and experienced teachers and industry professionals willing to answer questions all combine to make CAI-NJ a rich resource for those with a desire to learn.

Macysyn says courses like "Educating Owners for Peaceful Living" and "Advanced Insurance and Risk Management" are a welcome resource among members. "The lectures and courses are well-received and attendance is very good, though it could always be better. The more you can educate people, the better their practices will be. We have such a wealth of information; we like to teach board members and industry practitioners on the front end." Macysyn says that many of the conflicts that arise in associations occur because of a lack of information or communication. "You think, 'If these people would've attended an essentials course, they could've handled this problem.'"

And for every problem, there's certainly a course or piece of CAI literature that can help solve it. "There are fifteen people on our education committee," says Ferullo. "We have managers, accountants, lawyers, builders, etc. Input from this diverse this group of individuals greatly helps us in deciding what courses to offer. We want our programs to all benefit members of CAI-NJ. The needs of our members are varied and change often so we gear our courses toward a cross-section of our members." A sample of the types of courses offered by CAI-NJ deal with board responsibilities, management, legal updates and financial courses. They also provide specialized seminars geared to a particular membership group. One particular - very successful - seminar is designed for those living in a senior community.

CAI-NJ also offers an award-winning Alternative Dispute Resolution Program as an alternative to the traditional justice system. CAI-NJ mediators are trained by an education program developed by the chapter. A list of the available mediators can be obtained by contacting CAI-NJ, or visiting them online at www.cainj.com, and completing an ADR Request Form.

Ferullo believes strongly that while every member of CAI-NJ is valued, the homeowners are among the most important. "They live there and they need to have available to them the best resources to assist them in overseeing the operation of their association. We especially need to educate those newly elected homeowners and committee members who often have the best intentions, but often don't know what is expected of them."

Events & Networking

Each year, the CAI-NJ produces their own one-day trade show—if a homeowner doesn't know what's expected of them before they step into the Expo, they will by the time they leave.

"Anything we do is primarily for our membership, but we do invite individuals outside our membership base," says Macysyn. "The Expo is geared toward the entire New Jersey [association-living] industry." This year's Annual Conference & Expo, held in late October, will focus a lot of attention on energy alternatives, "green" landscaping options and recent changes in state law. The event will take place Saturday, October 27, at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison.

But members of the CAI-NJ know that learning more about their role in community association living doesn't always mean lectures and handbooks—there's fun to be had, too. CAI-NJ produces numerous events every year, from golf outings to awards dinners and beach barbecues.

"These networking events provide an opportunity to meet the people that make up the chapter," says Ferullo. Social events like the "Spring Break Party" are another opportunity for members to promote their services in a more relaxed environment.

Looking Ahead

As with most membership-based organizations, growing the number of members is a key goal for CAI-NJ. "There are over 6,000 common-interest communities in New Jersey," Macysyn says. "We may only have 10 percent of those people as members. Our ability to grow in this area is obvious. There are more common-interest communities all the time, especially in New Jersey. It's a common lifestyle choice."

While Macysyn hopes that growing numbers of cooperative-living individuals means a stronger chapter, he also recognizes the dangers that come with such rapid growth—and he's confident that CAI-NJ can help, maybe even creating a stronger management profession in the process.

"An industry faces challenges with growth like that. You worry about having enough managers to handle all of it. CAI is poised to help by training people from other industries to be great managers. We're undertaking a pro-active networking campaign to make "community manager" a more legitimate career path. Right now, a lot of people are just stumbling onto it." The CAI-NJ offers what they call the "Professional Management Development Program," a training course with subsets and certifications to give future managers a solid foundation. "It creates a higher level of professionalism," says Macysyn, "and attracts people to the career."

Accrediting individuals in the management profession (both new and experienced) is one of Macysyn's main goals in the upcoming years. "I want 100 percent of our managers to hold PCAM designations, for example. In my line of work, only about 22 percent of people are Certified Association Executives. That means 80 percent aren't, and the numbers are about the same at the community management levels." Macysyn (and CAI at large) feel individuals with proper training and certification are more likely to contribute effectively to their association.

In addition to growing the management training programs, both Ferullo and Macysyn would like to see the New Jersey chapter focus its efforts on getting a clear snapshot of its member base. "I'd like to do more online surveying," Macysyn says. "One thing that's hard to relate to the media is that the large portion of people who live in communities are content with their lifestyle. There are more people who are content than there are people who are not, but typically, you only hear about the problem cases - like when a resident wants to paint their door purple, gets vetoed and then goes to the press. Without hard data, it's difficult to relate that most people are perfectly happy with their cooperative living situations. We want to represent that silent majority and statistics would help a great deal."

Ferullo points out that educational programs and attendance can always be improved. "Educational programs are as good as the people presenting and the attendance," he says. To wit, Ferullo hopes that in the future, more and more homeowners will become more involved. Whether that's offering more programs or events, we're not sure. But we'll be focusing on it." Ferullo notes that a lowering of the membership fee implemented within the last two years has helped increase membership. Fees are currently $85 for a homeowner and around $450 for a business partner.

In Ferullo's opinion, the CAI-NJ is going strong. If members stay involved and utilize the resource, the upcoming years will be bright. "We're so diverse," he says. "If we don't know the answer to your question, we'll find out for you. We're incredibly well connected with other chapters and with CAI on the national level. If you've got a question, we'll get the answer." The current president also believes that of all the CAI chapters out there, New Jersey's future may be the brightest.

"I do believe our chapter is number one in terms of innovation," Ferullo says. "It's not that the New Jersey chapter has to be at number one, but in my opinion," he laughs, "we are."

Mary K. Fons is a freelance writer and performance artist living in Chicago, Illinois.

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