After the long, cold, unpleasant winter, denizens of the tri-state area want nothing more than to bask in the long-dormant sun. Co-op, condo and HOA boards cannot, however, in good faith ignore the legwork that follows a seasonal transition. Certain amenities—from barbecues and outdoor common areas to tennis courts and swimming pools—must be prepared for use in the warmer months. Ignoring these leisurely accoutrements can lead to irate residents come Memorial Day.
Given that outdoor amenities in New Jersey are not exclusive to any particular areas or neighborhoods, as Gary Wilkin, president of The Wilkin Group, a management firm with offices throughout the state, explains, associations statewide need to be primed for seasonal shifts. Even those communities that don't have pools or tennis courts to worry about are still likely to have landscaping to be done, entrance-ways to clean and pet walking areas to concern themselves with, according to Wilkin. Regardless of a community’s specifics, high winds, snow, ice and general cold can take a toll on outdoor amenities. With careful planning and light work year-round, an association can avoid a painful overhaul when preparing for spring.
If there’s an underlying truth about New Jersey winters, it’s that after the snow melts, everything will be filthy, and some equipment may even need repairing. “With the winter that we just had here in the Northeast, discussions should have already begun for landscaping and/or property damage from the snow and ice,” says Wilkin. Because of the long winter, there will be a late start to some spring cleaning, and thus identifying landscape damage will occur later than normal. “It is a good idea to put landscapers on notice as soon as the weather and grounds permit.”
In general, says Charles Incandela, executive director of management and client services with Alexander Wolf & Company—with offices in Manhattan and Plainview, New York-—spring cleaning falls to either contractors or on-site staff, depending on the nature of the property and the job at hand. Incandela recommends that management work with at least a four-month lead time in regard to lining up vendors when outside help is required. Contracts need to be in place and timetables need to be set to chart performance well in advance so everything can be open by May.
Jay Cohen manages a vast array of properties for his company A. Michael Tyler Realty Corp., and as director of operations, he advocates a spring cleaning that involves washing windows and any other glass surfaces, readying any sprinkler systems to ensure that greenery is properly watered as the weather turns, and pruning or gardening where necessary to make sure that everything is aesthetically pleasing. “At the end of March or early April, we know that we have to start up the sprinkler system, so we ensure that the heads are working, and that there are no leaks,” says Cohen.
Other amenities must be catered to as well. Rooftop BBQ areas must be cleaned and power washed, which involves removing any furniture (table-tops, chairs, umbrellas, etc.) from the premises, and cleaning those, too. And the stoves themselves have to be spotless, lest residents receive an unhealthy surprise come time to fire up the grill.
Both Incandela and Cohen indicate it's management companies that usually take the reins when prepping co-ops, condos and HOAs for spring. “It’s not [board members’] full-time job,” Cohen says, “so they might not be aware of everything that needs to go into a spring clean-up. Some long-time members are on top of things, but—for the most part—people don’t understand that every year there is a litany of things that must be done, and they pay us to stay on top of it.”
While all three managers express the urgency of starting all projects at least four months in front of their respective end dates, Incandela indicates that plans begin as early as the previous autumn. “Everything that we’re doing for spring, we discussed prior to last Thanksgiving,” he explains. “We start in-house, and then send our proposed plans to board members for review. They get back to us with any comments, questions or concerns, and then the management team sits down and reviews everything. From time to time, we’ll contact an engineer if we need assistance, or if we just feel that it’s time for a courtesy review, that gets put into the plan and budgeted. At 80 percent of our properties, the budgets have been approved since October of the year before, so we know where the money’s going and everything is appropriately targeted.”
Having a firm checklist to consult year after year can help expedite the preparation process, but managers must be ready to handle unforeseen circumstances, as well. Different properties require different procedures… a uniform list won’t hold. To give but a few examples, Wilkin notes that townhouses may require discussions of spring color or the dewinterizing of clubhouses, while other properties might need concern themselves more with breezeways or sidewalks. Every association must be aware of its unique attributes and subsequently be prepared to take care of them.
Playgrounds, pools, or tennis courts—it can sometimes feel as if the amenities that promise the most fun can also represent the biggest hassle—at least when it comes to getting them up and running for busy season. There are tips that help minimize an association’s frustration come time for leisure preparation, however.
Incandela explains that, in regard to tennis courts, maintenance needs to start around the second week of April. Windscreens and nets must be installed and cleaned, and floors need to be inspected and washed; thorough inspection in the fall can help minimize efforts come late winter.
Once those tasks are complete, attention shifts to the swimming pool, which requires more care, yet. Incandela says he deals with a wide variety of pool configurations within his properties, from a single Olympic-sized to a combination child/adult pool to multiple large pools that require lifeguards and additional staffing. Depending on the amount of necessary personnel, a pool management company may be hired to handle the day-to-day. In smaller communities, management will hire lifeguards and handle preparation. Incandela notes that, in his company, “Half of our managers are licensed pool operators—myself included—so we’re doing our own inspections to make sure that everything is in good working order.”
Watch Out Now
As with any procedure that involves long-term communication between several groups, things get lost in the shuffle. Cohen, Incandela and Wilkin all have spotted avoidable mistakes over the years that boards and management alike should understand in order to have their properties in working order come May.
Cohen points out the less glamorous side of condo and amenity preparation: “People often assume that they don’t have to touch pumps and motors…things that are working all the time,” he says. But they need to tuned up, oiled and lubricated. Sometimes, people will forget to clean their boilers…not realizing that they accumulate soot. This is especially important with an oil burner, which should receive a major cleaning at least four times per year, with minor cleaning monthly. Gas burners need to be cleaned once annually. Finally, people forget to check roof drains every week. Next thing they know, they’re clogged, and there are leaks from overflows.”
Incandela observes that many of the most inconvenient slights are not made during spring prep…but during fall. “A lot of communities will get near spring and start to open up their pools, only to realize that they’re in bad shape and need to be marble dusted,” he says. Now they’re not opening on time, often because no one did an inspection upon closing last year before the pool was covered. Or in the case of a tennis court, they’ll fail to take the windscreens down on time so they’re not damaged. You make a $100,000 investment for windscreens for a tennis court, you need to take them down in the fall before the wind starts howling and it gets cold and they shrink and get torn. Little things like these can add up.”
“Owners feel they pay good money in the form of monthly maintenance fees,” says Wilkin, “and they expect the services and common areas to be maintained and ready to go come the season.”
When it comes to readying a co-op, condo or HOA for spring—arguably the best time to enjoy living in such a communal environment—the old adage holds: a stitch in time saves nine. By having an effective checklist and a willingness to explore (and predict) new issues, an association or management company can have amenities in full operation before the masses get restless. As with many other aspects of communal management, a combination of good communication, observation and preemptive action can work wonders on meeting the lovely new weather with open arms.
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer for The New Jersey Cooperator. Freelance writer Anne Childers contributed to this article.