The Ups and Downs of Board Presidency Hail to the Chief

The Ups and Downs of Board Presidency

It's a job that eats away at your free time, often results in you being bothered in your home after-hours and on weekends, and to top it off, doesn't pay one red cent. In fact, add up expenses like phone calls and gas, and you might even lose money on the deal. Interested?

No? Indeed—given all that, why would anybody want to be the president of their homeowners association?

The short answer is that people feel a need, a call to action if you will, to improve their properties, sometimes in regard to a specific issue, sometimes in a more general way.

"You need a desire to enhance your community, to make it better, to improve the quality of living in the community," says Mary Ann Rossotto, board president of Bold Oaks, one of the villages in Raintree in Freehold. "And to make it a better place for everyone to come home to."

"I think the first you need is patience," says Stewart Bruder, board president at Beau Ridge in Holmdel, a community of single-family structures that operates like a condo. "You get a lot of angry homeowners who vent their frustrations on the board sometimes—or specifically on the president. Things like understanding the issues and having a firm understanding of the contractors you use really helps. When you have the right answers, you feel good when you give residents a response."

Getting Things Done

Rossotto says the key benefit of being a board president is getting results. When asked what the best part of the job is, she says its "Watching people benefit from your accomplishments. The accomplishments—that's the best part of the job. What you've accomplished for the community."

Bruder wanted the job in order to tackle some very specific issues. One had to do with the community's property manager.

"Prior to my taking over as president, we had some serious issues related to a poor property manager," he says. "So, my main reason for getting involved was that I wanted to be instrumental in making a change in the property manager, which is basically the first thing I did."

The next big issue he took on involved artificial stucco that was used in the construction of some of the community's homes. The stucco resulted in moisture problems and leaks, as well as deteriorated wood. The problems led to several lawsuits from homeowners—all but one of which have since been settled.

The problems from the artificial stucco led to the third reason Bruder wanted to become Beau Ridge's board president. He says the stucco had to be torn down from 130 homes, and a new drainage system had to be installed. That project, which resulted in a special assessment, started a few months ago, and will likely take a few years to complete. For Bruder, it's an example of rolling up your sleeves and making some tough decisions.

"No one wanted to make an assessment, and no one wanted to tear off the [artificial stucco]," he says. "It was a matter of, if we didn't fix it now our costs five years from now would be exponentially higher. We could have stuck our heads in the sand and hoped things would get better—but I knew in my heart it was just going to get worse. We went forward with it, and it's working out."

Bruder adds that for the most part, residents have been understanding. He's also confident that Beau Ridge's property values will grow even if the market declines, since realtors were staying away from the community because of the problems with the artificial stucco.

"Now that it's out in the open, values are holding up quite well," he says.

Bruder owns his own business and calls himself a fiscal conservative. So another goal was to treat Beau Ridge's money as his own. He says the association has saved money by renegotiating contracts, such as landscaping, and by changing property managers.

"We're saving money, because [our current property manager isn't] on-site, but what we're getting now is a fully staffed company. They've done a tremendous job, and they're fully staffed and they handle everything well," he says. "So we've made tremendous strides in improving our cash flow and in communications. Overall I think Beau Ridge is a lot better off for it."

Being a People Person

For Rossotto, the decision to accepting her board's presidency came in part because she says she has the right personality for the job.

"I have a love of people," she says. "I'm very good with people, and I have a great knowledge, from my father, of concrete and building work. I take that with me, as well as my knowledge. It helps me and has guided me a little bit. You learn how to compare apples to apples and the price ranges of things and what should be and what shouldn't be."

Learning how associations work is also key to the job. Rossotto is not only the board president at Bold Oaks—she's also the treasurer for Raintree, in which Bold Oaks is one village. Since becoming a board member, she has also become a property manager herself.

Rossotto says she had little knowledge of HOAs before she joined the board. She's gained knowledge through her work and through the Community Associations Institute (CAI), as well as trade publications and seminars. "There are a lot of open doors available that can help you better the community," she says.

Bruder says he reads the trades and talks to other boards at times. For example, during Beau Ridge's artificial stucco mediation, he talked to another president who went through a similar situation.

You Take the Good…and the Bad

If the upside of being a board president is doing things that make your community better, and that improve residents' way of life, the downside is that the job can often result in getting contacted by homeowners with issues that don't fall within the responsibilities of the job.

"If you're doing a power washing and painting project and it's taking longer than a person thinks it should, they'll call you and say, 'Why is it taking so long?'" Rossotto says. "Or they'll ask, 'Why am I getting a letter that my roof has to be done? Do other roofs have to be done?' 'Why is my driveway always cleared last?' It's little stuff, but you have to answer it."

"When people know you're on the board, you may get some questions and inquiries, but when you're the president, I think they come to you thinking you're going to be the ultimate authority in solving a problem," Bruder says. "Sometimes, if they don't get a satisfactory answer or quick enough answer from the management company, they come to me, and I don't mind helping out on legitimate issues."

Juggling Act

Obviously being a board president is time-consuming, more so than being a "regular" board member. Bruder says he deals with the management company more often than other members.

"Our management company runs everything that they think needs board input past me," he says. "I try to make all decisions through the board, but there are certain decisions that if they make good business sense, I tell the board, 'This is what we're doing.' The management company has been very good about running stuff past us."

There's more to Bruder's life than being Beau Ridge's board president. He runs his own business and has a family. One way he manages his time is by using e-mail for board president-related issues as often as he can because it allows him to work at his own pace and provides a written record of what he's communicating.

Few properties seem to have term limits for board presidents, and some presidents see it as a long-term job, while others want their tenure to be limited. Bruder is serving his second two-year term and says he has certain goals in mind that he'd like to accomplish, then plans to step down.

"You have to be hands-on to know what's going on day-to-day, so I've taken that on," he says. "I do intend on passing the baton as soon as I can—and I predict in another year, I'll do that."

And does he have any advice he'll pass on to his successor?

"My advice is that it's strictly business—don't let it eat at you," Bruder says. "Because if you let it get the better of you, you'll have many sleepless nights, which I had at the beginning. It just took some seasoning to learn not to take things personally and not to let it bother you. Because in most instances, it's not life-and-death situations. It just takes some patience."

Anthony Stoeckert is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.

Related Articles

Board Packages & Interviews

Board Packages & Interviews

The Good, the Bad, & the Illegal

International airport terminal. Asian beautiful woman with luggage and walking in airport

When Residents Are Away

Managing the Challenges of Empty Units

Human hand hold banner, placard with word Yes, No. Test question, choice, dispute, vote concept

The Board Approval Process

Staying On the Right Side of the Law