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Getting Ahead of the Curve Educational Resources for Boards

Getting Ahead of the Curve

 It's almost a mantra: the more you know, the better off you are—certainly when it comes to doing the job of a condominium or HOA board member.  No matter how enthused and engaged a new board appointee may be, they don't  come to the job knowing everything; and no matter how seasoned a veteran board  member may be, they can always hone their skills and add to their knowledge. To  help all board members do their job better, there are an array of educational  resources and opportunities throughout the region.  

 Do-it-Yourself Education

 While many condo boards in the Chicagoland area make a point of orienting and  offering guidance to newly elected board members, by law, there’s no certification necessary in Illinois when someone new is elected to a board.  Unlike property managers, who are required by the state of Illinois to be  licensed by October 1 of this year, condo and HOA board members are not  required to attend training sessions upon taking their position.  

 “Some boards struggle to find people to fill the positions and are thrilled just  to have someone volunteer,” says Cheryl Murphy, chapter executive director for CAI-IL. “There are several organizations in the area that offer education for board  members.”  

 “Although legally and technically there is no law, some states like Florida are  working toward requiring board members to get certified via some classes in  order to serve on a board,” says Christine Evans of Vanguard Community Management in Schaumburg. “Many of the larger management companies offer board member training, and I fully  support this.”  

 Of course, experienced boards understand the value of education, and will  encourage new board members to educate themselves. Some boards even budget for  this education by including a line item for membership in an association like  CAI-IL. The Association of Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners Associations  (ACTHA) is another organization that offers resources for board members. ACTHA  recently held its fall expo in Tinley Park on September 29 with seminars  related to foreclosures, pets, board operations and insurance issues.  

 There is a lot a new board member needs to know if he or she wants to do the job  right. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations with educational and  professional programs designed for both veteran directors and newcomers to help  guide someone through the process.  

 “There is not a standardized training program but there are several types of  courses that various groups such as CAI and ACTHA offer,” says Keith J. Hales, president Hales Property Management, Inc. in Chicago. “Additionally, private companies such as Association Advocates and other schools  offer some board member training especially for new board members.”  

 Associa companies offer a basic orientation online for its board members and  often attorneys and CPA’s do training seminars.  

 “Being a board member is a serious task and I would encourage every board member  and prospective board member attend as many classes and seminars as possible in  order to understand their duties,” Evans says. “There is truly a limitless list of topics on which the established board members  can be educated.”  

 Help is Out There

 There are a wide variety of classes and educational events offered for board  members who wish to learn more to better serve their communities—many of them free of charge. There are a wide variety of resources available to  directors who wish to learn more to better serve their communities—many of them free of charge.  

 Of course, The Chicagoland Cooperator is an excellent—and free!—source of information on a wide variety of issues of concern to boards and  residents, including law and legislation, energy conservation, insurance, and  board operations, just to name a handful. There's also the upcoming Chicagoland Cooperator's annual Condo, HOA & Co-op Expo, being held this year at the Navy Pier Convention Center in Chicago  on Wednesday, November 14th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  

 Like The Chicagoland Cooperator itself, admission to the Expo is free—but the information and educational opportunities offered within are invaluable.  With nearly 200 exhibitor booths, a full day of educational seminars for board  members and owners, and advice booths staffed by industry professionals—all for free—the Expo is a one-stop educational bonanza for the greater Chicago area's  residential real estate community. For more information on who is exhibiting at  the show, to sign up as an exhibitor, or to register for the event, go to  www.chicagocondoexpo.com.  

 For her part, Murphy says that CAI chapters in other states have successfully  implemented a board member distinction program, which encourages and recognizes  board members for the education they attend and offers a suggested education  track for them.  

 “The Illinois Chapter of CAI is looking into such a program,” she says. “Until then, new and veteran board members may attend a number of programs CAI  offers specifically for board members. Some of these programs are held at our  annual Conference & Exposition in February and others are held as presentations or Homeowner Forum ‘panel of experts’ question and answer sessions throughout the year. These programs all offer free  or inexpensive access to valuable information.”  

 In an effort to educate boards, Hales Property Management will soon be teaming  up with Jeremy Kreger from Stahl Cowen Crowley Addis, LLC as well as many  alderman offices to provide training to various board members within respective  City of Chicago wards to help educate boards.  

 “There is a direct link between the strength/education of board members and  overall value of buildings,” Hales says. “The more education that board members spend to educate themselves will result in  a higher values on the condominiums in their building.”  

 There are numerous seminars held periodically for the clients of particular  management companies by those management companies and numerous educational  opportunities at the trade shows and in between shows, sponsored by attorneys,  CPA’s, contractors, and the trade associations.  

 Popular topics include Budgeting, Reserves, Association Administration (meeting  minutes, meeting notices and annual meetings), Association Law, Accounting  Principles, Dealing with Apathy, Dealing with Difficult People, Pets, Parking,  Noise, Rentals, Foreclosures and Rules in General.  

 “Good managers are well versed in all these topics and coach their boards as the  matters arise,” Evans says. “They advise and recommend and attempt to enlighten their board members.  Unfortunately, too often board members decide not to heed the advice that a  manager offers. Often they need to hear it from an attorney or other  professional before they become believers.”  

 Tips for Newbies

 For those taking a new seat on the board, it’s advisable to take things slow and not think you know everything right away.  

 “Board members need to keep in mind that they should be making decisions based on  the best interest of the whole condo association and not have personal agendas,” Hales says. “All too often, we are brought into sticky situations when a board member appears  to be making decisions based on their own personal interests.”  

 An example of this is when a board member amended a rule to forbid children to  play in common areas—apparently in an effort to single out the one family in the small complex who  had kids. The family subsequently filed a discrimination complaint with HUD  resulting in thousands of dollars in legal bills for the association.  

 “This could have easily been resolved by first consulting with management or a  legal resource,” Hales says. “We frequently send any updates associated with Illinois condo law, filings,  requirements, etc. to boards to help board members stay on top of these  changes.” Unfortunately, all too often board members decide not to heed the advice  offered by their management. Often they need to hear it from an attorney or  other professionals before they become believers.  

 Evans says the best advice she can give to new board members is to read all  association documents.  

 “Read the appropriate state statutes for your association and mark up your copy  with the items that routinely pop up for ease of referring back to them,” she says. “Make quick reference documents for your board’s use for subjects that pop up routinely, such as what is the quorum requirement  for annual meetings? What is the late fee and late date for assessments? Who is  responsible for which property components?”  

 The Role of a Manager

 Many management companies offer educational courses for directors and they  encourage their boards to attend them. In addition to new board members,  property managers should also stay current with their education and  professional development.  

 “Make sure your company promotes education of managers, has managers with  designations, is an accredited management company, and is well-versed overall  in the laws that govern associations,” Evans says. “While it is sometimes wise to shop at Walmart, it’s not always the best choice—don’t make your management decisions based solely on price.”  

 Property managers can also have a hand in helping board members by attending  quality training programs themselves to make sure they are current on the  latest industry topics.  

 “An educated property manager is better equipped to answer questions and solve  problems on behalf of the board member,” Murphy says. “CAI-IL offers seminars, webinars, and legal forums to help property managers  keep current and earn continuing education credits for their CAI designations.”  

 CAI National also offers extensive education for managers wishing to pursue an  industry designation. In addition to classes and materials, more and more  directors are using social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and  Google+ to find answers to their association issues and/or to find like-minded  individuals serving these functions throughout the country.  

 Final Thoughts

 In addition to attending seminars and legal forums, new board members should try  to network as much as possible and meet board members from other communities to  learn what they are doing. Experts also say to cultivate your resources and  establish relationships with service professionals from a number of different  companies and different industries. The more people that a new board member can  meet and learn from, the better off they will be.   

 Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland  Cooperator.

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