In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
A successful, experienced agent is thinking about running for an open seat on her condominium board, with an expectation of improved visibility and business if elected. What direction can her broker give to provide a full and clear understanding of the responsibilities of a board member?
I have lived in my condominium for nearly seven years, with little thought given to the direction and activities of our board. Honestly, I try to leave all that business to the “condo commandos” who don’t work full time and can give these matters their full attention.
My attitude has always been to leave them be, and as long as things are running relatively smoothly with minimum amounts of hassle, that’s good enough for me.
As a busy agent, one thing I did notice was the steady and reliable flow of business enjoyed by the board member who is also a Realtor, and who also happens to be stepping down from the association next month.
While this condo is not exactly my territory, I was always a bit jealous that she was considered the “in-house maven,” which seemingly entitled her to easy referrals from our neighbors.
Now that the seat is opening, a loud voice in my head is asking, “Why can’t that be me?” I’m every bit as experienced and popular as this retiring board member, and a visible platform in front of all my neighbors is likely to get those referrals shifted in my direction.
I realize that serving as a condo board member is no picnic, but really, how bad can it be? Wouldn’t the headaches be more than offset by the steady flow of business?
Many of my agents have served on their condo and homeowners association boards over the years with decidedly mixed reviews about their experiences.
If there is one unanimous message from this pool of colleagues that applies to this situation, it would be for the agent to truly and clearly understand everything that comes with the position, and be willing to commit to whatever time and efforts the position entails.
My agent is correct about the inherent business opportunities that come with being a real estate professional on a residential board. Neighbors who come to know and respect her will definitely become inclined to recommend her to friends and colleagues, and over time, she may establish clear, unquestioned supremacy in her particular building. There is certainly value in having that prestige.
But “no picnic” is a major understatement about the time and privacy demands that come with board service, and if this agent is not careful, she may wind up working for the condo instead of working in it.
While she may personally have a laissez faire attitude about association business as a resident, many neighbors take these matters incredibly seriously. Consider how this agent refers to the board members as “condo commandos.”
Many residents resent the individuals who serve on the board rather than appreciating their unpaid service. They will scrutinize, question and resist any decision by the board, and feel entitled to discuss it with her in passing, in public areas, through calls, texts and emails, and even by simply knocking on her door at all hours.
For many, board service means being subjected to repeated no-win situations. Every decision will annoy and alienate scores of neighbors, many of whom don’t even take the time or trouble to attend meetings so they can fully understand the details or reasoning behind the decisions in the first place.
With the current societal propensity to complain loudly and openly, many residents are comfortable airing their grievances about board matters on social media — leading to hours of board members’ time being spent clarifying and appeasing.
Furthermore, because condo board decisions can have major consequences, many directors are advised to purchase insurance out of their own pockets to protect themselves from litigation. (Author’s note: this column is produced in Miami, Florida, not far from the recent tragedy involving the Champlain Towers in Surfside, where board members — many of whom are survivors themselves — are facing the possibility of litigation for decisions that may have had a hand in the collapse.)
Board service isn’t just about making decisions that affect others. It isn’t just about deciding what color to paint the lobby. Board members represent the owners’ best interests. To do that properly, a board member must know the condo’s covenants, rules and regulations, understand the budget and how it was created, and have a solid comprehension of how condominiums work.
Board members should be able to explain why it is critical to fully fund reserves in order to avoid special assessments in the future. (What could happen if the reserves are not fully funded when the building is in urgent need of expensive repairs.) And of course, how poor maintenance for the purposes of keep expenses low will result in decreased property values — for everyone.
In short, board service is an important, demanding, time-consuming, unpaid, thankless job for which members are held seriously accountable.
While board members should be commended for devoting their time and energy to improving and maintaining their communities (and as a Realtor with a background and education in how condos work this agent could be an invaluable asset to her association and the board), she needs to strongly consider if the benefits of this service will truly be worth the costs.
Time is the one thing in life that is truly limited. Altruism aside, if the purpose of joining the board is to increase business, is this the best use of her time?
How to resolve
The final decision must be made by the agent. She may find service rewarding and profitable, but she might also consider alternative options.
Two good suggestions here for the agent in this hypothetical situation: First, rather than running for the board and shouldering all the burdens that come with that responsibility, the agent can offer her services as a part-time/volunteer adviser, particularly with respect to estimating home values. This would give her the platform to showcase her expertise without the aforementioned drawbacks.
Secondly, the agent would do well to connect with the various paid employees of the condo or neighborhood, i.e., doormen, front desk representatives, administrators, coordinators, landscapers, janitors and all manner of property professionals. They are the true “insiders” who know the pulse of a given condo or neighborhood, and are often in better positions to secure referrals.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in Hollywood Beach, Davie, Miramar, North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, and where he leads the activities of more than 190 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year. For three consecutive years (2018, 2019, and 2020), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. Follow Anthony on Instagram.
NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.