Monday, 13 July 2015 21:30

May 2015 Quorum reducedMy article, Self Service, Customer Service, and Community Service was featured in the May, 2015 issue of Quorum Magazine, the magazine of the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the Community Associations Institute, which focused on Customer Service. (You have to be a WMCCAI member to log in and download the issue.)

When I was asked to write this article about customer service, with respect to board expectations of management and owners expectations of the board, I immediately realized that disconnects in expectations with regard to customer service lie at the root of many of the problems in the community association world. Who exactly is the customer, and who is supposed to be serving that customer? What expectations do these customers have?

I shared some true stories to illustrate the disconnects, and presented the relationships as they ideally should operate.

Achieving excellence in the Community Service model requires partnering.  Ultimately, the vote of ONE person on a board may tip a critical board decision affecting all owners for years!  The management companies operate within the terms of their contracts and their commitment to a perceived level of service. I challenge boards and management companies to provide a greater level of excellence, to:

  • Improve the condition and value of the property over the longer term
  • Raise the quality of live at the property, through education, communication, and better customer service
  • Improve the financial soundness of the association for the long haul.

This requires breaking out of the box of business as usual, to include consideration of partnering and commitment of the board and management to shared goals, improved training, and improved communication across diverse groups.  One of the reasons why our community has been successful is that its board cares. Let's discuss how to expect and achieve more!

 My prior articles in Quorum include:

  • June, 2014, A Wonderful State of Being, reviewing the 2013 Community Association of the Year winners
  • July, 2011, Hard Work Rewarded, when we were recognized as 2010 Community Association of the Year winner

In addition, I was introduced in the January 2015 issue as a new member of the WMCCAI Board of Directors.

Monday, 13 July 2015 20:38

The Foundation for Community Association Research (FCAR) has contributed valuable research and analysis on community association issues and trends for 40 years.

The Foundation recently produced a video celebrating excellent work done by community association leaders. Dorothy Firsching, president of the board of directors of Talltree South, and Mindy Culver, vice president, appeared in the video. Watch it below!


Foundation - Board Service Video from Community Associations Institute on Vimeo.

Dorothy and Mindy were also featured in a promo for the Community Association Institute's new board member education course. See below!

The Board Leadership Development Workshop - Promo from Community Associations Institute on Vimeo.

Sunday, 10 August 2014 00:00

I was recently appointed to the Foundation for Community Association Research's (FCAR) Research Committee for the 2014-2015 term, that is, July 1, 2014 through June 30,2015.

The FCAR Research Committee encourages and actively supports academic research for common interest communities by seeking out timely research projects, as well as developing sources for research in the common interest industry.

This appointment should be fascinating.  I am really looking forward to it.

Saturday, 26 October 2013 17:06

I have recently been impressed with how well our condominium association is running. We have come so far.

I once again have had time to get back to going through the old file boxes, and have discovered more about the bad times the association went through.  It is a rare chance to be an original owner and be able to see the big picture of the evolution of a community from conversion to condo in 1978 to the present -- to see that it went through two dark periods and three good periods during that time, and look at the factors that caused these situations.

One of the products of this effort is that I have begun to write up the stories and reach out to other award-winning associations for their stories, and I am in the process of building a website to reveal these to a broader audience.  If this excites you, please let me know!

Thursday, 07 July 2011 17:35

My article was just published in the July 2011  issue of Quorum Magazine, of the Metropolitan Washington Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (WMCCAI), under the title Hard Work -- Rewarded.

This article detailed the accomplishments that landed us the "Most Improved" condo association through application of CAI guidelines. I don't think I can repeat it here but I will provide a link if I can find it online.

The cycles are amazing - history has already repeated itself more than once.  So much is at stake, dependent upon a mix of volunteer efforts, overworked managers,misguided agendas, ignorance and apathy.  People buy condos so that they don't have to mow the lawn, but if they don't pay attention, the condominium concept puts their investment and home at risk. How well does it work? Stay tuned. I've submitted another article and have a history of Talltree South in progress.

Friday, 17 June 2011 17:37

I am thrilled to report that I've found numerous people who remember Talltree South in the early days, and actually have uncovered a stash of records in the shed. None too soon -- the bottom boxes were damp and falling apart, the rubber bands brittle and stuck to the pages, many of which were yellow and fading.

I have talked with Chele Brown, Hugo Brandts, Bob Hennessee, and others.  In so many cases, a single person determines the path of the condo for everyone in the association, because a five person board may vote 3 to 2 to make momentous decisions.  I have found that Talltree South has had THREE rocky periods, and at least THREE periods of great management.  History has already repeated itself.

This has convinced me that the STORIES need to be told. I believe that owners will enjoy and learn from stories even more than from admonishments to get involved. Today, the few determine the nature of the environment where the rest reside. Will those few make it a better place, allow it to deteriorate, or make truly awful, uninformed decisions (even if well-intentioned)?  Will they fade away, be missing in action, or get sued? Will be boards be autocratic or humane?

As a really nice note, one Talltree South board from the past had an older woman put spray snow on her windows rather than the obligatory curtains. The board members talked with her and realized that she did it because she could not afford much. They took up a collection from the owners attending the board meeting and used it to buy her the curtains. I can tell you that today's boards would be more likely to enforce the covenants with due process: notices, a hearing, and perhaps a fine.  

How did this play out in the real estate crisis?  A bank, in its infinite wisdom, "secured" a Talltree South condo unit by turning off its heat, which caused the pipes to freeze and destroyed the unit and damaged neighboring units with a huge flood -- not even realizing that the heat was included in the condo fees, which had to be paid anyway, so they were not saving themselves any money anyway. They even had changed the locks, so the condo management had to break a window to get in, to deal with the flood.

The stories are so compelling!  The history of Talltree South from the early days to the present becomes a case study with lessons for all condo owners and managers (not to mention being a fantastic read for those of us who live or lived there). I need your memories, records, and old photos, though!  And, does anyone know how to reach Tom Kennedy, Bernard Manning, or the Seven D's?

I will continue to post progress. Call me and I'll fill your ear...

By the way, we are still urgently looking for a new site manager to start next month!!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 17:38

I have decided that, having been associated with Talltree South, Maplewood Village, and what is now known as the MapleTree Pool in some way for so many years, it is now time to record some of its history and stories. I have begun writing our stories and reaching out to other people.

The stories we have are so rich and interesting, from buying a fledgling condo from developers, through changing demographics and various boards and management companies, through the real estate crisis, and beyond.

There are original owners of Talltree South who may be contacted, and others who came in the 1980s, the 1990s and pre-real-estate-crisis, those that bought in the price run-up, and those who came in more recently and picked up the pieces. It looks as if about half of those who bought at the top are now gone.These figures are not entirely complete but they begin to illustrate some of the trends we have been seeing.

I've started writing and calling people. I've also begun to reach out beyond Talltree South to the other Fairfax Heritage developments. We might also want to pull together the various communities to share stories and best practices, sometime along the way. If you can help, please let me know. Talltree South is Fairfax Heritage X Condominium. Maplewood is IX. They all were built in the 1961 - 1964 timeframe and converted to condos in the late 1970s. What are they like today?


Tuesday, 10 May 2011 17:39

I heard tonight that the kids in the neighborhood were watching the swimming pool being filled and had apparently read our newsletter (or been read to) -- they knew that more new things were coming and that the pool would have an ice cream social in June! Rick Balzhiser told me that about 10 kids were gathered there this evening.

They had said that the pool was getting better and better! That's great to hear, since we have been working so hard... I'm pleased to report that the pool sign reading "MapleTree Pool" was installed this morning, giving the pool an identity for the first time ever since it was built back in the 1960s.  The sign looks great! I will have to get a photo sometime soon (it was too dark tonight without a flash).

And this, from a pool that was threatened with closure not too many years ago. It is gratifying to hear. Way to go!

Friday, 06 May 2011 17:41

The Annandale Blogspot picked up the Talltree South News!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Talltree South condos honored for excellence in governance

TalltreeTheTalltree South Condominium of Annandale was honored by the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) as the 2010 “Medium Association of the Year.”

The award, presented at the institute’s conference and expo in March, recognizes communities that demonstrate excellence in all facets of association operations and governance. The CAI awards are based on size, and Talltree South, with 150 garden-style units, fits into the medium category.

Located on Americana Drive, just inside the beltway, Talltree South is a diverse, multilingual community. The development was originally an apartment complex and was converted to condominiums in 1977.

In the application for the CAI award, Talltree South board President Dorothy Firsching says the condo association “stands out as ‘most improved’ through implementation of CAI guidelines.”

Two years ago, new board members were elected after an extensive campaign for change. Since then, the condo association hired a full-service management company, Cardinal Management Group. The association joined CAI, and board members attended CAI classes and events.

Among other improvements cited by Firsching, the Talltree South board:
  • upgraded its investment plan;
  • created a quarterly newsletter, including a version in Spanish;
  • developed a handbook for owners and residents for the first time in more than 20 years, also translated into Spanish;
  • developed a website;
  • synchronized enforcement practice with formal association rules;
  • formalized vendor contracts;
  • performed maintenance neglected for years and began to address expensive drainage and water infiltration issues, including excavation and construction of drains and swales;
  • established committees, including a gardening committee and an informal group of translators;
  • made significant progress in control of delinquencies; and
  • updated the community’s bylaws.
All these improvements were accomplished without an increase in condo fees for three years, Firsching says, “making our fees more competitive with similar communities.”
Tuesday, 18 January 2011 17:42

WMCCAI logoI recently received the following great news. I had submitted the application last fall, but never expected to win.  There are a lot of medium-sized condo associations in the Washington, DC Metro Area.  Our board has accomplished a great deal in these past few years!  (Some day, we will have to write a book about it! Never a dull moment! In any case, come to the CAI conference and hear what we have to say about it.)

"Congratulations—Talltree South Condominium Association is Washington Metropolitan Chapter Community Associations Institute's 2010 Medium Association of the Year!

The awards will be presented and the real pomp and circumstance will take place at our Conference & Expo on Saturday, March 12, 2011. At the Conference & Expo we will not only present your award but a representative of your community will have the opportunity to speak about Talltree South Condominium Association's successes during an educational seminar titled, "Proven Best Practices for Community Associations: Hear it from the Winners!"

These are just a few of the benefits of this award! Jennifer Jones, communications manager, will be in touch with further details in the near future.

On behalf of Washington Metropolitan Chapter Community Associations Institute I'd like to congratulate you and thank you for your commitment to providing better living through community associations!

Thank You,

Sarah A. Patterson, Executive Director
Washington Metropolitan Chapter Community Associations Institute
7600 Leesburg Pike, Suite 100 West
Falls Church, VA 22043

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