Uncollected Assessments: HOA Budgeting for Bad Debt

Uncollected Assessments: HOA Budgeting for Bad Debt

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Budgeting for bad debt is something that associations should consider doing even in the best of times. Saying that associations need only budget for uncollected assessments in a down economy would be as shortsighted as… well, not budgeting for uncollected assessments.

One of the things I let collection clients know right off the bat is that they are not alone.  According to RealtyTrac, 20,960, or 1/33 of all homes in Washington have received a foreclosure notice during the first six months of 2010 (this does not include properties that are already bank-owned).  Considering that associations make up approximately 25% of the total housing market, this means that over 5,200 association lots/units in Washington are subject to bank foreclosure.  If homeowners are having that much difficulty paying their mortgage, it follows that association assessments are going unpaid.  If your association does not have any delinquencies, consider yourself fortunate, but don’t stop reading.  Budgeting for bad debt may increase the amount owners pay each month in the short term, but in the long term helps alleviate the need for special assessments, which can cripple or destroy the finances of the owners and families that make up our communities.

Why Budget for Uncollected Assessments?

Except for a few common denominators like insurance, taxes, and utilities, different associations spend their money on different items for maintenance, services, and the like.  Unless an association has an external revenue stream such as rental income, all of the money that an association uses to pay its expenses comes from the assessment payments from the members that make up the association.  If even one association member’s assessments go unpaid or short-paid, anticipated projects cannot be carried out, the association may have to withdraw from its reserves to pay for operating expenses, and eventually the membership is required to pay special assessments to make up for the loss in revenue.  Condominiums in Washington are “encouraged” to establish a reserve account to fund major maintenance, repair, and replacement of the common elements.  Associations that are not meeting their operating budgets are likely not funding their reserve accounts.  Further, if a condominium association withdraws from its established reserve fund, the Washington Condominium Act requires that the association notify its members in writing and replace the money in the reserve fund within twenty-four months unless replacing the funds would be an unreasonable burden on the owners.  How will an association raise the money to pay back the reserve fund?  By levying a special assessment.

Uncollected Assessment Scenario

Let’s assume a ten-unit condominium association assesses its units an average of $400.00 per month and has an annual budget of $48,000.00.  In Month 1 the owners of one unit run into financial difficulty and stop paying their assessments and mortgage.  At around Month 6, the bank will start foreclosure, and the trustee’s sale will take place sometime between Month 10 and Month 14.  After the trustee’s sale, the unit could sit vacant and on the market for another six months or more.  If the association was formed under the Washington Condominium Act, or if formed under the Horizontal Property Regimes Act and has amended its declaration to provide for lien priority over foreclosing deeds of trust, the association can recover the assessments that became due in the six months before the trustee’s sale from the purchaser.  Assuming someone buys the unit from the bank in Month 20, the bank will pay the association the assessments during the six months before the foreclosure and the assessments through the date the new owner takes title (Months 9-14 plus Months 15-20).  In this scenario, the association suffered a ten percent reduction in revenue for twenty months, only to recover 55% of the total amount owed by that unit. If the association decides against suing the former unit owners and collecting on a judgment, or if the former unit owners file bankruptcy after the foreclosure, that is all the association will ever get.  The remaining 45% of the unit’s share of the common expenses spread out among the remaining nine units is $400.00 per unit.  Had the association a bad debt contingency of 7.5% of the total budget, the monthly assessments for the units would average $430.00 per month, but the members would not have had to come up with an additional $400.00 per unit on short notice so that the association can pay its electricity bill.

Levying Special Assessments

Another important situation where budgeting for uncollected assessements comes up is when there are insufficient funds in reserves and an association takes out a loan from a lender to fund a maintenance project or capital improvement.  An association needs to levy a special assessment to pay back the lender. This will typically allow the owners to either make a lump sum payment of the full special assessment, or pay over the period where the association repays the lender the balance of the loan plus interest.  A bad debt contingency should be included when the association determines the amount of the special assessment.  In these cases, an association should get input from its owners to determine who can afford the special assessment and remain in the property.  If owners are already underwater on their property they may decide to walk away, so the Association will need to make sure that it generates enough income during the life of the bank loan in order to maintain the monthly payments to the lender during the time where one or more unit’s assessments are going unpaid.

How to Budget for Uncollected Assessments

Because all communities are different, there is no set amount or percentage that an association should budget for uncollected assessments.  Instead, an association should consider the following factors when deciding on what amount to budget for bad debt:

  1.  The total amount needed to pay for the operating expenses and fund the reserve the account.  In adopting a budget, associations need to consider how much it will cost to pay the operating expenses and fund a reserve account, plus account for bad debt, and then work backward to determine each unit’s assessment liability, rather than starting with an “acceptable” amount per unit.
  2. The percentage of delinquent units.  Communities with a high percentage of delinquent units should budget a greater amount for bad debt.
  3. The delinquent amount per unit.  The higher the delinquent amount per unit, the less likely it is for the association to recover its expenses.
  4. The amount that can reasonably be collected from the owners.  Associations should consult their attorney to determine the feasibility of collecting delinquent assessments from owners.

Should an association have questions about budgeting for bad debt, it should consult its attorney, CPA, or manager when configuring its budget.  You can find a list of WSCAI member service providers in their Service Provider Directory.  A properly adopted budget that includes a line item for bad debt will protect an association and its members from special assessments that can lead to financial difficulty for an association’s members, and ultimately the association itself.

By William Justyk, Esq.

William Justyk, Esq., is an Attorney with 12+ years experience in real estate transactions, nonprofit corporate law, and civil litigation.

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Strategic Planning for Condos and HOAs

Strategic Planning for Condos and HOAs

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Strategic planning is a systematic planning process involving a number of steps that identify the current status of the association, including its mission, vision for the future, operating values, needs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), goals, prioritized actions and strategies, action plans, and monitoring plans.1

Basics of Strategic Planning

A strategic plan is more than ensuring financial stability and providing for future community maintenance. Every community association needs multi-year strategies, goals, and policies to guide future operational decisions. With a clear and concise strategic plan, your board and other community volunteers will enjoy a roadmap that helps them stay focused on the important tasks and goals that will provide long-term benefits to the community. A strategic plan may also increase volunteerism, enhance relationships and unite community members around common goals and objectives.

Other benefits of a strategic plan:

  • Facilitates progressive advancement of the association’s goals.
  • Exposes factors that may impact resident’s quality of life
  • Reveals the external perception of the community and how it may influence the marketability and value of its homes.

It is important to recognize that even the best strategic plan cannot ensure optimal decisions, anticipate unforeseen events or prevent the impact of an occasional crisis.  However, it may simplify and streamline community association operations and provide the basis for more effective decisions that support the association’s vision and mission.

Strategic Planning and SWOT Analysis

  1. Assess the Association’s Current Status. A great tool that facilitates this effort is SWOT analysis which is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
  2. Strengths. Identify the organization’s internal characteristics that enhance the association’s ability to meet its mission and vision or give it a competitive advantage over other communities. Some examples: location, committed volunteers and access to public amenities.
  3. Weaknesses. List the organization’s internal characteristics that detract from the association’s ability to meet its mission and vision or put it at a competitive disadvantage over other communities. Examples include poorly funded replacement reserves and deferred maintenance.
  4. Opportunities.  Record the internal and external factors that may enable the association to meet its mission and vision. Some examples include technological advances, consolidation of functions and subsidies for community enhancement projects.
  5. Threats. Capture the internal and external factors that may prevent the association from meeting its mission and vision. Some examples include theft, a high foreclosure rate, undesirable municipal projects and new communities in close proximity that may undermine resale prices.

Surveys and Brainstorming

Solicit input from owners early in the planning cycle. A couple of good methods are a community brainstorming session (often synergistic and productive if best practices are observed) and a well-designed community survey. Don’t forget about renters in the community. Their perspective may be different and valuable. Both the budget process and the annual meeting are also excellent opportunities to learn what is important to the community and to encourage owners to get involved in their community by serving on a committee or working on a project where they have interest or expertise—including strategic planning.

It may also be useful and enlightening to solicit input from real estate agents that specialize in your community and other external entities that conduct informal, de facto assessments of your community. They may be able to identify SWOT factors that are not readily perceivable by owners and residents due to the residents’ intimate relationship with the community. For example, a real estate agent may identify elements of the community that need an update.

Strategic Planning Steps

  1. Develop Vision and Mission Statements. Vision and mission statements are key elements of the completed plan and may be all that is remembered by many owners and residents. Successful organizations use a vision statement to communicate, organize and inspire. A good vision statement is a simple, clear and concise description of what is important to the community.  It should describe the direction, values, and essence of the association in its desired state.

    An association’s mission statement is a statement of the organization’s purpose. An effective mission statement is both memorable and easy to understand.  The most basic mission for a community association is to “maintain, enhance and protect the value of the property.”

  2. Develop and Prioritize Goals. To be effective, your goals must be prioritized and S.M.A.R.T as described below.
    • Specific. The goal is well defined and clear to all who have basic knowledge of the strategic plan.
    • Measurable. Progress toward the goal is measurable and achievement of the goal will be clearly evident.
    • Achievable. The organization has high confidence that the goal is achievable within the agreed upon time constraint.
    • Relevant. The goal must directly advance the mission and vision of the association and must remain relevant once achieved.
    • Time-bound. Allow adequate time to achieve your goal, but not enough time to lose momentum or render the goal irrelevant.
    • Develop Action Plans. Unless a goal is very simple to achieve, an action plan will be necessary to achieve the goal efficiently.
  3. Communicate the Plan. You may be surprised how often this step is overlooked. Many missions and visions are not realized because the plan was not effectively communicated to those directly and indirectly involved in the planning. Community support of the plan is crucial and will attract additional volunteers to help execute the plan.
  4. Budget.
    • First of all, plan
    • Create your budget
    • Finally, allocate budget dollars in support of the plan.
  5. Implement. Work from the bottom up. Execute the action plans that realize your goals that support your mission and vision. If you have many action plans, consider appointing a project manager to employ some basic project management techniques to stay organized and focused.
  6. Monitor Progress.

Cyclical Process

Strategic plans often are forgotten quickly despite the best intentions of all parties, similar to a New Year’s resolution. As a result, they often become “shelfware.” That is, the attractively bound plan is placed on a shelf, seldom if ever to be consulted again.

Strategic planning is a cyclical process. The board should review the plan annually to ensure it remains timely and relevant, regardless of the planning horizon. Volunteer leaders come and go and each has individual priorities. The following may help maintain continuity.

  • Following each annual meeting, conduct a new-to-the-board orientation to brief new directors on the history and current state of the association. Impress upon all directors that they run a privately held multi-million dollar real estate corporation.
  • Schedule a planning retreat for the board shortly after the new-to-the-board orientation. Fresh volunteer leaders often have the highest levels of energy and commitment. Then allocate half a day (outside of a board meeting) during which discussion of current operational issues is forbidden. The focus must be on strategic planning. Broaden your perspective by encouraging non-linear thinking and creativity. Engaging a facilitator to help guide the meeting may be beneficial.
  • Schedule time to review progress each quarter.

Planning Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Focus on routine current issues
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Failing to solicit and incorporate input from the community

After identifying and evaluating the SWOT for your community and setting SMART goals with well defined action plans—all of which support your mission and vision—your community will be well on its way to becoming a well-oiled machine that meets the needs of the owners and other stakeholders in the community. Depending on the size and complexity of your community, a modest investment in strategic planning can return large dividends in the form of satisfied owners and higher property values.

For much more information on strategic planning, refer to Best Practices Report # 3, Strategic Planning published by the Foundation for Community Association Research (http://www.cairf.org/research/bpstrategic.pdf).


[1] “Best Practices Report # 3, Strategic Planning” (Alexandria: Foundation for Community Association Research, 2001), 4.


By David Rossiter

Community Association Manager

David Rossiter is an experienced Community Association Manager with an emphasis in financial management. He has a strong background in business management and many aspects of information technology. David has been a self-employed small business owner since 1994. His specialties include: Community association financial management, condominium association management, homeowner association management, collections management (not an attorney or collection agent). David is an active member of WSCAI.

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Community Associations Countdown to Year-End!

Community Associations Countdown to Year-End!

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The end of the year is approaching and before long we will be setting New Year’s resolutions for 2017. But before that new beginning, we need to wrap up 2016. For associations whose year-end is December 31st, there are financial and tax items that need to be addressed by the board and/or management. Let’s count down the top 10:

[10] IRS Revenue 70-604 Election

This is an annual tax election that must be made by the membership. This is a tax-only election which transfers excess operating fund income to the next year. For most associations, it seldom is actually used in the preparation of the tax return, but it is important to have as it may give the tax preparer options. Additionally, it may provide some protection in case of an IRS audit. Thus, we recommend that the election is made annually. Ask your tax preparer if you are unaware of this election.

Key Points:

  • Membership should make the election.
  • This carries over net membership income to the next year.
  • It does NOT transfer monies to reserves.
  • The determination whether or not to use the election is made at the time of preparation of the tax return.
  • Make the election annually, even though the ruling cannot be used on the tax return two years in a row.
  • The membership election may occur either before or after the subject year end. If after year end, it needs to be done before the extended due date of the tax return.

[9] Approve and Schedule Audit and/or Tax Return Preparation

Determine whether your association is going to have an audit. There are various RCW, governing document and good operating practice requirements. If so, approve the audit proposal and get scheduled with a CPA. The association must file a Federal tax return. This is a unique area of tax law, so make sure that the tax preparer is well-versed in association tax law.  NOTE: for 12/31/16 year-ends, the revised tax return due date is now April 15th – not March 15th.

Key Points:

  • A CPA/auditor is independent of the association.
  • To maintain independence, the CPA/auditor cannot prepare the books, or make accounting and management decisions.
  • An audit is not an internal control. The board is responsible for the internal control system.
  • The CPA/auditor strives to be sure that the financial statements are materially correct and in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles.
  • All associations must have a tax return prepared annually.

[8] Budget Ratification

The budget should be prepared by now. The end of the year (or, sooner) is the time to get the information to the membership.

Key Points:

  • Comply with RCW and association’s governing documents.
  • Use the budget as a tool to explain the current and future financial position of the association to the membership.
  • Ensure that management is making the proper changes to the assessment billings.

[7] Bad Debt Allowance and/or Write-Offs

Review outstanding amounts due from unit owners. Determine a reasonable Allowance for Bad Debts. This is an offset to Accounts Receivable on the Balance Sheet. For any accounts where it has been determined that collection time and cost exceeds the benefit, or for those accounts determined to be uncollectible, the board should document in the meeting minutes the approval to write- off.

Key Points:

  • Be conservative!
  • It is better to have a larger Bad Debt Allowance and not overstate assets.
  • If the monies are collected in a later year, bad debt recovery income is recorded.

[6] Year-end Payroll & Contract Labor

If there any year-end bonuses, be sure and document approval of such. Ensure that all required payroll and independent contractor reports are completed in a timely manner.

Key Points:

  • If there is any concern about whether a person is a vendor (contract labor), consider getting professional advice on the matter.
  • Reconcile year-end payroll reports with the general ledger.

[5] Review Internal Controls

Internal controls are the methods and policies that help ensure the integrity of the financial information.

Review the various internal control and authorization processes that are in place. Consider whether a change is needed anywhere.

Key Points:

  • Ensure that the board has control of all cash accounts.
  • Review check signing and/or withdrawal authorization process for operating and reserve accounts. Update authorized account signers if there have been changes.
  • Document who has authority to make payments, adjust the financial statements, reconcile accounts, write-off account balances, etc. Segregate this authority as reasonably possible.

[4] Due Between Funds

This may be on your monthly Balance Sheet and often represents the amount receivable or payable between the Operating Fund and the Replacement (Reserve) Fund. Occasionally, there are other funds involved, such as a Special Assessment. Understand what this amount represents and why it exists. If amounts are due between funds, these should be reviewed by the board for the proper year end accounting.

Key Points:

  • The board and management should review a reconciliation of the Due Between Funds
  • The board and management should determine whether amounts should be written off and/or repaid, according to RCW, GAAP, and board policy, as appropriate.
  • Board actions/approvals with respect to write off, repayment, or other accounting adjustments should always be documented in the board minutes.

[3] Verification of all Bank Account Balances

Ensure that there are bank statements, printout or other verification of balances for ALL cash accounts as of the end of the year. The board should be receiving and reviewing cash account balances at least quarterly; however, at the end of the year is vital. The auditor needs proof of existence of the cash and verification of the amount.

Key Points:

  • Record year-end interest income before closing out the books
  • Make all other adjustments, such as voiding old, outstanding checks.

[2] Final Review of the Year-End Financial Statements

The board should review the final year-end financial statement and ensure that it appears to be materially complete and accurate. While the board can hire a management company or an onsite manager to assist with the accounting, the board still has a responsibility to understand the financial matters of the association.

Key Points:

  • Each material Balance Sheet account should be backed up with a report and/or other documentation.
  • Variation of income and expense from budget should be discussed and documented.

[1] Close Out the Year

Once the determination has been made that the financial statements are completed for the year, the year-end is considered to be “closed”. While many computerized accounting systems no longer close a prior year and it is possible for adjustments to be made to a previous period, this is not a good practice.

Key Points:

  • Once the year-end financial statement is issued to the board, the prior period should not be adjusted.
  • Once the year-end financial statement has been issued to the auditor, the prior period should not be adjusted.

Close out the old year and start the new! Time flies; the “Class of 2020” has now entered high school! Don’t delay, and make this an important annual procedure for your board and management.

By Gayle Cagianut, CPA

Owner, Cagianut & Company

Gayle Cagianut, CPA is the owner of Cagianut & Company, CPA and has worked in the HOA/Condominium industry for over 30 years.

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I’ll see you out of court! Alternative options for resolving legal disputes

I’ll see you out of court! Alternative options for resolving legal disputes

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Alternative dispute resolution or “ADR” was developed over the last twenty years in an attempt to resolve disputes quicker and cheaper than traditional litigation. ADR has two distinct forms: mediation and arbitration.

Mediation

While some courts require mediation before trial, it is generally undertaken voluntarily. Mediation is always non-binding, meaning the mediator has no power to decide the case. The mediator’s sole role is to try and negotiate a settlement that both parties can live with, though neither party may be particularly happy about.

banner-ad-wscai1Mediators engage in “shuttle diplomacy” between parties, who remain in separate rooms, attempting to broker settlements by discussing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each parties’ case along with the inherent risks and costs of litigation. When mediating, the association (and its attorney) should be prepared to discuss the facts underlying the dispute and articulate why those facts and the related law support its position. Formal presentations are not made, rather, the mediation will be an informal conversation about the case. It is helpful to provide the mediator and opposing party a short 3 to 5 page letter explaining the association’s position prior to the mediation.

Mediators do not take sides in a dispute, rather they will push both sides to try and convince them to move closer to a settlement. This generally involves the mediator discussing why you may lose if you proceed to trial; however, he/she is telling the opposing party the same thing. Mediation often proves successful because it provides a venue where parties feel like they have been “heard”, as well as provides them with an independent analysis of the risks and costs they face in continued litigation.

Associations should consider mediation, in consultation with legal counsel, as a way of avoiding the direct costs (time and money) and secondary impacts (stress, lost productivity, etc.) inherent in litigation.

Arbitration

Unlike mediation, arbitration is generally a binding (i.e. not subject to appeal) dispute resolution process. In an effort to reduce the number of cases, many Washington courts require small monetary disputes ($50,000 or less) to be arbitrated. If not required by a local court, arbitration can be required by the terms of a written contract. Associations will most commonly encounter arbitration clauses in contracts with construction companies and other similar service providers.

While less formal than a trial, arbitration closely resembles one. A panel of between one and three licensed attorneys serves as the arbitrator(s) and presides over the arbitration. Each party presents evidence, questions witnesses, and makes argument to the arbitrator(s), who then make a ruling. If the arbitration was required by a contractual term the panel’s decision is, in most cases, final and binding on the parties, (meaning it is not subject to an appeal). If the arbitration is mandated by a court, the parties can appeal the arbitrator’s decision to the courts.

While originally designed to be a quicker and cheaper alternative to the court system, in practice, arbitrations (especially of more complex matters) tend to take a similar amount of time as a trial and can be more expensive. The primary drawback to arbitration is that the losing party has to pay the cost for the arbitration panel’s fees, which typically range from $300 to $500 per hour, per arbitrator. This fee adds up quickly, especially if you have a long mediation with a panel of arbitrators. Arbitration can, however, be a cost effective and quicker alternative to litigation on smaller and less complex disputes.

As discussed, associations commonly encounter mandatory arbitration clauses in construction contracts. Coincidentally, construction defect cases are often some of the most time intensive cases to litigate, resulting in significant additional costs to arbitrate a case as a result of the arbitrators’ fees. If possible, associations should negotiate a clause into their contracts which allows the association to elect whether to resolve disputes through binding arbitration or litigation. This provides the association with the ability to make a decision, with legal counsel, which process will be more advantageous once the facts of the dispute arise.

Which Should An Association Choose?

As a general rule, associations should: i) seek to mediate disputes as early as practicable, and ii) retain a contractual option to choose between binding arbitration and litigation.

By Seth Woolson

Principal, Chmelik Sitkin & Davis P.S.

Seth A. Woolson is a principal at Chmelik Sitkin & Davis P.S. whose practice concentrates on community association representation, construction law and general civil litigation.

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WSCAI’s Earth Day Project

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Each year, in honor of Earth Day, WSCAI’s Community Outreach Committee solicits nominations from member communities that are in need of assistance with landscape and general spring cleanup. From those nominations the Committee reviews and selects a deserving community. A big Congratulations goes out to Silver Glen Cooperative for being the 2016 recipient. This year, the Community Outreach Committee recruited volunteers to assist at the work party scheduled on Wednesday, April 20. Continental breakfast and lunch were provided to all volunteers. If you are interested in participating in future Earth Day Projects or making a donation, you are encouraged to fill out the Earth Day Call for Volunteers Form.

A Special Thanks To All That Volunteered

Earth Day projects are backbreaking, yet fun and collaborative events. Silver Glen’s project brought just shy of 60 volunteers, plus an additional dozen owner volunteers who were very supportive delivering water, serving a delicious lunch and providing direction when necessary.  We thank all of our volunteers for coming out to support our efforts as it was a grueling day.

We would like to extend a special thanks to those WSCAI Business Partners and their extended networks who graciously donated 100% of the cost, equipment and materials necessary for our project. These are: Ruff Construction, SSI, Northwest Landscape Services, Whirlwind Clean & Green, Fischer Plumbing & Restoration, ServPro of Edmonds, Lynwood and Bellevue West, Jergens Painting, Sunbelt Rentals, McBride Construction, Eastside LandCare, Home Depot and Safe Sidewalks. SSI and Ruff Construction’s donations went above and beyond with their volunteerism by donating several days and countless hours of additional support.

We hope that you are inspired to volunteer for next year’s Earth Day event!

Work Party Details:
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Silver Glen Cooperative
1750 152nd Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98007

Earth Day Work Project Contact:
Shane Lewis: shane@cwdgroup.com


WSCAI’s Earth Day Project History:
2015: New Holly HOA, Seattle
2014: Rolling Hills Condominium, Renton
2013: Lea Hill HOA, Auburn
2012: Ambaum Square Condominium, Burien
2011: The Verano at Redmond HOA

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