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There goes the neighborhood ... Understanding Cluster Bylaws

When your cluster board won't keep things up...

Living in a townhouse means that you live in very, very close proximity to your neighbors. It also means that what your neighbors do or don't do will have an impact on you and on your home's value.

Spawling Concrete Sidewalk

Spalling Concrete Sidewalk

I recently showed a great townhouse in the Lake Anne area. The place itself was in fairly good shape--it needed some updates but generally it wasn't too bad. What stopped the buyer wasn't that the home needed a new kitchen it was that the areas of the property that are owned in common, the parking lots, sidewalks, retaining walls, large trees and even light poles all needed attention, everything looked under cared for and a little worn.

I started looking more closely; the buyer was right. The asphalt in the parking area was in kind of shabby condition at best, the sidewalks needed power washing, the light poles were peeling, the trees needed trimming and a few significant retaining walls were in bad shape.

The buyer asked me to get information about how the Cluster Board was going to address these issues. The listing agent relayed there was no active plan in place to address any of the issues my buyer identified. End result; the buyer just couldn't get comfortable with the lack of action on obvious maintenance issues and so decided to keep looking.

Neglecting your property has consequences. Next to location, condition is the next single biggest factor in determining if your property will fetch a price at the top of your market range or at the bottom of your market range. When you live in a townhouse this means that it's not only the condition of your home that counts; it's the condition of all of the property you own in common with your neighbors.

So, what do you do when the "powers that be" don't or won't take action to address maintenance issues?

Missing mortar in brick

I think the first thing to do is to read and understand your Cluster Bylaws and to know your Cluster financials. Most Cluster Bylaws state specifically that the Board is directly responsible for maintaining the commonly owned parts of the property in a way that keeps it safe and that maintains and enhances the property values. It's important to know your Cluster financials because if the Board has been under reserving, (not saving enough for repairs, replacement and maintenance), the problem is bigger than just inactivity.

The next thing to do is to get involved. Cluster Boards are notoriously over committed. Volunteer to get bids for work that needs doing, organize a Cluster clean up day, and be willing to participate on committees. Do not just be a person that complains.

And if that doesn't work...

It's time for a Coup. Organize your like minded neighbors, identify candidates and get them elected to the Board. In most communities this isn't too difficult to do. I think that 99% of what doesn't get done is really a function of inertia and a lack of leadership.

You can have a huge positive impact on your community and your property values if you are willing to take on the responsibility and the time it takes to get projects done.

What you will find once you've taken over the reins of power is that it's easy to understand where the inertia comes from. One day you'll find yourself looking at bids from asphalt contractors and you'll realize, "hmmm...I don't actually have any experience with replacing a parking lot" then you'll know why it's so easy to do nothing. When you are seized with anxiety...push past it, your neighbors need you and you won't regret it, well you might regret it but do it anyway.

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