As a member of your association board of directors or as a property manager you make decisions every week to maintain your properties. While there may be no question that your intentions are in the best interest of the homeowners, your decisions may not always be prudent for their investment. This may be especially true if you have a habit of postponing maintenance.
Types of Maintenance
I have commonly taught that maintenance can be divided into four categories: Regular, Emergency, Preventive and Deferred.
Regular and Emergency Maintenance
It seems simple enough. Obviously some maintenance items are routine and get done regularly. There is seldom any question if the grass is mowed, or the pool is cleaned.
The costs are regular and affordable and seldom require gut-wrenching decisions. Emergency maintenance? Of course, when the roof leaks you get it fixed ASAP. When there is mold, you get it out, or when a rodent gets into your attic, you have it trapped. Ok, that was the easy part, because the next two categories often confuse some of the smartest homeowners.
Preventative or Deferred Maintenance?
Preventative… deferred. Hmmm… If you think about it these two are kind of polar opposites. One path is for you to be proactive and to anticipate the potential failures of your community before they occur, while the latter says if it aint broke, don’t fix it.
Typical arguments for postponing important maintenance might sound like, I know that trim wood looks bad, but why can’t we just wait and paint it when we paint the stucco? Yeah, we had a lot of roof leaks last year but it’s not raining now! It’s not fair that the entire community should have to pay for the new decks on the penthouse units. Let’s put the decision off for now.
When important maintenance items are misappropriated it may not have an immediate negative financial affect. In fact, it could give the illusion of a wise decision. Several months after putting off (deferring) the reroofing project your bank account and reserves may seem fat, but a cancer is lurking over your property which will cost, in some instances, much more in increased costs due to the effects of the sun, wind and rain. Not only will you be paying for the higher costs of emergency repairs, but also for interior repairs which may include mold remediation and furniture damage. After that, you are back to where you started with a dilapidated roof that has suffered one more year of moisture intrusion causing further premature wear.
Typically, property dilapidation caused by deferring important maintenance items is a common characteristic of smaller properties. This is because homeowner associations with fewer than 60 units often cannot afford outside management professional advice in all of their affairs. Consequently, having the lowest monthly association dues becomes more important than maintenance issues to the board while the association’s property becomes under maintained. It seems more inexcusable to me however when properties with sound management and several hundred units overlook important maintenance items until the properties become disheveled.
Examples of Poor Decisions to Defer Maintenance
Although this story seems to repeat itself nearly every year, a few years back we started installing new waterproof decking systems on approximately 100 private patio deck areas. The decks had been leaking into the underlying garages for years. However, the repairs and replacement kept being postponed mostly because it did not seem important enough to assess the individual homeowners for leakage into the garages only. Although the estimated cost to replace the decks were only about $1,200 each, when the deck removal was initiated, it was discovered in many locations that the underlying joints and surrounding stucco walls were completely destroyed with dry rot. The wire reinforcement of the stucco was the only thing keeping the wall from falling. The result was that the cost to rebuild some individual decks, walls, and joists exceeded $15,000 each.
It also seems that every year we repair tile roofing systems where the board of directors have neglected to facilitate maintenance during the prior years. The items of importance were relatively simple: replace the broken and slipped tiles. By not completing the prior maintenance the result was sun damage causing the underlying roofing membrane to fail, exacerbated by the moisture intrusion that resulted in dozens if not hundreds of 100-square foot areas requiring example tile removal and replacement of the membrane.
Don’t Wait on These!
Roof maintenance Only one out of twenty of you will need complete roof replacement this year. However most of you will need roof maintenance. Roof maintenance includes reinforcing the ten percent of the roof area that causes ninety percent of your leaks. The ten percent area includes roof penetrations, drains, waterways, and roofing transition areas.
Roof Replacement If you are due for roof replacement this is no time to procrastinate. Moisture intrusion occurring at your roof area will cause damage to the underlying structure as it intrudes into the ceiling and wall cavities. You will pay to repair damage to the Homeowner’s interior including dry wall, fixtures and damages caused by mold.
Wood Trim Painting Although your stucco and wood siding may not need to be painted for six to seven years, your trim wood should be painted every two to three years. This may seem like overkill, however painting the trim will protect the wood from rot and insects and your savings will greatly exceed the cost.
Cleaning/Maintaining Gutters and Downspouts The worst leaks within your exterior shell components occur due to blockage caused by leaves and debris. The natural collection point for leaves and debris is the gutters and downspouts. Although annual cleaning is recommended for all properties, in some areas of excessive foliage, gutters and downspouts must be cleaned two or three times yearly.
Deck Replacement Deck area failure not only occurs from waterproofed deck systems but also from surrounding flashings such as thresholds, light fixtures etc. All deck areas must be maintained and replaced when necessary as deck areas offer the worst cases of dry rot.
Termite Infestation When termites go untreated the result can be devastating: it is not uncommon for complete sections of structural walls to be replaced due to infestation of termites.
Irrigation and Sprinkler Repair The worst cases of mold occur adjacent to planters where excessive moisture may be occurring due to over-watering or failure of the irrigation lines. Minimizing sprinkler moisture against wall area is critical, especially where the outside soil level rests higher than the interior floor line.
Tree Trimming The lack of adequate tree trimming exacerbates roof drainage and damage to gutters and downspouts due to excessive leaves and debris. It is also common to see excessive roof damage caused by falling limbs or tree trunks during heavy winds.
Individual Homeowner Maintenance Responsibilities
It is a good idea to remind individual homeowners in your newsletter to maintain their exclusive use areas such as:
Keep Decks Clean of Leaves and Debris Even a few leaves resting against a deck area drain can block most of the moisture alleviation ability of the deck area. Homeowners should be constantly reminded to keep their decks clean of leaves and debris. Clutter on decks may not only cause drainage failure but can prematurely wear the system. It may be appropriate to fine non-compliant homeowners.
Clean Out Window Tracks Ask homeowners to vacuum out their sliding window tracks. Even a spider web next to the window weep drainage area can cause leaking into the unit below. Vacuuming out window tracks will help eliminate moisture intrusion by weep drainage blockage during the next rains.
By being proactive, you will ultimately save money, and you will avoid the panic caused by crisis management. Panic is what your will have in your community if you put off your property maintenance until leaks, termites, dry rot and mold invade your most valuable investment.