Local HOAs hit hard in recession

Article Courtesy of The News-Journal


Published December 6, 2010

The luxury Palmas de Mallorca condominium in Daytona Beach Shores was nearly shut down and evacuated in 2008 when the homeowner's association did not have $3,000 to fix a water pump that feeds the fire suppression sprinklers.

The money was not available because more than half of the building's 12 units were empty and owners were not paying their assessments, said Jeff Blocker, whose BMI Management in New Smyrna Beach managed the building before the mortgage holder foreclosed and a private owner bought it.

"The fire marshal told us he was about to close it down," said Blocker, whose firm manages six oceanfront condos. "We were lucky that an owner stepped up and advanced us his assessments for the year and we made the repairs."

The Palmas de Mallorca is just one example of how the real estate crisis is hurting home and condo associations that find themselves stuck with delinquent assessments while trying to maintain services.

"I have never seen it this bad. I'm getting five foreclosure notices a day," said Vicki Diaz, president of World of Homes, which serves more than 100 community associations, including five in Volusia County.

About 62 million Americans live in an area governed by a community association, according to the Community Associations Institute in Alexandria, Va. And more than half the nation's 310,000 community associations are struggling with financial issues associated with mortgage foreclosures, empty units and delinquent accounts.

The number of associations reporting delinquency rates above 5 percent leaped to 65 percent from 19 percent in 2005, according to a recent CAI survey of its 30,000 members. Nearly a third of associations have a delinquency rate higher than 10 percent and 10 percent of associations have a rate above 20 percent.

When a homeowner fails to pay the required homeowner association assessment, other owners have to pick up the shortfall through higher 

By the Numbers

A Community Associations Institute survey shows the nation's community and condo associations are in dire financial straits. Here are numbers from the survey of the institute's 30,000 members.

Serious Financial Issues: 45 percent

 Severe Financial Issues: 9 percent

 More than 5 percent delinquency rates: 65 percent

 More than 10 percent delinquency rates: 30 percent


SOURCE: Community Associations Institute

monthly payments or reduced services. That can sometimes trigger additional foreclosures by other financially strapped homeowners.

"I have sat in board meetings where members say they don't want to place a lien on a property because they say the owners are so nice," Blocker said. "But when I tell them that they would have to pay more, it becomes a them-versus-me attitude and they change their mind."

Assessments are critical. They fund common-area landscaping, building maintenance, trash pickup, utilities, swimming pools and playgrounds, elevators and in some cases, the roads. The services maintain property values while providing for the safety, health and welfare of the residents.

"From my perspective with 36 associations in Volusia and Flagler counties, I would say collections are down maybe 15 to 30 percent, depending on the property," said Ann Concannon, a district manager with Sentry Management, the largest association management firm in Florida.

As a result of revenue shortfalls, according to the CAI survey, 38 percent of associations postponed planned capital improvements, 35 percent cut back on landscaping services and 31 percent reduced contributions to reserve accounts, which attorneys and association managers strongly oppose. Also, 23 percent borrowed from reserve accounts, 16 percent imposed special assessments and 12 percent used residents for minor services.

Area association managers reported having used all those measures and others.

World of Homes hired an in-house debt collector rather then sending the case to a more expensive attorney. It also negotiated lower landscaping costs.

Many associations have had to account for bad debt expectations for the first time in their annual budgets and make mid-year budget amendments.

Associations in West Volusia and Palm Coast seem to be having more difficulties than East Volusia associations because more workers lost jobs in those areas. East Volusia has more retirees and second-home owners who are generally better financed, Concannon said.

Steve Tyler, founder of Tyler Property Management in Holly Hill that manages 21 associations, has noticed condo vacancies as high as 50 percent and homeowner association vacancies as high as 20 percent because of foreclosures.

"I'm seeing problems more in subdivisions and condos that had high sales volumes between 2003 and 2006 when we had investors flock to the area," Tyler said. "Prices and values fell and now there are a lot of foreclosures and people walking away because they can't sell it for what they paid."