Posted on November 19, 2018 5:45 PM by Melissa Gentry
I’ve owned Hill Country Homeowners Association  for 10 years this month. Wow. It feels surreal to actually write these words. This crazy journey is difficult to put down in words. These 10 years have been a roller coaster of exhilarating highs and excruciating lows. Now that I sit down to put it all in writing, I realize I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When anyone asks me how I came to start Hill Country I always joke that I fell into it—literally. Due to a freak accident involving river rocks and a pitch black restaurant parking lot, I broke both of my ankles! It took six very long months of bed rest to recover and through an equal mix of boredom and growing dislike of my current job, Hill Country Homeowners was born.
With a decade of experience, I’m always happy to share my advice with the new generation of property managers looking to get into the business. Here are my top 4 pieces of advice for those starting up.
Lesson 1: It’s Not Business, it’s Personal
First and foremost, we are a local, family-owned business that specializes in personalized financial, administrative and property management for homeowners associations in San Antonio and the surrounding areas. As a business owner, I take pride in my successes and thrive on building direct relationships with my board members. I enjoy working within the small business, family-owned environment I’ve created. It gives me freedom to focus on balancing work and family, while allowing our team to share in our successes and lean on each other when the road gets rough.
Lesson 2: Keep an Open Mind to New Possibilities
No little girl or boy dreams of managing HOA’s while growing up. My business was born from a mix of an unexpected life experience and opportunity, as I mentioned. I bought my first condo at age 19 in Tampa, Florida and became the president of my condo board. From there I worked in association management while I earned both of my business degrees. Freshly out of school with my shiny MBA, I decided I wanted a new career path and found myself in management for a financial services company in San Antonio. I bought a house and, of course, I became the president of the HOA. I quickly fired the management company and began to look for a new one. I discovered that unlike Florida, San Antonio did not have a large competitive market for association management. I made a mental note of that potential business opportunity and put it on a shelf.  With very little convincing to my fellow board members, I began self-managing the HOA and started my very first association with Buildium.
Lesson 3: Adversity is an Amazing Opportunity for Growth
So back to that fall. Fast forward 4 years and due to that unusual accident, I pulled that dusty idea off the mental shelf and hung out my virtual open for business sign. Within 4 months I had replaced my salary and I was officially self employed!  From the day I signed my first contract, I began my partnership with Buildium. I’ve grown as they have grown and 10 years later, Buildium is still the best financial inclusive management software out there.
Lesson 4: The People You Start with Are Not Always the Ones Who Grow with You
This journey has not been without heartache and difficult lessons learned. Through the years I have lost a best friend and partner through theft, buried a husband, suffered the betrayal of having trusted employees attempt to steal my business out from under me—and most recently I am still learning how to navigate life with a chronic debilitating disease.
From these challenges I have grown as a person, married my best friend, and expanded my business with trust and faith in my team. I still manage the first property that I signed when I hung that sign up and count their president as a dear friend. These are accomplishments that at some points felt impossible, but with determination, hard work, and an open heart I am proud to say that now Hill Country Homeowners is stronger than ever, growing organically year after year, and standing tall upon a foundation of love and family.
Posted on October 16, 2018 3:56 PM by Melissa Gentry
Are you one of “THOSE” people on NextDoor?

According to Nextdoor, people are using the site to: quickly get the word out about a break-in; organize a Neighborhood Watch group; track down a trustworthy baby sitter; find out who does the best paint job in town; and ask for help to find a lost dog, among other things.  And its these helpful resources that sparked its popularity.  It was great while it lasted and then it slowly devolved into a forum for “THOSE” people.  

We all know who I am talking about.  Those users on NextDoor or Facebook that are the first to post their trivial concerns and prejudices about random events and then have their raging rants reinforced in a forum for their neighbors that for some reason believe that minor annoyances are federal cases.  These threads often become heated places as individuals passionately debate their beliefs and opinions.  Bored on a Friday night?  Missing Desperate Housewives or the Real Housewives of wherever; pop some popcorn, pour a glass of wine and open up your NextDoor or Facebook page.  If you read it as a source of entertainment, you will find hours of amusing reading.
Here are my rules for posting on social media.  Most of these should be common sense, but they still happen – often. Do you always follow these?
No Profanity of Any Kind
No swearing/profanity is to be used toward another member of the site in discussion threads.  
Do Not Degrade Another Member
If you oppose another person's position in a discussion, respond to them without the use of derogatory comments.  This includes political debates and debates about whether or not the HOA should pay for raccoon removal.  
No Unauthorized Advertising
Please refrain from posting unauthorized advertising such as third party websites or products. We want the discussion environment to be a place where individuals genuinely express their interests instead of using the forum for the hidden agenda of advertising. Not everyone is a fan of lularue.  
No Nudity or Pornography
This should be an easy one but do not upload nudity or pornographic visual material onto any areas of the site.  Pornography of any kind and pornography drawings still count.
No All Caps in Titles or Posts
Using all caps (all capitals) for your titles, posts and quote submissions is unpleasant and unsightly and steals from the positive discussion environment.  I never understand this one.  It just makes it harder to read.  If you want me to read your post, make it easy on the eyes.  
Respect the Discussion Environment, Do Not Troll the Site or Other Members
Being a discussion site, the dynamic nature of interaction cannot always be positively facilitated by rules. Examples of derailing the discussion environment include:
•    Hijacking threads - being disruptive to the purpose of the original poster's thread. 
•    Trolling another member - following another member for negative reasons i.e. disliking another user and venting that dislike by repeatedly posting negative comments wherever the other user posts. 
•    Harassing another user. 
•    Not keeping on topic with a discussion. 
Use Readable And Legible Language
Write posts that are unreadable, illegible or gibberish. Posts don't have to be written perfectly, but they should be written in English, using appropriate grammar and readable word/sentence structure.  Online tools such as Google Translate are freely available for everyone to utilize.
There is hope.  Use the hide user feature to block the negativity from your feed. After a few days,  you will figure out who are the community complainers.   Follow the guidelines for productive and helpful posts so that maybe we can get back to using social media for actually being social and reinforce a positive, welcoming place, where you can share thoughts and ideas with others about the issues that arise from living in an Association. 
Your thoughts?

Posted on August 6, 2018 1:47 PM by Melissa Gentry
Boards of directors are small teams of volunteers with a lot of work to do. They often need help and that’s where delegating to a committee comes in.  Committees are an important part of association operations. Committee members help keep our community vibrant; and, by augmenting paid staff, they save the association thousands of dollars each year. The association just wouldn’t be what it is without our active and effective committees. They deserve our sincerest thanks. However, it’s important to recognize the Good and the Ugly of using committees.
The Good:
Committees give the board a way to gather information, offer new ideas and opinions and provide a training ground for future board members. All committees are advisory to the board unless given specific decision-making authority by the board or CC&Rs. 
The board provides each committee with a job description, goal and mission statement to help it succeed as a community resource.
Associations usually have three types of committees:
  • Administrative committees, like our architectural control committee, are set out in association’s bylaws and CC&Rs. They are ongoing, permanent and often have clearly defined power and authority.
  • Standing committees, such as finance, social or security, are established by the board for an ongoing and specific purpose. These committees generally make recommendations to and act under the supervision of the board.
  • Ad-hoc committees, such as a special project, are established by the board as needed for specific projects and tasks.  The board doesn't have to start from scratch to collect all the background investigation and research. All that work can be done at a committee level, thereby saving time at a board meeting for important decisions to be made. 
Committee participation in the community is beneficial to the neighbors and the association. For example, common benefits gained by volunteering include:
  • making a positive difference in other peoples’ lives
  • sharing or learning new skills
  • boosting your resume—volunteer jobs are fair game 
  • meeting new people
  • having fun
They build community involvement and prevent association from suffering from lack of enthusiasm. Even a few hours of your time can make a big difference in the culture of the community. They help us generate goodwill, encourage “paying it forward” and strengthen our community.

The Ugly
Every board-created committee and every board-appointed committee member must act in good faith and abide by the law as well as governing documents. Their actions are documented in the minutes.  If acting unsupervised its very easy for uninformed committee members to act against laws or covenants.  
Committees can only be effective if they have a clear purpose, good organization, and the right people. If Joe Resident thinks security is a problem, so we’ll put him on a committee is not an association purpose. In fact, the purpose is “get rid of Joe.” Use a committee to solve a problem, not a problem person.

A committee can't accept responsibility. Ultimately, committees have no decision-making power whatsoever even though they make take on unassigned roles and decisions.  Committees that simply occupy space or exist to distract owners are a waste of time, and a potential liability.
Building Strong Committees
Start with a good structure established by the board, outlines the parameters and expectations for a committee. Without a clear sense of direction or scope of authority, committees can lose control and cease to function effectively. Boards should take time to draft a concise committee charter with all of the following elements:
  • Purpose. Give the committee a clear purpose. Is the purpose of the committee to provide the board with a recommendation on an issue? Is the purpose of the committee to carry out a specific task?  
  • Product. Tell the committee what you expect them to produce. Is it a detailed recommendation to the board? If so, what must be included in the recommendation? Will the committee take some sort of action on behalf of the board? If so, be very clear about the action the committee is expected to take, and establish clear limits. Remember that a board may delegate authority to act, but cannot delegate responsibility for the action.
  • Timeframe. Tell the committee how long their services are needed. Is the committee to meet during a period of six weeks or a year? Is the committee a standing committee that will meet until the governing documents are amended or until the board takes action to dissolve the committee?
  • Budget. If the committee will need money to fulfill their charter, be clear about the amount of money available to the committee. You should also be clear about the process the committee should go through to obtain the funds. If the committee is not being provided with funds, tell them.
  • Reporting. Establish how the committee should report to the board. Committees making recommendations or decisions must communicate their findings to the board. Be clear about the frequency and method of those reports. Decision-making committees must produce minutes.
Pick the Right People
HOA owners have a wide array of talents – a clear resource for the board. But each person also has a different level of energy and skill, along with a unique agenda and temperament. Boards must balance each of those elements when they select the members of a committee.
Boards should seek out people with important skills: CPAs for the budget committee, landscape architects for the landscaping committee, and natural leaders as committee chairs. But avoid placing a destructive personality on a committee – even skilled ones. Vocal owners with a clear agenda are not necessarily destructive and may bring energy and focus to the committee. But individuals whose disposition will prevent the committee from functioning or will ignore the committee charter are not good candidates.

Boards may also wish to appoint a “board liaison” to attend committee meetings periodically. The liaison can provide helpful background information to the committee and can help the committee stay on track in the early stages. However, the liaison should be careful not to dominate or take over the work of the committee.

Say thank you! Recognition and appreciation for a committee's input and hard work will lead to successful committees and enthusiastic members. Don’t overlook the effectiveness of a simple thank- you note, an acknowledgment in the community newsletter, or a plaque presented at an annual meeting. Committees whose contributions are acknowledged are more willing to give their time and effort to their association.

Committees perform an important function that extends beyond their charters: committees encourage camaraderie, participation, efficiency, and a sense of belonging in the community – but only if the board lays a solid foundation for each group. If the board is willing to do the work, your community can enjoy the benefits that committees provide.