Make your property safer, lower monthly costs and secure its long-term value by focusing on resilience

If you own a townhome or condominium, or you rent an apartment, should you care about making it more resilient to increasingly extreme weather?

The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Why? Because resilience is all about making your home safe and secure—and preserving its value for the long term. And those are concerns that apply to anyone who owns property, be it single-family, detached houses or units in multi-family structures.

In this article, you’ll learn why it’s important to make your condo, townhome or apartment more resilient, what resilience is exactly, and what you can do about it.

Are you protecting your biggest financial asset?

Renting or owning an apartment, condo or townhome can be a great tradeoff: In return for paying your homeowner’s association dues or rent, somebody else handles the upkeep, landscaping and major maintenance like replacing roofs and painting siding. 

It’s great not to be climbing ladders, swinging hammers or lugging paint sprayers. But that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for making sure your home is properly maintained.

After all, if you’re like most Americans, your home is your single-greatest financial asset. So it makes sense to do everything possible to preserve and enhance its value.

That’s why condo and townhome owners can and should play an active role in advocating not only for the regular upkeep of the property but also for increasing its resiliency, durability and life expectancy. And even if you rent, you want to make sure your apartment is safe and secure.

It’s a bit like owning a car. Unless you enjoy getting grease on your hands, you probably send your wheels to a trusted repair shop or garage. But, if you want your car to run reliably, avoid expensive breakdowns and last longer, you’re still in charge of keeping up with the maintenance schedule, budgeting for upkeep and consulting with your mechanic.

Likewise, if you own a multifamily unit, it’s in your best interest to do more than simply pay your HOA dues every month and hope for the best.

What exactly is resilience?

Before we talk about actions you can take, let’s step back and talk about resilience. It’s a word that’s been gaining importance as property owners, emergency service providers, first responders, insurance companies and others in the building and home ecosystem reckon with our changing climate, greater weather extremes and more intense storms. 

A resilient home is designed or retrofitted to better withstand these growing stresses. Making your home resilient means understanding its risks and then making prudent investments to lower those risks. For those just buying, it can also mean choosing a new home that’s already located to minimize dangers like flooding or wildfire or that’s built to higher standards.

Resiliency measures might involve simple and relatively inexpensive fixes like installing sump pumps to protect ground- and below-grade-level units from water intrusion. Or it could call for larger measures like improving the fire resistance of siding and roofs, landscaping to minimize fire spread or building berms and better drainage to prevent flooding.

Working through your HOA board

Of course, if you own as part of an HOA or co-op, you can’t just make these improvements independently. So let’s turn to what you can do as part of a community.

While you don’t physically work on your building upkeep, your condo or homeowner association’s board of directors hires contractors who do. That makes working closely with your HOA board a must. 

Boards of directors are volunteer positions, usually elected, generally with no professional experience required. They have a fiduciary duty to operate in the best interests of the owners. But they may not always understand the ins and outs of how to protect property for the long term. And they can sometimes be short-sighted or reluctant to take on projects, fearing they might raise dues.

And while many states require boards to hire professional management companies to handle the business operations of the community, the quality of these vendors can vary. Plus, the management company gets its marching orders from the board. Thus, it still requires the oversight and direction of the board to be effective.

The caveat: Don’t assume the board and management company are looking out for the long-term viability of your building and community. Make sure there is diligent oversight by the board, good governance and proper funding of the reserve funds. (Reserve funds are a portion of the HOA fees set aside to cover larger and longer-term maintenance items such as roof and window replacement and painting.)

Lax oversight by the board can miss major construction defects until it’s too late to take legal action against the responsible parties. Ignoring small problems like leaks or missing shingles can lead to major problems later. And all of these can lead to the dreaded special assessment—a one-time charge of usually thousands of dollars that owners must finance.

That’s all what we’d call reactive responses. Making a property more resilient, however, is not reactive. It’s proactive—acting before something becomes a problem. And, as we’ll see later, resiliency upgrades can be incorporated into the reserve funds without the need to raise dues. In fact, a more resilient home can actually minimize or even lower some expenses such as insurance premiums.

Simple actions for HOA owners

So, what can you do as condo or townhome owners to make your property more resilient? Here’s a short list of actions you can take now to ensure your HOA board of directors knows about, understands and acts on increasing resilience.

  • Attend board meetings to find out what the board of directors is doing and whether it’s thinking about building resilience. If it’s not, introduce the topic yourself. (See our resources link for more information below.) 
  • If you can’t attend meetings in person, ask to attend by video link or ask to see minutes of board meetings. Minutes are generally required by law. As an owner, you can always submit comments or proposals to the board.
  • If you have the time, talent and willingness, consider running for a board position yourself.
  • Make sure the board conducts regularly scheduled inspections with professional engineers. Building elements such as shingles, roofs, siding, caulking, foundations, windows and doors should be regularly checked for water, pest or other damage and repaired properly. 
  • Ask what the board is doing to harden the buildings against extreme weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal surges and wildfires, as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes. Advocate for resiliency improvements to be included in the association’s long-term maintenance plans as a part of the reserve fund.
  • If you’re a renter, tell your landlord about resilience and ask them to follow up with the HOA or co-op board.

Make resilience a priority

When it comes to resilience against extreme weather, townhomes, condos and apartments are just as critical to protect as single-family detached homes. While community owners must work through their boards of directors to enact resilience measures, don’t let that stop you. Keep in mind, board members are owners like you. They want to protect their investment, and so do you. So make resilience a priority, regardless of where you live.

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