Often a board of directors and property manager find the process of refurbishing common areas of a condominium to be onerous and divisive. The process starts in much the same way in almost every condominium community, with a collective desire within the community to update the decor. But like all homeowners, condominium owners come with a variety of reasons to pursue this change. Whether it is to replace worn and damaged materials, upgrade and update out of a style decor or improve the investment value of their home in a competitive real estate market, condominium owners usually agree on one thing – it is time. It is the job of the board and property manager to manage, direct and refine these desires.
A key component in managing a refurbishment project is communication. Communication helps to keep owners informed of the changes taking place in their community. No owner has every complained that there has been too much information on a project’s development. Updates in the community’s regular newsletter or a similar communication solely dedicated to the project are highly recommended. Each milestone should be fully disclosed and explained so that rumour does not become the overarching method of communication. When the time is right, owners will be eager to voice their opinion.
To be a successful refurbishment project, both the board and property manager must, in some way, engage the input of the owners. This collaborative process helps to avoid marginalizing those owners genuinely interested in the outcome of the project.
The owner engagement process often starts with a design committee. Made up of owners who express an interest in helping direct the design, this first step will help the board avoid any criticism that decisions are being made in a vacuum. Property managers and boards know that everyone has an opinion, but not everyone can dedicate the time it takes to see a refurbishment project through its development. In some communities there is an abundance of interest, in which case the board must find a way to narrow down the numbers, while in other communities only a few parties step forward to help in the design process.
The design committee’s mandate is to pick design options that will satisfy the majority of the owners. One hundred percent agreement is virtually impossible. It becomes a delicate balance to strike, finding a style that most owners don’t find offensive or better yet, like. To negotiate this balance, an experienced condominium designer’s services should be engaged. This may be in conjunction with a design/build firm or independent of the contractor. To expect the design committee to choose between all manner of carpet, tiles, wall covering and lighting fixtures, and then choose a colour scheme to compliment the community is not only unreasonable but invites unnecessary criticism. With a professional designer, critical owners will not be able to blame their neighbors for their lack of “good taste”. Professional design allows for a greater breadth of product knowledge, improved aesthetics and generally a better overall experience for the condominium community.
The designer will audit all existing finished and consider the building demographics before refining the design direction. Oftern, a surver will be used to poll the owners’ impression of the overall existing design, commenting on specifics such as the lighting, design styles, and element conditions. Again, this tool allows interested parties to have an input in the process. The design committee needs to be able to listen to the many voices and opinions and consider options which may be contrary to their own ideas.
Along with design, another concern to address is ‘green’ initiatives. As responsible consumers, most owners want to ensure that they are taking the environment into consideration. The refurbishment process generates a substantial amount of waste which can be diverted from landfill, if properly managed. Green initiatives, based on the concept of waste diversion and the introduction of sustainable building materials, can still be cost effective. By addressing these concerns in advance, residents who feel strongly about the condominium corporation’s environmental footprint will appreciate the efforts that have been taken.
As the design process draws to a close, an important step in the owner engagement process is to allow for a voting process to take place. In some cases, a town hall format works: where the designer presents two options to the ownership for questions. In other situations, the two design options are left for viewing (actual mock-ups or a collection of sample materials). Both approaches include a voting mechanism to ensure the final design is the one that most owners have had the opportunity to become familiar with and are happy with.
It is not necessary to employ all of the above engagement tactics, however, by doing so may alleviate the divisive nature of decor decisions. Design should inspire, motivate and capture the attention of not only the residents, but potential residents as well. Refurbishment has obvious aesthetic and return on investment benefits, but it makes no sense to invest time and money without maximizing owner engagement from the beginning.