The housing recession and the disruptions it has created in communities across the country haven’t had much of a negative impact on the relatively strong relationships between homeowners and the volunteer or professional associations that manage their communities.
A poll of 700 Americans who live in homeowner associations or condominiums, for example, found 71% last year rating their associations positively, compared to 72% who felt that way in 2007.
This national telephone poll, conducted by Zogby International in December and released last week, took its sample from a tiny slice of the estimated 60 million Americans who live in association communities. Nevertheless, its findings still provide insight into the state of association living as the housing market looks to get back on its feet.
On the plus side, 76% of those polled agree that their association’s manager provides value and supports its residents. While that’s slightly down from 2005, the percentage is an improvement over the 73% who gave that answer in 2007. More than 8 in 10 respondents say their return in services from fees paid on assessments was either “good” or “great,” which is higher than the previous two polls. Nearly two-fifths of those polled—37%—say that “nothing is bad” about living in a community or building managed by an association.
However, the survey also finds respondents a bit less sure about the motives of their association’s elected boards. Where, in 2005, 54% answered “absolutely” when asked if their boards were acting in the community’s best interest, that response rate dropped to 44% in 2009. (The respondents who believe boards act with good intentions “for the most part” rose to 45% from 35% in 2005.) And more than 1 in 10 respondents—12%, to be precise—voiced dissatisfaction with associations in general.
“There is definitely room for improvement,” said Thomas Skiba, CEO of the Alexandria, Va.-based Community Associations Institute (CAI), which provides education and resources to association-governed communities. CAI’s Foundation for Community Association Research sponsored the phone survey, and the Institute is touting its results to highlight the benefits of association management and its organization.
Skiba doesn’t dispute that some associations are “poorly managed” and that some boards can be “unreasonable.” However, he’s quick to note that discontent can cut two ways, and that “difficult residents” who “refuse to comply with established rules and trying financial circumstances” can also lead to friction.
CAI doesn’t shy away, either, from findings that raise questions about the influence homeowner associations have on buyers’ and renters’ lifestyle decisions. The number of respondents who said they’d be “more likely” to buy or rent a dwelling because it was in an association actually dropped to 23% last year from 30% in 2007. And those who say they’d be “hesitant” rose to 14% last year from 9% in both the 2007 and 2005 surveys.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a neighborhood’s attractiveness is cited by the most number of respondents as the most positive aspect of living in an association, followed closely by “less maintenance.”
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.