An association is the sum of its members. While the board of directors is charged with upholding specific responsibilities, the fate of the association ultimately lies in the hands of the owners.
In order to operate at its best, an HOA needs funding, and most of that money comes from owners. These community members also must agree to create or amend rules, and in some cases, approve special assessments. Many critical actions cannot be taken by the board without member approval.
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Ironically, even though HOA members have a lot of collective power, individual owners may feel like they have no power at all. People often complain that their board does whatever it wants, and that the owners have no say at all. This leads to dissatisfied communities, and disengaged owners.
One way boards may attempt to balance the community’s wants and needs with the needs of the development is through surveys. Formal and informal surveys help boards and property managers understand the owners’ concerns, and assess the health of the association.
The importance of community opinions
Some boards might be skeptical about surveys. It takes time to prepare and send questionnaires, and there’s always a chance that owners might use these as an opportunity to air personal grievances, make unrealistic requests, or complain about how much they dislike the board. Or, the board may not receive any feedback at all.
A far more likely scenario involves owners who are enthusiastic about providing constructive feedback to the board. Even if owners don’t always get to have the final say, most people will appreciate the fact that the board cares about the opinions of others.
When is it appropriate to send out surveys?
Boards should avoid consulting the community on every decision, especially if the HOA is large. This would create too much extra work for the board members. Instead, surveys should be sent periodically to get a better sense of owner satisfaction, or how members feel about specific rules or issues.
Informal surveys are used to collect opinions from specific groups or the entire HOA. The survey is not meant to be “official,” but it does provide a general idea of what the HOA thinks. Informal surveys could be about:
- Prioritizing upgrades
- Loans for non-essential purchases
- Owner satisfaction
- A property management company
- A new security system
- Smoking in the community
Formal surveys are distributed for more pressing or specific matters. For example, an association might ask owners if they want to allow bigger dogs in the HOA before they amend the rules or organize an official vote. Specific rule changes, and upgrades or additions to projects are a couple of reasons why boards would send out a formal survey to owners.
How to draft and conduct an HOA survey
It can be challenging to write and conduct a short but comprehensive survey if you’ve never done it before. The points below can help guide you and get you moving in the right direction.
1. Identify the purpose of the survey
The first thing the board must decide on is the survey’s purpose. Why are you distributing the survey to owners in the first place? What sort of information are you looking to obtain from them?
Without a purpose, your survey will lack focus, and chances are you won’t get the answers you had hoped for. Knowing the goal of your HOA survey will help you design questions that get straight to the point, and extract concise and useful answers.
2. Who is your target audience?
Your target audience matters just as much as the purpose of your survey. Who does the board want answers from? Is it geared towards all homeowners, or just a niche group? Perhaps you want to see how committee members feel about their roles and abilities to carry out their duties. Or maybe you’re trying to determine if members would be willing to contribute extra money to start a community garden. By determining how many people will be consulted ahead of time, you can decide the best distribution method.
3. Survey design
Don’t burden your owners with overly-long surveys; no one wants to spend 30 or more minutes on a questionnaire. When creating survey questions, make sure to keep simplicity and length in mind. Questions that are too long or too complicated will discourage owners from completing (or perhaps even starting) the survey.
Take a bit of time to plan out your questions before you begin drafting the survey. Decide whether you want your questions to be open-ended, a simple yes or no, or if you will have a ranking system. While the latter two tend to be more appealing to people, open-ended questions will provide you with more detailed responses. The purpose of your HOA survey will usually help you decide what kind of questions to use.
4. Distributing the survey
After completing the surveys, it is time to deliver them. This means you must decide on how to distribute the questionnaires. There is more than one good way to go about this. You can drop off surveys by hand to each home or unit, depending on how many surveys the board is handing out. Alternatively, using a property management system such as Condo Control, you could distribute the surveys electronically.
Condo Control even has a unique Survey feature that allows you to create custom surveys through the platform. You can choose who will receive the survey, create an expiration date, and even set up a thank-you page that participants will see once they complete the survey. Questions can be multiple-choice, or open-ended. Since everything can be completed online, owners are more likely to participate, and boards save money on print and mailing costs. Moreover, surveys don’t have to be distributed or collected by hand.
Email and SurveyMonkey are other popular choices as they are convenient and do not require you to print anything out. However, you will need to have the email addresses of the recipients available. If the surveys are informal, you may also choose to distribute them through a community newsletter or share them on the HOA’s Facebook page.
When it comes to distribution, take your target audience into account. If your audience is not tech-savvy, then sticking with physical copies of your survey may be the best way to go. Conversely, you should have no problem sending surveys electronically to younger recipients.
Balancing opinions and facts
As mentioned earlier, it’s great to have input from the community, but owners cannot have the final say about everything that pertains to the HOA. For instance, if an association has space for a bocce ball or a volleyball court, the board could ask members what they would prefer. If they don’t reach out and make a decision by themselves, they may hear complaints. But, when it comes to the board’s mandatory obligations, those are not things that should be opened up to owners.
A board must know when to make decisions on behalf of the association. Sometimes owners simply won’t have enough facts to make informed decisions. Other times, individuals only think about themselves, not the association as a whole. If the board made every decision based on a survey, they would ultimately be doing more harm than good to the association.
Did you know that for the eighth time in 15 years, Americans living in homeowners associations, condos, and co-ops say they’re overwhelmingly satisfied in their communities? The Community Associations Institute (CAI), in collaboration with the Foundation For Community Association Research, uncovered a lot of interesting facts about associations through a 2020 survey. Here are some more things you might not have known.
- 89% of residents say members of their elected governing board “absolutely” or “for the most part” serve the best interests of their communities.
- 74% of residents say their community managers provide value and support to residents and their associations.
- 89% of residents rate their overall community association experience as good or very good (70%) or neutral (19%).
- 89% of residents say they are on friendly terms with their association board.
- 85% of residents who had direct contact with their community manager say it was a positive experience.
- 62% of residents say their association assessments are “just the right amount”— or “too little.”
- 74% of residents prefer either no change or less government control within their association.
- People love living in their association because the neighbourhood is clean and attractive (21%), because it is a maintenance-free neighbourhood (19%), and because it is safe (15%).
- The worst aspects of living in the association, according to participants, include restrictions on exterior home improvements (17%), paying dues (12%), and dealing with neighbours (9%).
Without an effective HOA board, and a community that is invested in the association, surveys aren’t exactly helpful. But, if boards can use surveys to collect feedback that can benefit the community as a whole, they can actually spark changes that will make owners happier. Plus, surveys can offer the board a clearer idea of how the community feels about certain issues or proposals. Where possible, they can make decisions backed by the association.
Download our free HOA survey template