Helpful Tips for 55 & Older Community Owners

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March 6, 2014
David M. Weber, M. Christine Weber

We all know it is far easier to maintain a resident than find one who will fill a vacant space within a community. This is particularly true in 55+ communities. To be great at resident retention, managers need to believe strongly in the lifestyle that has led many seniors to a manufactured housing way of life. Managers must be helpful, respectful, enthusiastic and work relentlessly to continuously improve their seniors’ lifestyles.

One of the measuring sticks of great managers, as well as great regional managers, is their ability to be friendly while at the same time, keeping their eyes firmly upon the objectives of the community. The responsibilities of property management are immense and sometimes thankless. It is hard to believe that any of us could add another thing to our schedules to strive for better resident relations. But we must, and we must go at it with an eager, devoted, and intense passion to be successful. The only way to achieve this and still maintain the quality of the community is great organizational skills, resident, participation and the initiative to be creative.

No matter how large or small a community and its budget, the following simple steps will bring a community to its peak performance and create strong resident relations.

Get the Residents Involved

Make photo albums or scrapbooks of residents enjoying their community or community activities. Seniors enjoy donating photos from their past and the fun time they’ve had with neighbors or friends. Residents can form a photography club to take pictures of all community events, funny resident situations and neighbors helping one another. Photo clubs are a good source for pictures submitted by residents. Volunteers can help with the collection of photos and putting together the album. Display the album(s) proudly in the activity center or community lounge area for all to enjoy. Managers should look through the books from time to time to ensure quality content.

Encourage residents to write positive letters or stories about the community. Resident writings can be collected in an attractive album, which is also to be displayed in the community activity center. When the letters have been submitted, ask if they may be used in the community newsletter. Pick one letter a month to exhibit in an attractive picture frame under the caption, “Letter of the month” or “Why we enjoy living in this community.”

Create a journal to pass around the community (it may be a spiral notebook) for all residents to write in. A note stating the topic should be firmly attached on the outside of the journal for all to read before inserting thoughts. The note may ask for how long the resident has lived in the community and a short biography. Encourage the use of photos or themselves, their families and/or pets. The final instruction should be “When you are finished with your thoughts, please pass this on to your neighbor. If you do not wish to be a part of this project, please call the community office, and we will pick it up.” The notebook should be placed inside a weatherproof cover and given to the first home in the community. Many 55+ communities have seasonal residents. You might want to wait to start until they return, so all may participate.

If your community activity center has a television set and VCR, you can host movie matinees on adverse weather days. Rent a latest release (within the confines of movies seniors love), make popcorn for all (no salt or butter) and offer a non alcoholic beverage. Make sure the television is placed where everyone may comfortably view it, such as a stage as or the center of the room, and make the viewing room dark. What other thoughtful task can one do for less than $20 that gives joy to so many residents?

Everyone loves to show off their pets, especially seniors. Host a pet show. Purchase certificates and first, second, third place ribbons to award. Volunteers may acquire donations from local pet stores or other businesses to be awarded as prizes. Use an outside volunteer to pick the winners based on show, grooming, posture and training. Participants of local pet shows may be willing to volunteer their time to judge.

The same idea can work for a car show. Many residents have classic cars of which they are very proud. You may want to look in your local auto trader magazines for people who host car shows professionally. Many communities are looking for locations to hold their shows, complete with DJs, prizes, emcees and media. Use the same ideas from the pet show for great results.

Consider opening your clubhouse to local hobbyists. Most cities have model train clubs, remote-control airplane clubs, coin collectors and other hobbyists who are always looking for new places to meet and show off their labors of love. This effort provides seniors a pathway back to their childhood.

Keep yourself involved

In 55+ communities, residents are more interested in local government and have the time to help coordinate and change issues of concern. Some merely need the leadership and backing of the property owners or managers and the knowledge of who to contact to start the ball rolling. Cooperation of managers and residents can create great things and bond them together for the common good of everyone.

Perhaps the very best resident relations trick is getting outside the comfortable walls of the community to make changes that affect all the residents. If there are local or state issues of concern to manufactured housing communities or their residents, they need to get involved. Our government works for us, and is more likely to listen than it is often credited as being. One method toward such change is finding a government official who truly cares or is up for election. Their voters live in our communities. Working with the government takes patience and dedication. Although this kind of dedication may be very time consuming, in 55+ communities it is just as valuable as anything else a property manager does.

Start by reading every government mailing received. Items come up for vote on a regular basis that often negatively affect seniors and are addressed in a public forum prior to election. These forums are great opportunities for retirees and managers to give input toward change. Retired residents have the knowledge, spirit and time to investigate, preparing everything it takes to help present ideas in public forums.

Read all the fine print on every utility bill. Rates may increase and go unnoticed. If the utility companies are approached when proposing these changes, very often they may be overturned. It is not hard to present options to officials devising change. For example, in 1992 the managers of a small senior community discovered the water department offered water-leak rebates for site-built homes, but did not offer any solution to water leaks in manufactured housing communities with master meters sub-metered by the community.

With little effort this issue was approached, and the property managers found the city water department to be very cooperative in helping to resolve this problem. Today, a program is in place for all the residents in the city under these conditions, to receive rebates when residents have water leaks.

The same situation happened in a large Florida county. Residents in mater-metered communities also could not receive water leak rebates. Given the equation for determining sewer rates, when residents had leaks, the charges were exorbitant. This seriously affected the fixed-income seniors in the county. In 2000, because of a cooperative effort between water department, community management, and the homeowner’s association of a 55+ community, this oversight was resolved. The effort only took a few phone calls, two meetings, a couple of faxes and the designing of a form that would work for the county and the community. Within 30 days of the community’s first request, a program was in place for the entire county making it possible for all residents to receive rebates on water leaks.

In 1997, a county water department implemented an ideal way to dispose of waste water by a unique filtering system, then piped the filtered water throughout the county to be used for irrigation (reclaimed water). The process cost the county millions of dollars in construction. The county water department proposed a lengthy, complicated billing system to its customers, in the form of a “base rate.” The proposed rate would have a devastating effect to senior residents in manufactured housing communities under the same metering conditions as described above because the master-metered system is considered “commercial”.

Many phone calls were made by two community managers, in an attempt to find someone in the water department willing to explain the complex proposal, and willing to work with the communities to lower the billing rate. This six-month process required many meetings with the water department and a dedicated effort to get all the affected communities involved in the process. Today, as a result of this effort, all of the manufactured housing communities in that county now have a new category for billing commercial at residential rates. This new category lowered residents’ base rate more than half of the original proposed increase. This lower rate was a big help to set-income seniors.

Keeping the media involved

Local TV media and newspaper reporters are always looking for human-interest stories. Every time a manager discovers a resident who has done something extraordinary, the media needs to be alerted. This includes Senior Olympics medalists, golfers who shot holes in one, shuffleboard champions and bowlers with a 300 game or a high series. Press releases should be sent to local papers to thank residents for special things they do in the form of “Volunteer of the Month” or “Hero of the Month.” You might also want to invite the media to special events, such as National Night Out or other unique activities. Not only does the media coverage give residents a terrific boost, it is the best free advertising available.

These ideas and the examples above prove dedication and cooperative efforts between managers, residents, government officials and media to preserve and enhance the lifestyle seniors worked tirelessly to earn. What better way to thank the people who shaped our world, than to work passionately to help preserve the lifestyle for which they worked so hard. Home is where they should feel safe, respected, cared for and appreciated. Home is what we are to provide.

Reprinted from MHCO “Community Management”