Living Social Activities Put the “Community” in Community Associations

Living Social

When you were a child, you probably tuned into the PBS show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, where a homespun sweater-clad Fred Rogers often sang “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Mr. Rogers might be singing a different tune today if he were a property manager of a big co-op or condo community, where it’s often a challenge getting residents to mix and mingle. Often, buyers or shareholders choose communities, not only because they like their units or the neighborhood, but because co-ops and condos offer a level of socialization and community that other neighborhoods with single family homes might not have.

Co-ops and condos operate as little communities or villages unto themselves—they have their board, their manager, their residents and their maintenance and door staff, and that seems to be all they need. The key question, though, is with everyone so busy and insulated, and with leisure activities often devoted to indoor activities in front of a TV screen or a computer, how do residents actually get out and meet and greet their next-door neighbors?

It's not an easy task, says Sal Fiore, a property manager with West Broward Community Management, Inc., in Plantation.

“I live in South Florida—there are a million things to do. Everybody is either out riding their motorcycle or out on their boats fishing. There's just so many things to do down here, that's it's tough to get people to commit to hanging out with their neighbors and maybe they don't really want to,” he says.

Choosing the Best Event

Fear not, hope is not lost. While it might take a little extra encouraging to drag residents from their incessant web surfing and Netflix viewing marathons, if propositioned with exciting events, they will surely show up.

“I don't think that cake and coffee or the pot luck dinner work. People just don't have time for that. I think the best thing is the block party. It used to be like a social night out board meeting, they would have refreshments and coffee in the board meeting and everybody would get together and it would be like a night out. That's definitely a thing of the past at this point. It's no longer the old people--there are families involved in this stuff now. I do believe that the more popular social gathering now is definitely the barbecue, the block parties, that type of thing—in the HOAs, especially.”

If an event is executed well and deemed a success, it might just become an association tradition for generations to enjoy.

“I have one association that had their 24th year doing their block party this year,” Fiore says. “That was pretty neat. People that have kids, their children were little at the first or second block party, now their children's children are at the block party. That was pretty neat.”

“Many of the communities will have clubs, like a book club or a photo club where individual unit owners participate and run the clubs. They create an environment for people who have those desires to get together,” notes David Rosen, a property manager with Lang Management in Boca Raton.

“I think the most popular ones are when they bring entertainment from the outside, such as an orchestra or a band or some type of musical event,” Rosen says. “Most of the larger HOAs bring in people to perform, especially during the winter season, which is November 1st until the end of March. They strive for the same type of harmonious relationship and they give people activities that they wouldn't have if they just lived in a single family home.”

Which events are least popular? “Board meetings,” he jokes.

“When you have a large community, there's always a segment of the population that is attracted to something.

“It's a self-weeding process. If something isn't desirable, then you don't get attendance and you don't have that function anymore. Most of the functions that a club will have on a continuous basis will have a segment that will come to it. Only so many people will be interested in a photography club or a movie club,” says Rosen.

“A lot of it depends on the size of the community. If you're talking about a community with 1,100 homes, you're always going to have a decent crowd. If you're talking about a community with 26 homes, you may not have a large crowd. It all depends with the type of community. In a small homeowners association, people tend to be on their own, even though it's a community. In larger as

“The Fourth of July BBQ is always a great turnout. It's here on the property and it's BBQ, so everyone appreciates that a lot. Super Bowl is a great success here on the premises. When they go to new art galleries that are around, that really intrigues a lot of people and it brings a lot of diverse people to it—not just one culture or type or age group.”

“It brings the family feeling to buildings where there are many people living. It allows the residents to get to know each other. When they are busy in and out during the week they don't get to meet their neighbors so it brings them together in that respect. It's just great fun for them.”

Location, Location, Location

“In an HOA, you have a community environment and you live in a home, but the community has clubhouses, they have swimming pools, they have features that allow the residence to participate in a community activity,” Rosen says. “It gives a sense of a community,” he continues. “Each of the owners are providing a maintenance fee every single month or every quarter. Included in those maintenance fees are the costs of all of these. You want a harmonious community. You don't want a community that's griping all the time relative to the cost of upkeep.”

“We have a fountain room, where most of our events take place, but we have a very large master property, so events also take place at the barbecue area, they might take place at the spa,” says Stephanie Snyder, property manager of Atlantic II managed by Boca Raton-based AKAM On-Site, Inc.,.

Sending Out the Invites

“The way to get people to go is to try and make it fun and don't mix the invitation to the block party with the budget meeting notice, you know what I mean?” Fiore says. “You don't want to send out a special assessment notice and say, 'Oh, by the way, we're having a block party.' You want to try to keep the two separate, that's for sure.”

“We can have these committees be around and do everything to make these events happen,” says Snyder “but management has a very important role in disseminating the information,” she says.

Management has to follow up and make sure the information is properly disseminated, she says, or turnout will not be high. “It's super important that management and the committees work together. We spread the word through newsletters. We have a very high sense of email communication, we have a website we put the event information on. We have bulletin boards around the property. Sometimes, depending on the type of the building, they'll slip notices under the door of each resident.”

There’s No End to Ideas

Event options are limitless. Switch them up to keep residents coming back for more and avoid interest burnout—believe it or not, even potlucks can grow tiresome. Instead, try a progressive dinner party—don’t worry, it’s not about politics. These are popular where residents are able to walk from home to home. Participants provide a different course, from appetizers to salads, entrees, and desserts. Everyone prepares a dish or two to contribute and they’re dropped off ahead of time at the selected dining areas (the community room may be ideal for the entrees). Small residences may break the groups into smaller parties.

An Internet café activity could be weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on popularity. The community room provides WiFi, and perhaps activities for those not at a computer. Provide a coffee bar with flavored creamers, chocolate shavings, etc., along with pastries or healthy snacks. The room can simply be available on the selected day, with residents invited to bring their laptops or iPads and share the space.

Hold a talent show. Invite one and all to display their best, whether it’s artwork, photography, musical and vocal performance, juggling. Have fun with it, and be sure to ask each participant what he or she will need to have, in terms of space or equipment, ahead of time.

Party planning on a budget? Some wallet-friendly options include game nights, potluck dinner and cards, a movie night in which members bring their own favorite movie and people vote for which will be shown that evening, karaoke or dance contests (especially good for family activities), or themed barbecue nights—Hawaiian, Tex-Mex, Caribbean.

Lastly, check out Resident Events (www.residentevents.com), an online resource for property managers, on event planning.

“The more the people associate with each other, the more it builds a neighborly type of atmosphere, as opposed to an adversarial atmosphere,” Fiore says. “I think they look at each other as neighbors as opposed to just another person that lives in the building. Leave the uncomfortable stuff to the property manager and deal with your neighbors as a neighbor.”

Socialization promotes a harmonious environment and allows the management to work with a comfortable community.

“It gives a sense of a community. Each of the owners are providing a maintenance fee every single month or every quarter. Included in those maintenance fees are the costs of all of these events. You want a harmonious community. You don't want a community that's griping all the time relative to the cost of upkeep.”

“One benefit to our association is that residents who do attend the events become more involved in maintaining the cleanliness and safety of the building,” says Kenia Lee-Quintana, the executive assistant to the president & COO of Tobin Properties, Inc. in Hollywood.

“It falls into the ripe old adage of 'neighbors helping neighbors' whether in time of celebration or disaster. The residents are more inclined to participate in smaller building projects that can save the association money, time and work.”

Offering monthly events, annual events or even occasional newcomer welcome parties is important to keep residents happy and create a sense of community within the building. Residents want to feel that the building they live in is a special place where they can comfortably meet and socialize with their neighbors. Mr. Rogers would’ve loved that. Won’t you be my neighbor?     

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