Fiscal Responsibility – Homeowner Rights – Privacy – Freedom
We’re starting the new year with many significant improvements. As a homeowner in Mesa Oaks, I care deeply about HOA stewardship. Together we have achieved substantial results.
Over the last year, we reached a critical point of inflexion where the old HOA model was no longer serving our interests. This was largely expedited by some of the behaviors of our contracted management company. For these reasons, we have had to rethink what it means to have an HOA, what its purpose is, and what we want it to be. I believe the HOA must justify its existence because it’s not “normal” to have an HOA. The vast majority of Texas communities are without HOAs. We, the homeowners, are not sources of corporate welfare for an endless ecosystem of middlemen profiting from us. Therefore, if the HOA is to exist, I firmly believe it must serve us, the homeowners, or it must be terminated.
When I first took a position in the HOA, I quickly realized that much of our costs were attributed to choices made for the convenience of the HOA bureaucracy and our contracted management company. I felt that it was vital that I question every assumption, recommendation, and decision rather than blindly accept the status quo. What I discovered was deeply troubling to me in various ways, particularly some of the false things I was told. The real overlords of our HOA were waiting to run the clock out with another change of board members. Having seen this before in suffering organizations, I felt it was time to make deep changes. Fortunately, most of our issues are easily solved with a little motivation and hard work. That is why we are now self-governed. It has been a much needed breath of fresh air. We’ve now passed the halfway point. If we maintain our current course, we can continue onwards to more victories.
I believe that we can be a role model for all HOAs. We place the freedoms and liberties of the homeowner first, while minimizing the bureaucracy, and unnecessary costs. There is still much work to be done but, I believe we have established the foundational platform that can scale into the future. It’s up to this board, future boards, and homeowners to carry on this vision into the future without reverting to past ways.
Here’s just a short list of accomplishments. The rest are explained in the remainder of this newsletter.
- Transitioning to a homeowner operated association. This has saved us $15,000 alone. More importantly, this has ended a toxic relationship with a predatory corporation that attempted several ills against us.
- Implementation of a new contracting model where we get the lowest cost by having bidders compete for a contract. Our landscaping cost has gone from $20,000/year down to $13,452/year (ironically with the same contractor). We solicited nearly 115 companies for the contract award through hours and hours of visiting with them one by one.
- Cost reductions across the board (saved approximately $5,500 in management fees alone).
- Improvements in legal compliance.
- Substantial increases in transparency. Now we have full-time access to all documents. Any homeowner can have access to records (after they are redacted for personally identifiable information, which takes time).
- Engineering of future HOA safety valves to prevent corporate infringement of essential rights and liberties.
- Creation of procedures and systems to organize our operations. Everything we do has a documented procedure.
- Implementation of electronic record keeping using open-source and completely free systems.
- Running our own server platform that costs us a mere $10/month. It performs many key functions such as HOA email, file storage, voicemail.
- Establishing an HOA community social media system owned and operated by the HOA. This assures that we do not get infiltrated by scammers, spammers, predators, or surveiled by corporations spying on us. Only HOA residents can get in.
- Creation of an HOA external and resident-only website.
- Substantially increased privacy and security for your personal information. We do not need to give your information out to anyone since we do everything on our own property.
And, this is only the beginning …
It will take some time to finish everything, but we hope that you will bear with us during this transitional period.
Very Important - To Do
We have a few housekeeping tasks that we respectfully ask all homeowners to accomplish. These were mailed to you along with the 2024 Assessment. Forms are also available online.
To-Do No. 1: Electronic Notifications Consent Form
Texas State law allows us to save significant money by using electronic communications for bills, meeting notices, and other messages. If you enroll into Electronic Notifications, your HOA dues will be reduced by $30 per year. These savings are cost-neutral. They are paid for by new cost savings we’ve implemented.
We are required to collect your consent to use other than paper notifications. 100% homeowner participation is our goal, which will result in significant benefits and cost savings.
This also means that we are no longer limited to sending out just a few HOA communications every year. Historically only bills and meeting notices were sent out because of the high cost of paper mailings. Electronic communications are almost free of cost which means we can communicate with homeowners much more now. We’ll talk to you by email primarily but also through the website, the calendar, our social media, the chat system, and any other system we put in place. Certain communications will still be done by paper (e.g. late fees or other legal matters) because of legal requirements, but these are edge cases.
To-Do No. 2: Homeowner Census
Many things depend on the HOA maintaining an accurate list of homeowners’ contact information. We must periodically conduct this survey to fulfill HOA legal requirements. Also, this serves to provide you a verified login to our HOA social media, chat, and internal HOA website. We can maintain our chat and website available only to those on the list. Please accomplish this as soon as possible via the website or via mailed document.
To-Do No. 3: Vote on HOA Constitution and Bill of Rights
Existing HOA rules and regulations serve the corporation (HOA), not necessarily the homeowner.
We need your vote to ammend legal documents to give the homeowner control over your HOA.
Without these ammendments, every homeowner will be susceptible to future corporate control where the HOA always has the legal and financial advantage.
The HOA Constitution and Bill of Rights provide you with legal powers needed to properly administer the HOA so that it never exceeds its chartered mission. Third parties have already attempted to change our own HOA policies to use against homeowners.
To-Do No. 4: Pay 2024 HOA Assessment (Dues)
Your dues are being reduced from $260 per year to $200 per year, if you:
- Pay the full year in advance ($200 if you opt-into both discounts).
- Opt-in to electronic notifications.
If you opt-in, bills will be sent electronically going forward. This is specifically allowed by Texas law. If you enroll into Electronic Notifications, your HOA dues will be reduced by $30 per year.
Here’s how it works:
Dues Structure Example
How to Pay
Please pay either through:
a) (free) ACH bank-to-bank electronic transfer. The HOA’s bank info is:
- Routing Number: 114916103
- Account Number: 3003020200
b) (free) Bill Pay
- Routing Number: 114916103
- Account Number: 3003020200
|Mesa Oaks Homeowners Association|
1248 FM 78, Suite 102 PMB 4103
Schertz, TX 78154-2466
c) Postal Mail – mail a check to our new HOA mailbox:
|Mesa Oaks Homeowners Association|
1248 FM 78, Suite 102 PMB 4103
Schertz, TX 78154-2466
Consideration will be given waiving late fees for late payments caused by confusion during this transitionary period up until the 2nd half of 2024. Please keep evidence of payment so that we can quickly validate payment issues which were not your fault. Generally, we will be looking for any evidence of intent such as (but not limited to): postmark dates, tracking numbers, time-stamped bank record receipts, electronic time/date stamps, etc.
We have been careful not to lower costs unless we can maintain at least the current level of service. This first year will be a trial to see if further reductions in HOA dues can be made in the future.
HOA assessments will be due in January at the end of the month (month #1) and June at the end of the month (month #6) of every year. Residents will have 30 days to pay and invoices will be sent at least 30 days in advance electronically or by snail mail. General notifications and reminders will be published on the website, on our HOA social media, via emails, and if volunteers are available, via door-to-door followup.
To-Do No. 5: Join MesaOaks Chat!
You can chat with all your neighbors 24/7 on our totally private chat using your cellphone, tablet, or computer. Only HOA residents on the master resident list are allowed in. Please accomplish the Census form to ensure you and your co-residents are on the master list. Join the chat now!
Forms were mailed to you along with the 2024 Assessment (dues). Please return filled out forms to the HOA either by:
Regular postal mail:
Mesa Oaks Homeowners Association
1248 FM 78, Suite 102 PMB 4103
Schertz, TX 78154-2466
You can scan or photograph printed / signed forms and send them via email to us.
Download a copy of the mailed forms here. These include:
- Electronic Notifications Consent Form
- Homeowner Census
- Constitution and Homeowner Bill of Rights Voting Form
- Billing / HOA Dues (2024 HOA Assessment)
The Role of the HOA
The HOA is a corporation that was created by the original developer. It exists only to perform a few delegated stewardship tasks. We are taking measures to assure that the HOA will never overstep it’s original purpose, as several outside forces have already attempted to do. HOA horror stories are a nationwide trend that we must avoid.
Threats that have been averted so far include:
- A proposed HOA rule that would eject you from a meeting unfairly.
- A proposed HOA rule that would limit your ability to display religious items on your property beyond the freedoms granted by Texas law.
- A proposed HOA rule that would limit your ability to use private security cameras on your own property.
- A proposed HOA rule that would make you always pay for litigation against the HOA.
- Management company driven cost increases.
The best solution is to create a narrow scope of delegated “authorized” responsibilities for the HOA. The HOA may never exceed these. The HOA would be forbidden from creating any violating governance instruments, allocation of funds, or enforcement actions not specifically in this list.
Examples of HOA Behaviors - Why Homeowners Need Protections
An HOA can be just as tyrannical as a government. In government, our founding fathers created a Constitution and Bill of Rights to prevent government from exceeding its delegated authority. In the context of a corporation (e.g. the HOA), we don’t automatically have constitutional or bill of rights protection since we voluntarily engage in a contractual obligation when we buy a house in the HOA. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights does not apply to private corporations like the HOA.
Therefore, the HOA has an asymmetric legal and financial advantage over you. The HOA can pay for its legal fees simply by raising your dues. This scenario has played out many times in other HOAs and it can happen overnight with a change of board members who do not value your freedoms and liberties. By amending our governing documents with the HOA Constitution and Bill of Rights, it prevents future HOA overreach.
Management Companies are also a problem
An HOA frequently outsources management functions to third party management companies. Management companies do not act in our interest, they act in the interest of their own profit motive. Their goal is to raise costs year after year while working in concert with other third parties to create an ecosystem of homeowner exploitation. Our own lawncare costs decreased from $20,000/year down to $13,452/year (with the same contractor) after we ceased using a management company and after doing a competitive bid process.
Also, there is no tangible evidence that HOAs actually increase property value. In fact, the opposite has been demonstrated. The HOA must be suitably constrained so that people will want to live here. Management companies have every incentive to pass more rules that benefit them or to escalate costs.
HOA Constitution and Bill of Rights
A Constitution limits what the HOA can do. The Constitution will be included in the DCCRs, ByLaws, and other legal instruments where appoopriate so that the HOA cannot operate outside of its authority. Anything not specifically contained in the Constitution, or in the remainder of the DCCRs, ByLaws, and Articles is the right of the homeowner.
The Bill of Rights assures a minimum level of irrevocable rights always guaranteed to homeowners.
We now have a secure, resident only chat. Please fill out the forms we mailed out to you to gain access. Or, you can fill out the forms online here: https://mesaoakshoa.com/chat/
MesaOaksHOA.com is intended to be a community public square.
Public and Private Website
This website is publicly viewable but when a homeowner (or resident) logs into the website, they are exposed to the rest of the website. The private side of the website contains many functions not available publicly. For example, our HOA social media, chat, and groups are all private and require verified user registrations.
How To Get Access to Private-Side of the Website
Private website access can only be gained by accomplishing the Homeowner Census form and then the Website and Chat Access Form. This is because you must be a verified resident living in the HOA. Anyone in your household may get access to the private sections of the website. Note: the printed Homeowner Census is consolidated with the Website/Chat Access form.
HOA Member Dashboard
When you first log in, you’ll see an “HOA Member Dashboard”. This provides quick access to common HOA functions. The HOA Member Dashboard is private — HOA residents only.
Note: you must accomplish the Homeowner Census Form up to get an account.
HOA Social Media
We now have several ways for any resident to communicate with all other residents, a capability we’ve never had before. Our system is similar to Facebook, NextDoor, and Meetup but without all the downsides of big-tech. We own it completely. Our social media systems are completely private and you must be registered with the HOA to gain access.
Anything done on our system doesn’t leave our system. We don’t sell the data, we don’t share the data, and we don’t give access to anyone who isn’t a resident.
It is intended that any HOA resident can use the system for anything they want :
- Advertise a social event.
- Do fund raising for community cooperative projects, Boy/Girl Scouts, church, etc.
- Sell things.
- Lost and/or found pets, etc.
- Crime reports.
- Community led cooperative initiatives (e.g. community sprinkler head repairs).
- Community led events like parties, kids’ events, Bible studies and other church events, garage sales, etc.
- Community led holiday decorations.
And so on…
Why not just use existing social media?
Many people avoid all “big tech” social media. We cannot build a private communication system on “big tech’s” platforms for a variety of legal, privacy, and safety reasons.
Facebook (WhatsApp), TikTok, Instagram, NextDoor, Meetup, and all other similar free products have severe privacy, surveillance, and censorship dangers. Why would you give them all your private data such as where you live, where you travel, who you talk to, and what you say? Social media will come back to haunt you at any point in the future when social opinions, politics, and laws change. Convenience comes with very high costs. Have you ever faced an IRS audit? In the State of New York, their government set up an office to scrape social media in order to tax people who claimed residency in other states. They used social media records. Big-tech will happily give out anything governments ask for. Big-tech routinely makes all their data accessible to governments, foreign countries like China, credit reporting agencies, and thousands of data aggregation companies which build an endless profile on you. If you want to find out anything about (almost) anyone, all this data can be bought. This is solely due to the poor information security practices of most people.
By having our own system, we can maintain privacy on our property, free from government, and corporate intrusion. Once data leaves our property, it is no longer private. Also, by using our own property, we are not subject to political censorship or government / big-tech disinformation campaigns.
Lastly, we can control who is a member in our system. We can ensure only residents have access to the system.
If you’re interested in learning about the dangers of big-tech and their platforms, the following channels are extremely valuable resources.
Use the submission form to tell us about any event you want to advertise. The calendar does not require a login to view. It is visible to the world.
Examples of things that the community calendar can be used for:
- Announce HOA meetings.
- Announce significant events and deadlines (e.g. HOA dues).
- City events such as street sweepings, trash pickup days, bulky trash collections, city-wide large waste collection events, etc.
- Someone’s birthday party.
Surveys and Votes
Our website has this capability. But, individuals must first be registered with the HOA. Otherwise, there is no way to verify the validity of the vote. Electronic voting still requires positive verification of voting legitimacy.
We are exploring how voting may be done electronically to supplement in person voting.
Accessibility of HOA Transparency Documents
Transparency has historically suffered from two major problems:
- Management company unwillingness.Your HOA Board is absolutely committed to transparency by making everything available electronically for no-cost inspection. There are some exceptions such as documents which have personally identifiable information or sensitive homeowner documents. But, generally, everything should be available to all homeowners.
- Lack of adequate information systems. We can’t use platforms like Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. because these seriously compromise homeowner privacy. Almost every commercial system available requires us to use their computers. Once it leaves our property, they can read our stuff. The only way to assure legal privacy is to keep it inside our own walls.
Recognizing these two factors, the board has taken steps to assure there will be no beaurocratic obstacles to transparency, and furtheremore we are using our Information Systems to give you maximum access to all HOA records and documents. And we are doing this at no additional cost.
Documents are being made available in 3 ways:
- A) Public facing website. This is the HOA website without logging in. This includes documents such as required government disclosures, common HOA legal instruments such as HOA rules, and solicitations for contract bids.
- B) Private facing website. These are documents that are only available to homeowners by logging into the website with their personal accounts. This includes things such as meeting minutes, financial reports, policies, etc.
- C) NextCloud. (Board access only) We have a software package that works like Google Documents and like Dropbox, except that it is 100% free (open-source) and it is 100% hosted on our own property. Basically, we keep all documents there. It also allows us to maintain task lists, notes, and calendars. Not only does it give us a coordination capability that we have never had before, but it also serves to provide an audit trail of everything we do which can be made available to homeowners. Note: Although we generally want homeowners to have access to all records, it may take some time to scrub documents for personally sensitive information (financial records, social security numbers, phone numbers, etc.). Generally homeowners can get access to anything via electronic means.
Please bear with us if you do make a request because we are unpaid volunteers who only do this part time, while having full time jobs. We need help from volunteers to faciliate this level of transparency.
These screenshot demonstrates a sample of the folder structure of our new electronic document system.
This is a partial screenshot of the Financial section of the resident-only, private-side of the website. All these records will be made available to all homeowners at all times.
HOA Phone System
We now have an on-premises voicemail PBX system that allows anyone to leave a voicemail for the Board. The system is based on open-source software and is hosted on our HOA server. Currently we have it configured for leaving messages only but it is capable of many functions. Best of all, it’s 2000%++ cheaper than any other commercial alternative. The cost per minute is fractions of a penny. This is the advantage of doing things ourselves instead of doing the easier option of outsourcing.
We kindly request volunteer assistance to respond to phone calls, route calls to the appropriate action people, and to create task items in tracking system.
HOA Postal Mailbox
After considerable research, we have contracted with a local Internet based 3rd party mail service provider to give the HOA a mailing address. This mailbox is accessible to Board members only for HOA business. Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis for HOA residents within reasonable limits. There are potential additional costs if mail is kept there too long or if too many mail items are received. The primary intent of this mailing address is to receive payments from homeowners, receive other bills, and for receiving legal papers.
Oh, and because we shopped around, this ended up being 50% less expensive than USPS. Everything else was significantly more expensive.
The HOA’s mailing address is:
Mesa Oaks Homeowners Association
1248 FM 78
Suite 102 PMB 4103
Schertz, TX 78154-2466
In the past our management contractor would do postal mailings for us. The markup cost was very high. The combination of all the additional fees, partially caused by mailings, increased the basic management fee from $9,000 to $15,000.
We bought our own $100 printer / scanner for the HOA and have reduced lifetime costs by approximately 50%. We print our own letters and we stuff envelopes ourselves. While there is a workload associated with this, it will be significantly reduced when residents sign up for electronic notifications via the Notifications Consent Form. Going electronic will significantly reduce the high cost of mailings by a combined rate of up to 95%. Ideally, only certain communications are done by postal printed letters while all other routine mailings are done electronically.
HOA volunteer putting this mailing together.
Compliance drivethroughs are being conducted and enforced in accordance with the DCCRs. We encourage all homeowners to carefully study the DCCRs to understand what the HOA can and cannot enforce. For example, public streets are the jurisdiction of the city. If homeowners are violating State or city laws, then the city (police) are the source of enforcement, not the HOA. If a homeowner refuses to cut their lawn and it looks excessively ill-maintained, then the HOA can enforce with notice letters and eventual fines. The City of Schertz also has ordinances on tall grass. Schertz requires lawns not exceed 8 inches in height. In cases of dual jurisdiction, the HOA will begin de-escalate the situation by issuing warnings which allow the homeowner time to remedy. The HOA may also let the city handle exceptional lawn care deficiencies because the city has Code Enforcement public servants with resources to prosecute civil fines, such as courts. Drivebys are intended to help guide people to maintain a good appearance and as not to cause harm by allowing snakes and other animals to infest overgrown lawns.
Incidentally, if trees fall on your property, there is state law and case law that covers this scenario. We have prepared an extensive read on this subject.
Drivethroughs are performed monthly. If a deviation occurs, the deviation will be documented and proven with evidence such as photographs and video. Complaints without evidence will be investigated until concrete evidence is obtained. If a homeowner makes a complaint about another homeowner, the HOA is empowered to interevene only when the violation is specifically mentioned in the DCCRs and HOA governance instruments.
GPS track of a compliance drivethrough conducted 2023-12-02.
We could always use volunteers to do drivethroughs. Do you like to walk around the neighborhood? You may be perfect for this job.
Cost reduction is a primary mission objective, along with freedom, liberty, privacy, quality, legal compliance, and safety. For years we have simply accepted the high costs of everything without challenge. Most of that cost was self-induced for the convenience of the HOA’s management company and middlemen. Outsourcing is not a guarantee of reduced cost, convenience, legal adherence, or competence. As homeowners, we have to demand more performance of the HOA. If the HOA is allowed to exist, it must be more self sufficient, without relying on endlessly take your money. Outsourcing should only be an exception, not the rule. We are leaving no stones unturned and every fraction of a penny counts.
It’s always easier to spend other people’s money.
Copyright Warner Brothers. Used under Fair Use.
Several major deficiencies and trends were traced back to our former management company, so we made the decision to part ways. Managing the HOA requires some effort from Board members, but it is not an insurmountable task. HOA management is a “well known quantity”, meaning that legal research and best practices are usually an internet search away. It doesn’t make logical sense to outsource such an unsophisticated task with so many “known quantities”.
This has resulted in a cost savings of at least $9,000 (basic cost) and up to $15,000 (2022 additional fees) from unnecessary management company expenditures. We had already negotiated to keep HOA fees in 2023 at 2022 levels, despite the management company’s insistence and false arguments to increase your HOA dues. Outsourcing management makes cost increases inevitable. Therefore, it makes more financial sense sense to perform all management functions internally where we have total accountability and no additional cost and with greater transparency. Our stewardship ability is now substantially higher.
We are now in a transitionary period. We are focusing setting up systems, standard operating procedures, and mechanisms for better service. This takes time and mistakes will be made. We kindly ask that you bear with us because the end result will be substantially better in every way. We have already made significant leaps that were not possible with an outsourced management company.
Outsourcing can be a very dangerous practice. While a task can be outsourced, the responsibility for that task cannot be. By having a management company, it has been very easy for Boards to resign from their responsibilities under the false belief that a third party contractor is looking out for their best interests. This ends now.
If the Board is going to outsource anything, they must first gain the knowledge of how to perform the task themselves. It is impossible to perform adequate oversight without knowing how to do it yourself. Any determined person can learn and we must demand more performance of the HOA.
“If I haven’t done it myself, and if I don’t know how to do it myself, then I don’t know its true cost, and I won’t spend a penny outsourcing it.“
Hernán changing sprinkler heads.
Doing Things Ourselves
We encourage you to volunteer to help the HOA. Our high costs are from outsourcing to for-profit contractors. We don’t have a community pool, no clubhouse, park, or any other large asset. Our only real expenses are lawn care for common areas, and a few other minor items. The other big costs of the HOA are simply to keep the bureaucracy running. Bureaucracy serves no one but itself. Our goal should be to lower the costs of the bureaucracy of the HOA. This is accomplished through a variety of strategies:
- Outsourcing only when absolutely necessary.
- Instead, doing “in sourcing”. Learn to do things ourselves, require board members to work, ask for help from volunteers.
- Competitive bidding.
- Not-funding pet projects where people decide to spend money on ideas that sound good, but effectively takes money from other homeowners.
- Preventing “mission creep” and “out of scope” duties. The HOA should have a very limited function, rejecting the temptation to expand its duties.
- Innovation. Technology is a force multiplier. Virtually all management functions can be improved through information technology, and done at virtually no cost. Open-source software runs the world. We don’t need to rely on expensive, privacy invading big-tech products.
- Volunteerism. The best way to bring people together is to work together towards a common objective. We’re all neighbors. We have a vested interest in helping each other. Being a volunteer is not primarily about cost, it’s about investing in the people around you for mutual benefit.
Here’s a volunteer stuffing the envelopes you just received in the mail.
Historically the management company made it difficult or impossible to audit financial affairs. A homeowner (and even the Board of Directors) had to jump through many hoops to inspect records in person at their offices, and with restrictions. Since we separated from the management company, we have now established a bank account with Schertz Bank and Trust. The cost of this is virtually zero, and it’s a locally and physically available FDIC insured bank. Since the Board is now directly managing financial affairs, you (the homeowner) have full visibility and control of fiscal expenditures and audits (except for personally identifiable information).
We are making use of zero-cost payment methods such as Bill Pay and direct account debiting. We also have an account set up specifically for HOA dues which allows homeowners to use their own bank’s zero-cost methods of paying dues through their own Bill Pay, electronic transfer, or ACH services.
Homeowners are entitled to all financial records (except for documents that have names and other personally identificable information, which should be redacted). We firmly believe you should have full 24/7 audit capability without running through hoops to get it. Our website is making this possible.
We could use your help to prepare these reports and to maintain them on the website for everyone.
You can see all our financial records online. You will need to be registered with the HOA to get access to the private end of the website which has all the financial records. We want you to see them, but not the rest of the world. Registration can be accomplished through the form that was mailed to you or online here.
We are significantly overdue for an audit. Our last management company failed to do this over the course of many years. We were able to get approximately a dozen boxes of records from years ago. Your Treasurer (Aminata) and Director at Large (Blair) have both been carefully reading each document to discover discrepancies, and they have found many.
It would help tremendously if we could get volunteer help to scan all the documents into PDF format. There are several benefits to having documents in PDF format:
- Documents can be made available easily to all homeowners.
- Redaction of personally identifiable information (PII) becomes far easier.
- Documents become computer searchable.
- We can maintain mulitple backup copies of key documents, instead of just paper copies.
Please volunteer to be a document archivist volunteer.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Business Processes
We are creating and maintaining new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for administrative functions. This is a basic function of any business and we are no exception. SOPs and Business Processes are kept in NextCloud (for Board use) or on the HOA website if homeowners are involved.
One of the biggest issues with a management company was keeping track of various tasks, then enforcing accountability on the status and completion of that task. Management companies had high turnover rates and an almost complete loss of continuity of tasks (i.e. they forgot to pay bills). This obviously disserved us. But, a homeowner run HOA could potentially have the same problem unless we design and implement our own task management system. We have such a system now. We utilize the open source software called NextCloud because it offers the ability to track tasks. Even with a busy schedule, members working for the HOA are able to utilize this system to manage the accomplishment of any task regardless of turnover or other manpower issues. The system is simple but scalable, meaning that it works no matter how many volunteers we have.
We have intrduced a competitive bid process for all outsourced functions. In the past there was a lack of competition because the management company only considered contractors on their short list. We weren’t maximizing our potential for money savings. Competitive bidding is extremely fair because everyone has an equal opportunity to accomplish the requirements. It also makes it easier for the HOA to compare bids between contractors. Competitive bidding begins by writing up a comprehensive list of “requirements” that are highly specific about what we need accomplished. You can view our landscaping bid requirements here.
The HOA then selects the lowest cost bidder, generally. We do look at other factors such as work reliability history, credentials, and reputation. This is also accomplished via our website (see the “Contracts” tab at the top of the website).
We have already seen significant cost savings merely by making the process competitive. For example, our 2022 landscaping costs were slightly above $20,000 but now we have renegotiated for $13,452/year.
This same competitive bid process can be used in the future for any other bidding process.
Landscaping services are being performed all year round the way it has always been.
We have continued to contract out landscaping by soliciting bids from 115 companies via the process described in Contracting. Costs went from $20,000/yr down to $13,452/yr.
Contractor Source List
We want to make sure that we give every contractor a fair opportunity to offer us their lowest price. Rather than limit ourselves to a convenient group of “favorite” contractors, we want to take inputs from any HOA resident. If you know of a contractor that you like, please tell us and we’ll add them to the list. Then, anytime a contract is bid in the future, the Board will be required to contact anyone on that list.
Also, it serves the dual purpose of giving you a list of contractors for your personal use.
Sprinklers exist along most of the front areas adjacent to Live Oak Road. Sprinklers experience frequent failures where the most common problems are broken sprinkler heads from mowing, vandalism, old age, and freeze damage. Fixing the system is expensive but most of the expense comes from simple things with high labor costs. For this reason, we are experimenting with volunteers fixing simple problems in the system. Specifically, only changing sprinkler heads. Sprinkler heads cost $4 to $10 but contracted labor costs can be as high as $40 per sprinkler head. Therefore, it is logical to outsource only when necessary for non-simple tasks such as fixing underground piping.
Sprinkler head repair is relatively simple. It involves digging around the old sprinkler, unscrewing it, adding new PVC pipe, and screwing in the new sprinkler head. Anyone can be shown how to perform the task.
We’re looking for volunteers to help maintain sprinklers (simple repairs only). For the time being, repairs are being made by your HOA president but volunteer help would be a tremendous benefit.
With a little programming knowledge, we can have many useful software tools that would otherwise cost us a ton of money if we asked a management company to implement. Here’s a screenshot from a sprinkler management program (website) written by Hernán. It allows us to track the status of each sprinkler head (approximately 200). When someone reports a broken sprinkler head, we’ll know exactly where to go find it and then we can fix it ourselves, and make a record directly on our cellphones to the software.
This software is a proof of concept, but it demonstrates that as homeowners, we can manage everything including the creation of our own systems.
Sprinklers have been given unique serial numbers and GPS mapped so that we have a full dashboard of how everything works. With a few volunteers, we could keep the entire thing running perfectly, forever, at virtually no cost.
I.T. is a huge beast that is significantly more complex than anything else the HOA does. It’s also something that requires considerable knowledge to understand. Therefore, the temptation is to outsource everything to avoid headaches. This is a false and wrong choice. Outsourcing has huge cost, privacy, legal, and safety implications.
We have established our own platform. We have our own server. Our costs are a mere $10 per month!
Open source is software that you have the source code to. Think of it like having Colonel Sanders’ Secret Recipe and you use it to make your own fried chicken at home. Commercial alternatives are proprietary and are “closed source”, meaning that you have no idea what the software is doing. You cannot inspect the source code. You have to trust what their marketing people tell you.
Open source allows full transparency by anyone around the world. Software engineers and security researchers work together, in public, to release software which can be audited at any time for malicious code.
We are using ALL open source code software: LibreOffice, NextCloud, Ubuntu Linux Server, Apache, MySQL, Docker, PHP, iRedMail, OpenPBX.
Best of all, this is all at ZERO $0.00 cost. If you volunteer for HOA roles, you can download LibreOffice (for free) and use it instead of proprietary, costly, privacy invading software like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs. We maintain our documents in the Open Document Standard to ensure it’s readable in the future.
Most people want to use commercial products like Microsoft Office but this has “future proof” problems. Commercial vendors desire to create proprietary file formats for their products so that it becomes difficult for organizations to transition away from their product, allowing them to squeeze and increase the cost over time. Organizations end up deciding to stay with costly proprietary products simply because of the headache associated with getting away from them. This is called “vendor lock-in”.
The other problem is that once you migrate away, you may not be able to access your old files. Essentially your files are held for ransom. The best policy is not to use proprietary file standards like Microsoft Office DOCX file or Apple Pages files.
We are using “open standard” file formats designed by The Document Foundation (https://www.documentfoundation.org/). They have created international standards for electronic documents that assure that any documents stored in their format can be read and modified by any software. Our office software of choice is LibreOffice, which is like Microsoft Office, but it’s open source and follows Open Document formats by default. By using open standards, we are assuring that your documents are future proof, meaning that open and free methods of reading the data will exist in the public domain in the future.
Increased Transparency with Information Systems
We have installed the open source software called “NextCloud” which gives the Board a single location to store all our documents. This means that any HOA resident can inspect our (public) records. NextCloud is at no additional cost since it runs on our HOA server.
The HOA is a volunteer “non-profit” corporation, where its directors (HOA Board) are unpaid. This eliminates any monetary motivations that cause conflicts of interest. HOA legal documents empower the Board of Directors to empower volunteers to help in HOA affairs. We intend to heavily push this in order to lower total costs while improving service.