Board Members in Attendance: JJ, Jan, John, David, Karen O’Neil Gilliam, landscape contractor
20 or so homeowners
- In the past two years, Chestnut Hill has weathered the storm of inflation by trimming costs where we could and putting off projects we wanted to do.
- Assessments have only had to be raised twice in 30 years.
- But the community is 30 years old.
- This year we had to buy a new air conditioner for the clubhouse. It’s desperately in need of stain, and soon it’ll need a new roof.
- Plumbing is wearing out, electrical systems are wearing out, the irrigation system is wearing out.
- DHEC is requiring us to add storage to the pool building, and in addition to that cost, getting building permits is an expensive nightmare because of the new flood maps.
- This year cost $18,000 more than expected. We can only expect costs to go up in the future.
- We’ll have to use reserves to cover that deficit.
But we can’t keep dipping into savings. We have to build savings, for when the real emergencies come.
- We’ll have to use reserves to cover that deficit.
- For 2024, assessments have to go up. It’s a 10% increase, from $500 a year to $550.
- Kingston Forest, right next door, has a pool and tennis courts. No clubhouse, very little common area, no natural areas, no ponds, no lake, no river access, no lighted paths, and no community events. They pay about 80% of what we do, but arguably don’t have 80% of what we have.
- Park West in Chapin has a small common area with a gazebo. They plant flowers around their two signs a few times a year. No pool, no clubhouse, no lighted walkways: $305 a year. To mow around the gazebo and plant flowers. Zero amenities.
- Let’s do the math on $50. $50 a year is 14 cents a day. Back when we used cash, we came home with more than that in our pockets every day. $50 a year is $4.16 a month. That’s one latte.
- A homeowner pointed out that, taking inflation into account, this assessment is actually 42% less than in 1995.
- Another homeowner pointed out that as costs continue to rise, assessment increases may become very common.
- Several expenses are going up.
- Management Fees: We had a sweetheart deal with Halcyon. We’re still under the Halcyon contract, so that’s why the 2023 total is so low. That contract expires December 31, so this line item was going to go up no matter what. Our research shows this is a reasonable rate.
- Billing & Receiving: This is what CAMS charged us to send bills and receive payments: $11,000. Town & Country doesn’t have this line. Receiving is part of the contract. Billing is done at cost, which is four lines down under Postage & Supplies. $5,000 less than we paid CAMS.
- All told, with the various fees that CAMS charged, we’re going to end up paying about the same to have Town & Country instead.
- Grounds Expenses: $21,000 increase. Half of that is necessary repairs to the irrigation system, which, like everything else, is getting old.
- Pool: we over-budgeted last year. That’s a good thing because other expenses went way up. Nonetheless, we think we’ll spend more next year than we did this year.
- Reserves: in 2023, we took out rather than putting in. We hope to start replacing that.
- Clubhouse rental is going from $100 to $150.
- A homeowner pointed out that to use a picnic shelter at Saluda Shoals park for four hours is $64. The clubhouse is a climate controlled indoor area with bathrooms and a kitchen, and your $150 gets it for all day and night.
Any community bigger than a few dozen homes needs management. A volunteer board simply can’t keep up with all the finances, billing and collections, managing vendors, monitoring the work, and making sure everyone gets paid. Plus there’s insurance, taxes, utility bills, and any number of other things. So we hire a company to manage these things.
For 20-odd years, Chestnut Hill was managed by Halcyon. Halcyon was owned by a guy named David, who had a staff who pretty much kept up with everything. The board set priorities and Halcyon executed them. If something needed attention, Halcyon told us and we worked together to address it. The relationship was so good that the board became used to simply making decisions, and waiting for Halcyon to let us know if there was a problem. We didn’t have to manage the management.
In 2001, CAMS approached David with an offer to take over all the properties Halcyon managed. They would buy the contracts. David did what anyone would do: he made the best decision for himself. He took the buyout and retired.
Initially, the board was optimistic about the change. CAMS was a big company, well established, with technology and resources Halcyon didn’t have. Yes, there would be bureaucracy, but we had a single property manager to route everything through. We expected her to monitor things like Halcyon did, and let us know if anything needed attention, just like always.
It took about seven months to realize that CAMS exemplifies everything negative that people think about bureaucracy. They have their ways of doing things, and if that didn’t fit Chestnut Hill, then Chestnut Hill just had to adjust. Different pieces of CAMS didn’t talk to each other. Accounting did it’s own thing. Then the manager changed, and the new manager, while agreeable enough, didn’t know our community, was too busy to get to know our community, and just wasn’t pro-active. He never said so, but I got the impression he was just as frustrated with the accounting department as we were.
That’s when we realized that we had to keep a close eye on CAMS. We had to follow up on things that should have happened automatically. We found out some bills were 60 days past due. Homeowner communications were getting lost. If they paid a bill and didn’t know what budget item to use, they wouldn’t bother to ask. Sometimes they would just put it anywhere. Sometimes they would invent a new budget item. It took the board months to figure out where our money was going.
So we started looking for new management. We didn’t do this in public for two reasons. One: we couldn’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. A complicated decision like this is more difficult the more voices are involved. Besides, this is why the community has a board: to handle these things so every homeowner doesn’t have to worry about it.
And Two: we were afraid of retaliation from CAMS. The relationship was that bad. And this turned out to be wise; when they heard we hired someone else, CAMS got even more stubborn. First they tried to tell us we were not allowed to fire them. Once we showed them enough evidence to convince them we would win in court, they finally agreed to turn over management, but they’re dragging their heels, making us jump through bureaucratic hoops and generally making the process harder than is has to be.
However, after much research, interviewing different companies, and deliberating, we believe we’ve a good decision. We sorted through the salesmanship of several companies, and hired the one that didn’t try to sell us, but instead had a conversation to see if we were a good fit. Town & Country is not the flashiest, they’re not the most modern, and they’re not even the cheapest. But they’re the one that seems to fit this community the best.
Yes, change is inconvenient. But sometimes we have to go through a short period of discomfort to have better times ahead.
Communications will go through Lisa at Town & Country, not a call center.
John is our property manager, and he is frequently on-site. He can bring things like pool fobs and parking placards, rather than having to mail them or have homeowners pick them up.
John said a few words about Town & Country’s philosophy:
- SC based company, still family owned.
- Variety of payment options, prefer e-check which has zero cost to the homeowner.
- They work for the HOA, and will tailor their services to what we need.
- They strive for a one business day response to communications.