In a neighborhood-centric world, Ryan Edwards is helping HOAs rise to the occasion
When you’re weathering a challenge — whether it’s a global pandemic or a looming recession — it pays to have a well-established culture of trust and flexibility, says Leadership Trust member Ryan Edwards.
In the last two and a half years, neighborhoods have become the backbone of many people’s lives – far more so than they were before the pandemic. That shift has implications for a wide range of companies and industries, not least of which is local homeowner’s associations (HOAs).
There’s no doubt that it’s important to have a functioning and effective homeowner’s association, but – at least until there’s an issue – very few homeowners are aware of the complexity involved in running an HOA and supporting the many tasks and initiatives they oversee. For example, most HOAs manage finances; collection; insurance selection and implementation; vendor coordination and payment; maintenance; and more. Due to the growing intricacy of these tasks, HOA boards are increasingly hiring HOA management companies to shoulder some of the burden and, most importantly, keep homeowners happy.
HOA management may sound as simple as that – telling HOA boards what to do. But according to Ryan Edwards, founder of EZR Management, the best companies take a more holistic approach. “They’re looking not only for a good property manager, but also a planner, someone who can set them up to be successful in the future,” Edwards explains. “When a building needs to be updated, we first discuss the ‘why.’ Then, we go deeper than just the ‘how.’ Should we do something to the building to add value and eliminate maintenance and cost in the future? It’s this deeper thinking that helps clients save money.”
After years in the construction and property management industries, Edwards approached HOA management with a laser focus on unwavering customer service and smart decision-making. Internally, he’s built a culture of flexibility and understanding designed to keep employees motivated.
When it comes to customer service, Edwards shares a truth about the industry: “You’re only as good as your last call.” No matter how quickly previous calls or incidents were dealt with, if there’s a drop in service, even just once, that’s what the customer will remember. And Edwards makes sure his team understands that. “When it comes to our company and our performance, we do it better than the rest, but we can always improve. I’m not looking to be the biggest, I’m looking to be the best.”
One of the ways Edwards stays on top is by leaning into technology and the efficiency, accuracy and security it provides. This is particularly true when it comes to the banking part of the business, which has evolved significantly in recent years. Moving dues payments online – and automating the process for customers paying via check – both played a pivotal role in helping smaller management companies meet and exceed client expectations. Edwards predicts even more exciting innovation in the future and is even working with his regional bank partner to level up their offerings.
But even more than the power of technology, Edwards believes in the power of his team. Building a culture of trust and flexibility is something that’s always been important to Edwards, but it paid dividends when it came to weathering the pandemic. “The pay package matters but people want the freedom to be able to come and go. Giving them that results in really strong performances, which should mean better customer service.”
Looking ahead, Edwards sees smart growth for his company and his industry. A lifelong entrepreneur – he started a lawncare business early in high school, scaled it and sold it when he went off to college – he’s always looking 10 steps ahead to build a better experience for his clients. “If you’re not getting better at what you’re doing in life, you’re getting complacent,” says Edwards. “You’re not guaranteed a tomorrow, so work better today.”
Partners in management: How one property management company’s collaborative approach leveled up a community
For many HOAs, managing, maintaining and improving a community has become increasingly difficult. Not only are they navigating property management SaaS systems and digital accounting, but they’re often working with contractors whose work is both more complex and more costly than in bygone eras. And as with any group managed by coalition, conflicts of needs and opinions can undermine productivity – and cause a lot of stress.
These issues were familiar to the residents of Germantown Village Townhouses, Inc., an 84-unit townhouse complex in East Memphis. Though the townhouses are approaching 50 years old, a few of the original residents remain. But in addition to necessary updates and repairs to much of the infrastructure – the board had struggled to form productive relationships with contractors, some of whom had disappointed them – the HOA had trouble managing its finances in an organized manner. Many processes still took place on pen and paper.
Part of the problem was that the HOA board, as a group, had little to no prior experience in managing real estate.
“It became obvious that we needed new management,” said Linda Ross, one of the HOA board members. “HOA boards are all volunteers and neighbors, and nobody had property management skills other than, in my case, being a past homeowner. You just don’t realize everything you’re getting into until you’re actually on a board.”
When it came on board with this particular HOA, EZR Management, a Memphis-based property management company specializing in rentals and small multi-family and single-family homes, saw its mission clearly: to modernize Germantown Village’s HOA and run the community like a business. To do this, EZR leveraged a unique partnership-based approach that founder Ryan Edwards views as integral to the company’s success over the past decade.
“We have a completely different style than most of our competitors in the marketplace,” Edwards said. “It’s consultative and collaborative. Some management companies can be seen as dictators in the eyes of their clients. And then some of them purely acquiesce – they do as they’re asked and nothing more. We’re certainly not built in either of those ways. By working with us, our clients become educated consumers.”
EZR’s first task was to transition the community to a system that was, in Ross’ words, “much more organized and computerized and focused on long-term planning.” That involved, in part, taking a close look at the community’s operating budget and how it was allocated.
“We had to be realistic with them, which meant looking closely at all the yearly expenses and saying, ‘This is your capital that you need to employ in order to also maintain your infrastructure,’” Edwards said.
For Germantown Village, this involved looking at what Edwards refers to as “the big-ticket items.” For example, collections posed a problem. Edwards and Ross recall that there was a total of $46,000 to $50,000 in arrears when EZR came in. Working together, they brought that number below $10,000 within two years.
With the funds secured, they were able to implement capital needs within their community and infrastructure, including roofing, fencing, painting, pool work and clubhouse work. Through the process, which EZR oversaw transparently, they were able to help the board members set up and maintain their own capital budget, while cutting their costs wherever possible (sometimes by switching to different vendors for certain services like trash removal).
Involving the HOA members in every step of the process proved crucial. Once they understood how vendors’ business models would work within their needs and their budget and what improvements would actually add value (and how much), HOA members who had previously raised objections at meetings got on board.
EZR was also instrumental in updating Germantown Village’s financial systems. One notable change was the way in which Village members paid monthly HOA dues. Before working with EZR, Ross recalls: “We were paying the HOA dues through coupon books and by the mail. “Ryan has gotten us all computerized now. People are doing a direct monthly deduction online, which makes them less likely to forget about monthly payments. It’s just so much easier.”
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For Edwards, facilitating a successful transition to more modern technology is just part of the process of empowering clients with solutions that work for them — all through EZR’s patient, educational, partnership-like approach. “Obviously, we don’t have a dog in the fight with any one client,” Edwards said. “So we just give them the knowledge and the experience to help them make the right decisions, and ideally, they take that information and use it to create and sustain a good business plan.”