Southern Cross Property Consultants, a boutique construction management and architecture firm working primarily with nonprofit, volunteer led organizations is seeking an Assistant Preconstruction Manager to join our Operations team in San Diego. This organized and customer focused individual will support our team in all aspect […]
Author: SCPC Admin
Now we know the fate of California Senate Bill 721 (SB721), many homeowners’ associations are celebrating the fact that they dodged a bullet and can go on with business as usual. The argument that seemed to win the day with the legislature was that the […]
Regardless of what happens with Senate Bill 721, you still have balcony and walkway issues you need to deal with.
I’m preaching, so brace yourselves.
I know that California Senate Bill 721 (SB721) is a hot topic in HOA circles right now. Many HOA’s resent the fact that, once again, Sacramento is going to be dictating a new set of policies and requirements that HOA’s (and apartment owners) will have to spend money to comply with. I feel your pain, and I hate government regulations that impact me (and my wallet) as much as anyone else. But I also go onto a lot of HOA and apartment properties and I have to tell you, the condition of the balconies, exterior walkways, staircases, and other exterior wood elements is often shockingly bad.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you some of what I am talking about:
This is one of my current favorite pictures. The black is mold and rot, the brown is rust. This used to be plywood, but so much water has come through that when you walk on the surface above this location it feels spongy. It is absolutely unsafe to walk on.
Same property, but different location. This is a 6×12 structural beam, that supports the top of the stairs and about ¼ of the balcony. The top half of the beam end is totally rotted away, and this extends almost the entire 5’ length of the beam.
On a different property (I’m equal opportunity in this stuff), this is a wood framed exterior walkway to the unit entries. The picture shows the top landing at the concrete stairs where it transitions to the plywood deck. The deck coating has failed, especially along the edge and you can see both that the plywood is deteriorating, and if you look closely, you can also see all the nails holding the deck together are rusting away (the dark dots). I took one step onto this deck and jumped back, once again it was spongy and very soft. Shockingly, this is the walkway to the front entries of the four units in this building and the softness extended for over 10’ down this walkway. Nothing was visible from below. The underside was covered in stucco which had been repainted because it was discolored (likely from the moisture intrusion from above).
I’m not saying that every HOA (or apartment complex) has these issues, but in my experience, many do. Some are more subtle than the above, but equally worrisome. If your complex is more than 10 years old, you need to be making sure that all exterior wood structural systems are being inspected. If you cannot do it, hire an outside consultant who can. You cannot fix a problem that you do not know about or are ignoring, and you do not avoid liability for “not knowing” about a bad condition. In each of these three examples, the solution will involve structural replacement which is going to cost many, many times more than ongoing maintenance would have. For more on “deferred maintenance”, see our article, You Know What They Say About Assumptions.
The key takeaways are these:
- Know the condition of your facilities, especially the wood structural elements exposed to the weather.
- Have a maintenance program to keep these systems in good working order. If maintenance has not been getting done or has only been band-aid fixes, then prepare for the check to come due and for the cost to be significant.
- Remember that if SB721 passes, you will be mandated to do all this anyway.
One question that is raised all the time by prospective clients is how our value compares to our fee. The challenge with answering this question is that we really cannot prove a negative; when a project goes smoothly under our guidance, we can’t show how […]
One of the challenges that my team and I find ourselves confronted with regularly is when a prospective client, or even a current client, gets frustrated because they come to us with an assessment or scope of work for a project which we review and […]
I have had three different conversations in the last few months that went something like this: I meet someone new and we discover we both work in the construction industry doing construction or project management. We ask about the types of clients and projects we are involved with. When the other person hears me say that my firm specializes in working on existing buildings doing renovations or reconstruction projects, they shake their heads and say something along the lines of “Oh, that is so much harder than what I do. New construction is easy compared to what you have to do when you are working in existing buildings.” I agree, but you might be wondering why they all think that. Here are some of the reasons they all shared.
One of the challenges that almost all my firm’s projects have in common is that they are occurring in spaces that are still being used. Frequently, we are overseeing a project occurring on the outside of a building, while people are still living inside. We have also done a number of projects where we have corridors, walkways, driveways, or other circulation systems being worked on; which means we need to coordinate our work with the needs of the building users to come and go. The other challenge of working in occupied space is that you cannot just tear into everything and leave it; every aspect of the project has to be coordinated and phased so that the building can continue to be used by the occupants. These are challenges that simply do not exist in new construction.
A corollary to the challenge of working in occupied space is the challenge of communication. In new construction, the project manager needs to communicate with the contractor and keep the client in the loop about what is taking place. In renovation and reconstruction work, absolutely everything about the project needs to be communicated not just to those folks, but also to the building users. We have adopted a communication plan that includes upfront communication with residents and users prior to work starting, laying out the big picture of the project, coupled with ongoing updates and detailed communication. This keeps everyone in the loop and cuts down on, but does not eliminate, complaints and questions during the course of the project. Because we cannot eliminate complaints and questions during the project, we also make sure that residents and users have the contact information for our project manager so that they can reach out and receive accurate information and solutions to their individual concerns or issues.
The final challenge that came up in each of these conversations is the challenge of working with existing buildings and needing to manage the inevitable inaccuracies, existing conditions, and concealed issues. In new construction, once the project is coming out of the ground, everything is known and in the control of the project team. In a renovation or reconstruction project; everything the team does is being done to an existing building and must work regardless of what unexpected or concealed challenges come up. We have projects where there are no drawings of existing conditions, where walls are not square or plumb, where something was done along the way that is not to code and needs to be pulled out and redone, and many more. While our team is very good at anticipating what the contractor might uncover and how we need to make plans to realize the final result; we still have to accept that things will come up that we could not anticipate but that we now need to deal with.
I love working on renovation or reconstruction projects. I find it to be rewarding and challenging. But it is always fascinating and gratifying to hear other professionals in the industry express their admiration for the work we do for our clients.
Matthew C. Boomhower is the founder and president of Southern Cross Property Consultants; a construction management, architecture, and facilities management consulting firm. He is licensed as both an Architect and an Attorney. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly everyone has heard the cliché that to assume “makes an ass out of you and me”. Today I want to talk to you about a major assumption that is built into every reserve study, capital expense budget, and facilities operation plan. The assumption is […]
I live in San Diego. Many roads I travel on have Tsunami Evacuation Route signs on them, and many locations in California have signs posted warning that you are in a Tsunami zone. This article is your warning sign, because there is a “tidal wave” of expensive projects coming, and you may be sitting on the beach.
The vast majority of the properties that my firm is involved with are more than 25 years old. In fact, many of our clients’ properties are at least forty years old. Did any of you notice changes happening as you got older? Speaking for myself, as soon as I hit 35 it became harder to lose that extra 10 pounds, my knees hurt, and some nights I just cannot sleep. Many of us can say from personal experience that things happen as we get older. The same thing happens to our buildings.
How do we see this with our clients’ properties? Roof systems that have performed for years without you giving them any thought suddenly have numerous leaks. Major structural components like decks, balconies, and outdoor walkways suddenly have major beams or columns that need to be replaced — not just repainted. Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment suddenly fails and needs replacement. The list goes on and on. The challenge, for many of our clients, is that these major system failures are happening at a time when many property owners are already grappling with a back-log of deferred maintenance.
Now, if you are reassuring yourself that this does not apply to you because you have a reserve report and have been funding those reserve accounts… Ask yourself two questions: First, how well-funded are my reserves? If your reserve funding is less than 75%, you likely have a looming problem. Second, does your reserve study account for major components like the structural system or the building’s infrastructure (e.g.: plumbing systems, elevators, etc.)?
Repeatedly, we have been seeing our HOA clients struggling to deal with the sudden, catastrophic failure of a major system because it was never accounted for in the reserve study. We have three associations we are working with currently who are facing the need to bring special assessments up for votes to fund major structural projects for balconies, stairs, and exterior walkways due to major structural failure. We have several others who are grabbling with pin-hole leaks cropping up throughout their buildings, requiring replacement of pipes inside the walls.
So how do you get out ahead of this coming tidal wave? First, have an evaluation of your property performed so you have an idea of what issues are out there and can prioritize them. Second, make sure that your budgets and forecasts include building systems that are reaching the end of their useful lives (in many cases this is between 35 and 50 years, so if your buildings are in that range, assume you have pending issues). Finally, plan realistically so that you have time to identify, design, budget for, and replace systems before they fail catastrophically.
Remember that you don’t have to handle this by yourself. You can work with outside consultants to help evaluate your facilities and give you a professional assessment. The key is to start planning and preparing so you do not find yourself staring up at a wall of water, wondering what to do next.
Matthew C. Boomhower is the founder and president of Southern Cross Property Consultants; a construction management, architecture, and facilities management consulting firm. He is licensed in California as both an Architect and an Attorney. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 858-444-5498.
Customer service is a team sport and our team is honored to be recognized for our efforts. CHAMBER NAMES 2017 SMALL BUSINESS AWARD WINNERS Honors recognize customer service, vets success, innovation, social impact, entrepreneurship SAN DIEGO(May 2, 2017) – In celebration of small businesses throughout […]