Fall House Hunt

Why you should serve on your condo board. Really.

In many instances, it can be a case of ‘better me than them.’

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Things can get contentious quickly between condominium owners and board members.

Volunteer work may conjure images of philanthropy and gestures of goodwill, but in the case of volunteering to sit on a condo board, those in the know say it’s more like being a human punching bag.

Between the meetings, arranging everything from extensive repair work to landscaping, and reminding certain owners — multiple times — that their condo fees are late, a board seat can feel like taking on a second full-time job.

Never mind the fact that things can quickly get contentious between owners and board members. Just remember how the fallout between Harbor Towers condo owners and building trustees exploded in the press after a $75 million special assessment was levied in 2007.


So why move up from being just an owner in a condo development to a building trustee or board member? In many instances, it can be a case of “better me than them.”

“It is a lot of work, but keep in mind that for most people, their condo is their primary residence, which is their single biggest investment in their lives,” said Matthew W. Gaines, a partner at law firm Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks who primarily works in the firm’s condominium group and real estate department. “What better way to make sure your investment is protected and being looked out for then to serve on your condo board?”

While hostility tends to garner more headlines — from Harbor Towers to more recently in The Pinehills in Plymouth — the day-to-day duties of a board member tend to be more vanilla. Think: selecting paint colors for a hallway, deciding when carpeting gets replaced, and imagining how landscaping projects will look.

“To the extent you can have a voice by serving on the board, why not? It’s good if you have the time to do it,” Gaines said. “Maybe you even bring some expertise to the table because maybe you’re an accountant or maybe you’re an engineer — whatever it is.”


“I actually joined because the grass wasn’t getting cut, and I had a privacy fence down and I wasn’t getting answers,” said Lisa Johnson, a RE/Max Destiny real estate associate who also sits on her Weston condo development’s board. “It was months and months, and someone said, ‘Well, why don’t you join the board?’ And I said, ‘Fine, I will.’ I was so mad. When the grass is taller than my dog, there’s a problem.”

There may be a strong call to duty for some, but time spent on a condo board isn’t just about reviewing paint colors and carpet samples. When times get tough and difficult decisions need to be made on building maintenance, tensions can run high.

“I really wasn’t prepared for the extent of what might sometimes be termed petty complaints that people make about other people who are either renting a condo or the owners who are living in it,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Wade, who recently finished a one-year term as board member at a condo development in the Berkshires. “It’s different when you actually know the people and you’re trying to make decisions as a board and to be fair and equitable and to follow the rules and regulations and all the legal pieces of the condo agreements and also deal with personalities and just trying to be the reconciler.”


When unpopular decisions are made, they can elicit rancor from condo owners. Some may even try to derail buildingwide meetings to voice their opinions —angrily.

Voices need to be heard and respected, Wade said, but there is an upside to virtual meetings.

“When COVID hit and everything had to be electronic, [the board] started meeting on Zoom, and that really went a long way towards solving the problem because on Zoom, you can mute people,” Wade said. “The board learned the value of a mute button. You can submit questions ahead of time, or you can make comments afterwards, but during the meeting, you’ll be muted. So, it was possible actually to conduct business in a sane and reasonable fashion.”

One of the more difficult aspects of sitting on a condo board involves the role of being the conduit between residents and vendors. Often, boards of larger buildings or developments will hire a management company to run the day-to-day operations. But even this can bring ire, as residents view boards as the on-site place to point a disgruntled finger.

Sheila Cummings, another board member in Johnson’s Weston condo development, has been on the board for nearly six years and helped guide the community through the difficult decision to embark on significant infrastructure work.

“Over this period of time, it became apparent that a lot of the infrastructure projects needed to be redone like basic infrastructure, roads, sewers — really huge projects that had been delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed over time,” Cummings said. “These are really difficult decisions for boards to make because, undoubtedly, they are going to have to increase fees. That’s unpalatable to everyone, including board members, to pass that onto their owners.”


But those interviewed for this story also emphasized the importance of taking the job seriously, especially in light of the Champlain Towers South collapse last year in Florida.

Robert Nordlund is founder and chief executive of Association Reserves, a company that helps condo developments budget better for major projects.

He told The Boston Globe via e-mail that good board members will have the “4 C’s”: They need to care (about the property — physically and financially); they need to be curious (to figure out why something is as it is); they need to be courageous (to act as needed); and they need to communicate well.

“They are, after all, politicians leading their constituents forward,” Nordlund said.

“It can be pretty simple if the board assembles a good team. But that presumes the board itself is a ‘healthy’ organization (regularly getting ‘new blood,’ being guided by some clear principles or a good management company, etc.),” he added.

“I became the president of my 71-unit condo [development] shortly after buying in simply because I was mortgaged up to my eyeballs and I wanted to make sure things were going well, not slipping sideways.”

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