The Effects Of A Death On Your Title

by qgregg 23. April 2014 07:09
The Effects Of A Death On Your Title Written by Benny L. Kass on Monday, 21 April 2014 1:29 pm Question: My mother died a couple of months ago, and my dad wants to make sure that title to his house is in his name. How do we determine the status of title? Dad wants to make sure that upon his death, his three children will not have any problems regarding the house. Answer: First, while I am sure that your motives are pure, you have to remember that the decision on where to distribute your dad's assets when he dies is his -- and his alone -- to make. The answer to your question depends on how your parents held title. You can ask an attorney to do a title search or you may be able to go to the website of the local recorder of deeds in the county (or city) where the property is located and get a copy of the original deed to the house. There are several ways that property can be owned: Sole owner. This is obvious; you own the property in your own name. Tenants in common. Here, two or more people own property together. Under a tenant in common arrangement, each owner has a divisible interest in the property. Although most tenant in common ownerships are split equally (i.e. 50-50 ownership), there is no legal requirement that it has to be this way. Often, there are financial or other considerations which dictate a different ownership split -- for example 90- 10, or 75-25. For example, parents may buy a house with their children and split up ownership in accordance with a formula they decide upon. In this arrangement, on the death of one owner, his/her percentage ownership is part of the decedent's estate -- and the estate must be probated. The property interest does not transfer to the surviving owner. If there is a Will, that portion of the property will be distributed in accordance with its instructions. If the person dies without a Will (called "intestacy") the laws of the jurisdiction where the person was domiciled will control the distribution. Joint tenants: here, the parties jointly own the property. Although some states require language to the effect that the property is held as joint tenants "with right of survivorship", the majority of the States will consider the property as being jointly held even if this magic language is not included in the deed. Under a joint tenancy arrangement, on the death of one owner, the property will automatically be transferred to the surviving joint tenant. Probate is not necessary. This is called a transfer "by operation of law". Let's look at this example: A and B own property as "joint tenants with right of survivorship". A dies with a Will which specifically gives A's share of the property to C, his child. However, since the property is jointly held, B will end up with full ownership. C has no claim to the property, and the Will -- as it relates to the property -- is meaningless. A joint tenancy ownership can, however, be unilaterally separated by one of the joint tenants. Let's go back to our example. While A is alive, he decides that on his death, his share of the property should go to C. He prepares a Last Will and Testament memorializing his intentions. But he also asks his attorney to prepare a deed, changing title to reflect that A and B will now hold title as "tenants in common". Although B should be informed -- as a matter of courtesy -- of this transaction, B has no control over what A does with his share of the property. Now, when A dies, his interest will be distributed to his child C, in accordance with the terms of the Will. Since they now own the property as tenants in common, probate will be required. It should be noted that some states allow joint tenants to own the property in unequal shares, but in the Washington metropolitan area, property must be held in equal shares. Tenants by the entireties: this is title reserved exclusively for husbands and wives. Although some married couples will hold title as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the more common arrangement is to take title as tenants by the entireties. This means that on the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse automatically (by operation of law) becomes the owner of the entire property. Probate is not required. Title ownership is important in life as well as in death. If, for example, there is a creditor who holds a judgment against one of the joint tenant owners, that creditor can force the sale of the property in order to satisfy the judgment. Let us assume that the judgment creditor is owed $25,000 by one of the joint tenants, and the jointly held house is worth $400,000, with a $200,000 mortgage. The judgment creditor can get a Court Order requiring that the house be sold. The first mortgage lender will get its $200,000, and the remaining sales proceeds (after commissions and closing costs are deducted) will be divided as follows: the joint tenant who did not owe any money will get half of the balance but the judgement debtor's share will be deducted in order to pay off the $25,000 debt. However, when husband and wife hold title as tenants by the entireties, a judgment creditor of only one of the parties cannot force a sale to satisfy the debt. This can only be done if both husband and wife owe the money. Some married couples decide -- for tax or estate purposes -- that the house will only be titled in one of the parties. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, and legal and financial advice must be obtained before going this route. Thus, the way title is owned can be important -- whether you are living or are dead. Assuming that your parents held the property as tenants by the entireties, your father is now the sole owner. The land records, however, will still show ownership in both names. While it is not critical to have the title placed solely in the name of your father, it is not an expensive process to update the records, and it may solve problems which could arise in later years. Your father will need a certified copy of your mother's death certificate. This means that the certificate will have an imprinted Seal from the government office which issues such certificates. He will then have to record a document -- called a "confirmatory deed" -- in the office of the Recorder of Deeds in the jurisdiction where the property is located. There should be no recordation or transfer tax, and the filing fee should be nominal, perhaps $20 or $30. Some local jurisdictions may require some additional documentation -- such as an affidavit of exemption from tax. Why should your father make sure that title is in his name? Peace of mind is perhaps the most important factor. Additionally, many years later, should the need arise to sell or refinance the property, you may not be able to locate your mother's death certificate. The title company or attorney handling the transaction will require proof that your mother died. Finally, a number of states have enacted the Transfer on Death Deed. Check with your attorney; it your state has that law, it is something that your dad may be interested in. Oversimplified, you prepare a deed that does not become effective until you die. It's not that simple, however, and you need legal counsel to assist you with this.

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Real Estate Matters

Gregory R. Gosselin has been awarded the prestigious Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) Designation

by qgregg 9. April 2014 14:44

Gosselin awarded Certified Residential Specialist Designation

YORK — Gosselin Realty Group broker and owner Gregory R. Gosselin has been awarded the prestigious Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) Designation by the Council of Residential Specialists, the largest not-for-profit affiliate of the National Association of REALTORS®, according to a released statement from Gosselin Realty Group.

REALTORS® who receive the CRS Designation have completed advanced professional training and demonstrated outstanding professional achievement in residential real estate, according to the released statement. Only 37,000 REALTORS® nationwide have earned this credential.

Home buyers and sellers can be assured that CRS Designees subscribe to the strict REALTOR® code of ethics, have been trained to use the latest tactics and technologies, and are specialists in helping clients maximize profits and minimize costs when buying or selling a home, according to Gosselin Realty Group.

Gosselin is a member and president-elect of the York County Council of Realtors. He serves on the Maine Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors, is president of the Seacoast Region Developers. He is a Modular Home Dealer, Consumer Certified Real Estate Consultant, serves on the Habitat for Humanity York County Board of Directors, GRI Designee, and is a major sponsor of Fair Tide in Kittery, a nonprofit supporting the homeless. Gosselin also stays connected with the community throughth local town committees staying connected with our communities.

"With only 4-percent of all REALTORS® having this designation, there is a big difference between a CRS and other agents," Gosselin said. "As a CRS I have advanced training, experience, and nationwide access to a network of resources. Having the CRS designation is just one more way that I am able to help my clients with their real estate needs and provide the best service possible."

Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment

by qgregg 8. April 2014 13:23

Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.

If You Do It Yourself

If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work.

When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers.

If You Use a Contractor

If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor:

  • Consult your local Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, or Local Consumer Protection Agency.
  • Talk with people for whom he has done work.
  • Ask your lender about him, if you plan to finance the project with a loan.
  • Check his place of business to see that he is not a fly-by-night operator.
  • Find out, if you can, how he rates with known building-product distributors and wholesale suppliers.
  • Ask friends and relatives for names of firms that they could recommend.
Compare Contractor Offers

Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why.

Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan.

Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly.

Understand What You Sign

The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms:

    • How much the entire job will cost you.
  • How much interest you will pay on the loan.
    • How much you will pay in service charges.

  • How many payments you must make to pay off the loan, and how much each of these payments will be.

After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed.

Beware of Fraud

Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow:

  • Read and understand every word of any contract or other paper before you sign it.
  • Never sign a contract with anyone who makes fantastic promises. Reputable dealers are not running give-away businesses.
  • Avoid wild bargains. The best bargain is a good job.
  • Never consolidate existing loans through a home improvement contractor.
  • Do not let salespeople high-pressure you into signing up to buy their materials or services.
  • Be wary of salespeople who try to scare you into signing for repairs that they say are urgent. Seek the advice of an expert as to how urgent such repairs are. High-pressure and scare tactics are often the mark of a phony deal.
  • Avoid salespeople who offer you trial purchases or some form of bonus, such as cash, for allowing them to use your house as a model for any purpose. Such offers are well-known gimmicks of swindlers.
  • Never sign a completion certificate until all the work called for in the contract has been completed to your satisfaction. Be careful not to sign a completion certificate along with a sales order.
  • Proceed cautiously when the lender or contractor demands a lien on your property.

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Fixing Up Your Home: Protect Your Housing Investment

by qgregg 8. April 2014 13:23

Your home is an investment in living as well as in savings. If neglected, it will pay no dividends. If properly maintained and improved, it will pay a high yield in comfort and usefulness for your family and in avoidance of costly repair bills. Home improvements also tend to raise neighborhood standards and, as a result, property values. From an economic standpoint, home improvements mean higher employment, increased markets for materials and home products--and therefore a more flourishing community.

If You Do It Yourself

If you are handy with tools and have the experience, you can save money by doing many jobs yourself. But unless you are skilled in wiring, plumbing, installing heat systems, and cutting through walls, you should rely on professionals for such work.

When you buy the required materials, it pays not to skimp. Good materials are not necessarily the most expensive. What you need are products that look good, are easy to maintain, and last a long time. Buy only from reliable dealers.

If You Use a Contractor

If you plan to use the services of a dealer or contractor, take care to choose one with a reputation for honesty and good workmanship. There are several ways to check on a contractor:

  • Consult your local Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, or Local Consumer Protection Agency.
  • Talk with people for whom he has done work.
  • Ask your lender about him, if you plan to finance the project with a loan.
  • Check his place of business to see that he is not a fly-by-night operator.
  • Find out, if you can, how he rates with known building-product distributors and wholesale suppliers.
  • Ask friends and relatives for names of firms that they could recommend.
Compare Contractor Offers

Before deciding on a contractor, you may want to get bids from two or three different firms. Make sure that each bid is based on the same specifications and the same grade of materials. If these bids vary widely, find out why.

Many contractors offer package plans that cover the whole transaction. Under such a plan the contractor provides all materials used, takes care of all work involved, and arranges for your loan.

Your contractor can make the loan application for you, but you are the one who must repay the loan, so you should see that the work is done correctly.

Understand What You Sign

The contract that both you and the contractor sign should state clearly the type and extent of improvements to be made and the materials to be used. Before you sign, get the contractor to spell out for you in exact terms:

    • How much the entire job will cost you.
  • How much interest you will pay on the loan.
    • How much you will pay in service charges.

  • How many payments you must make to pay off the loan, and how much each of these payments will be.

After the entire job is finished in the manner set forth in your contract, you sign a completion certificate. By signing this paper you certify that you approve the work and materials and you authorize the lender to pay the contractor the money you borrowed.

Beware of Fraud

Most dealers and contractors conscientiously try to give their customers service equivalent to the full value of their money. Unfortunately, home improvement rackets do exist. Here are a few common sense rules to follow:

  • Read and understand every word of any contract or other paper before you sign it.
  • Never sign a contract with anyone who makes fantastic promises. Reputable dealers are not running give-away businesses.
  • Avoid wild bargains. The best bargain is a good job.
  • Never consolidate existing loans through a home improvement contractor.
  • Do not let salespeople high-pressure you into signing up to buy their materials or services.
  • Be wary of salespeople who try to scare you into signing for repairs that they say are urgent. Seek the advice of an expert as to how urgent such repairs are. High-pressure and scare tactics are often the mark of a phony deal.
  • Avoid salespeople who offer you trial purchases or some form of bonus, such as cash, for allowing them to use your house as a model for any purpose. Such offers are well-known gimmicks of swindlers.
  • Never sign a completion certificate until all the work called for in the contract has been completed to your satisfaction. Be careful not to sign a completion certificate along with a sales order.
  • Proceed cautiously when the lender or contractor demands a lien on your property.

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York schools rankled by U.S. News & World Report snub

by qgregg 8. April 2014 08:02

York schools rankled by U.S. News & World Report snub

YORK — York school officials on April 2 discussed having an attorney contact U.S. News & World Report over the magazine's leaving the district off its list of top schools last year.

The top 10 high schools in Maine ranking, which was released last spring, is due to come out again on April 22. Last year, both Wells and Kennebunk high schools made the top 10.

Before beginning that discussion, committee members finalized the district's budget, which passed unanimously.

“It's nice to have the budget done to get back to this,” said School Committee member Marilyn Zoto.

The bulk of the meeting focused on debates being argued by the majority of schools around the country: How to balance test scores versus student performance. What tests or rankings matter? How to improve student performance?

Despite last year's U.S. News & World Report that left York High School unranked due to missing math scores, York High School was one of only 10 schools in the state to earn an A from the state under Gov. LePage's then new ranking system, school officials said.

Still, officials are perturbed about being left off the U.S. News & World Report list.

The formula the magazine uses to grade high schools is convoluted and its collection methods are unclear, said both York Superintendent Debbie Dunn and York High School Principal, Robert Stevens.

“They are not accountable to us,” said Dunn, who added that both her office and Stevens' has worked to contact U.S. New & World Report, but have been unsuccessful.

Board members expressed surprise that such critical information could be forgotten, but after repeated phone calls to the Maine Department of Education's Data Warehouse, where such information is stored, no answers could be found, they said.

Committee member John D'Aquila suggested having an attorney contact the report's authors to find some answers. Dunn agreed it was a worthwhile exercise and said she would pursue the matter.

Stevens said that when York High School's math scores were included the school ranked in the top 10 in the state, and when discussing the missing math scores with the state's data warehouse, he was told that the state doesn't consider the report in its rankings.

As to why the U.S. News & World Report ranking matters if it doesn't impact funding or students' college aspirations, Zoto said it has a psychological impact more than anything.

The state, however, scores high schools on three criteria, with the first being the school's math and reading proficiency percentages from the previous year's Maine High School Assessment Results (MHSA), which is the combination of the SAT and MEA science scores.

In the reading portion, 148 York High School students tested ninth in the state with 11 percent testing proficient with distinction, 52 proficient, and 29 partially proficient. In mathematics, only 7 scored proficient with distinction while 61 were proficient and 23 partially proficient, officials said.

Secondly, the state looks at the three-year progression average of classes. For instance, the state Department of Education will look at the average MHSA scores for the class of students completing their junior years against the other districts in the state. The latest results were unavailable from the superintendent's office.

The final criteria is the graduation rate of classes from four and five years ago, which are 89.7 percent and 91.8 percent respectively, officials said.

Additionally, officials said that on April 3 the state announced that York High School is one of only 13 school districts in the state with a graduation rate above 95 percent for the past graduating year.

Areas for improvement were noted by the committee and Stevens' team though, particularly mathematics, with only seven students in the upper echelon.

Stevens noted the success of the school's literacy workshops, which began two years ago, and talked about creating a math lab to parallel the experience. Students at York High School are also looking to create a student-initiated tutoring program for after-school help, something Stevens said students came to him about.

High school administrators laid out the idea of providing SAT preparation classes and holding collaborative intervention meetings with York Middle School to identify weaknesses in an incoming freshman's academic skill set.

Stevens stressed the “bottom-up” approach and said that with the amount of data available to teachers and administrators, the high school should be able to identify struggling students and where they're struggling before they enter the high school.

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General

IRS allows taxpayers the option to take the standard deduction or the itemized deduction.

by qgregg 31. March 2014 11:09

IRS allows taxpayers the option to take the standard deduction or the itemized deduction.  The astute taxpayer will compare to see which one will result in the greatest deduction and the election can be made each year.

The 2013 standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly is $12,200 and $6,100 for a single taxpayer.  It doesn’t require any proof of actual expense and has no requirement for home ownership.

Items that can be included on Schedule A for itemized deductions include: 

  • Certain taxes paid for state and local income tax, general sales tax, real estate property taxes, personal property taxes or other taxes paid
  • Qualified home mortgage interest, investment interest or possibly, mortgage insurance premiums
  • Charitable contributions
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income if born before 1/2/49 or 10% if born after 1/2/49
  • Job expenses and other miscellaneous deductions that exceed 2% of adjusted gross income

A non-homeowner taxpayer who has been taking the standard deduction needs to consider that it isn’t just the ability to deduct the mortgage interest and property taxes.

While the standard deduction might be the obvious choice for a non-homeowner, the combination of the mortgage interest and the property taxes plus other allowable deductions not recognized previously such as charitable contributions, now makes taking the itemized deductions significantly more advantageous.

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Ask the HOA Expert For Condominium Living

by qgregg 14. March 2014 07:34
Our board has decided to waive a member’s annual assessment due to hardship. I believe this is setting a really bad precedent. ASince there is no government bail-out for homeowner associations, the board waiving one member's financial obligation causes the cost to be placed on the other members. This essentially is a reallocation of the expense formula. The board does not have the authority to change how expenses are allocated. It is not unusual for someone to get caught in a financial crunch due to employment, disability, divorce, etc. So the question is the situation a temporary or permanent financial condition? If temporary, the board can establish a repayment plan. If permanent, the member needs to face the facts and divest himself of the property. In other words, if the ship is going down, it's time to abandon ship. The board can make reasonable concessions based on the facts. If this member is going bankrupt or into foreclosure, reasonable concessions are called for. But usually that means, waiving or reducing late fees and interest, not the HOA fees themselves. Any reasonable deal struck should include a written agreement between the HOA and member defining the terms

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Clocks Are Set Back Days Are Longer Now 10 Things You Should Be Doing To Your Home In Spring

by qgregg 9. March 2014 09:53

10 Things You Should Be Doing To Your Home In Spring      

Written by Jaymi Naciri on Saturday, 08 March 2014 7:12 pm     

We are all aware of the idea of Spring cleaning (whether or not we do it - we mean REALLY do it - is another story). If you're ready to delve in, we've got some tips for Spring cleaning, plus a few other Spring things you should be doing to your home. Ready to Spring forward?

organized closet

1. Sell something

When the weather gets warmer, it's time for a garage sale. Gather up all your unwanted stuff and put it out on the lawn. Might as well make some money for that old, ugly chair you're embarrassed to put in your living room.

2. Donate something

Take everything that doesn't sell over to a local charity. Not only will you be doing a good deed for people in need, but your donation is also tax deductible.

3. Trash something

If you have large items that cannot be sold or donated, you don't have to live with them taking up all the space in your garage. Haul ‘em out. Many cities will schedule a large trash pickup one time a year, while others have sites where you can drop off for free. Check with your local city for options.

4. Clean something

The concept of spring cleaning isn't about your normal program of vacuuming and dusting. It's time to go deep. Move furniture and clean underneath and behind. Those are some world-class dust bunnies. Pull back the blinds and clean the windows. And while you're at it, clean the blinds. They're gross.

5. Scrub something

It's a good time to get to those things that need a little extra effort. That weird spot in the shower you've been watching grow? Zap it for good. Clean out your washing machine. Yes, they actually make washing machine cleaner. Irony is good, and so is a sparkling clean washing machine.

6. Organize something

The closets you've been ignoring? It's time. Really. Plan your attack and go for it. You never know what you'll find in there that you've been missing (or forgot about). And cleaning out your closets are also a great way to find items to sell and donate (see #1 and #2).

 

7. Renew something

 

That ugly chair that didn't sell at your garage sale? Maybe you could pretty it up with some paint or fabric? With a little time and effort, you might actually create a new favorite piece.

8. Plant something

Spring is the time to get your garden in gear. Flowers, bulbs, and certain veggies thrive in Spring. Urban Farmer has a great seed calendar, and see Huffington Post for vegetable planting ideas.

9. Update something

Paint colors stuck in a decade-old funk? It's time for a fresh coat. Check out Benjamin Moore for the latest trends in paint colors.

10. Upgrade something

Maybe it's just time to chuck it all and move. The Spring buying season is upon us, after all. If you are thinking of moving, remember that all the same rules apply for getting your home sale-ready as they do for getting Spring ready. So, basically, you're not going to be able to get around that whole shower scrubbing thing!

Is a Condo or a House the Right Choice for You?

by qgregg 6. March 2014 10:38

Is a Condo or a House the Right Choice for You? 04 March 2014 10:18 am Whether you're a first-time homebuyer or you're looking to downsize or change your lifestyle, you might be considering buying a condominium rather than a single-family house. There are benefits and drawbacks to both purchases, but buying any type of property is a worthwhile financial investment. Here are a few considerations that might help you determine whether you should purchase a house or a condo: •Location. In urban markets, buying a condo can often make the most sense, since single-family properties might not be readily available. In other, most suburban markets, single-family dwellings may be abundant and a better fit for the demographic.Lifestyle. Are you looking to downsize? Are you just starting out, with no kids on the horizon for a few years? Or perhaps you're a professional with a busy life that doesn’t allow for a lot of home maintenance. Any of these reasons could drive a decision to purchase a condo, where association fees could cover every aspect of maintaining your home, from landscaping to plumbing to appliance repair. •Associated Costs. If you are planning to buy a condo, it's important to take into consideration that one you’ve made your down payment, you will not only need to make monthly mortgage payments, but you will also need to pay association fees to support maintenance and facilities. It's important to look at the entire financial aspect upfront. • Features. Condos often come with features that you might not find in a single-family house – such as swimming pools, tennis courts, clubhouses, exercise equipment, and other shared facilities. On the other hand, if privacy is a high priority for you, you might prefer living in a detached property. •Autonomy. Condos sometimes carry restrictions in terms of remodeling and decorating both the interior and exterior of individual units. Before purchasing a condo, you'll want to carefully evaluate the conditions that apply to the building that you will be living in and make sure you are comfortable with all of the association's rules and regulations. The Neighbors. If you buy a single-family home, you’ll have some space between yourself and your neighbors. In a condominium complex, neighbors will be much closer – perhaps even sharing walls with you. You'll want to do your research about what sort of people will be living alongside you. Compatible neighbors could be a huge advantage.The Market. Another aspect of your home purchase to consider is the state of the housing market in the area where you are planning to buy. Your real estate agent and lender can both help you determine whether sales on condos or single-family properties are a more lucrative investment. Looking at the history of appreciation (or depreciation) values in your market can help you determine which long-term investment will be more profitable down the road when you decide to sell. The bottom line? If you're considering investing in either a house or a condo, you should have a conversation with an experienced Realtor who fully understands the complexities and can easily help you sail through the nuances of condo or home ownership. Call Greg today.

Home Owners Association (HOA) Matters

by qgregg 3. March 2014 10:35
HOA 10 Effective Meeting Tips Because of his busy work schedule, the HOA board president can’t give much thought to board meetings until he gets to one. He typically arrives at the meeting just in time. That’s not a problem because the board meets nearby at another board member’s home. Members visit over snacks before moving to the living room for their meeting. To accommodate latecomers, John starts the meeting about 15 minutes late. "So what do we need to do next?" he asks the manager. He keeps asking this question throughout the meeting. He is a real stickler for procedure and requires a motion, a second and a vote for all issues before the board, even routine matters. Meetings can last up to three hours, depending on what new issues board members raise and how long or how many times they want to talk. What’s wrong with this scenario? If you are content with long, disorganized and unproductive meetings, stop reading now. If you prefer shorter, more effective board meetings, here are 10 tips for doing better than this board president. 1. Plan the meeting. No single effort saves more time during meetings than planning ahead. What needs to be accomplished at the meeting? Who is responsible for each item? Have minutes of the previous meeting, the agenda and other necessary documents been provided to each board member? At a minimum, a president should have a general outline of a meeting. Parliamentary books such as Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised recognize a standard order of business, which includes: Opening the meeting. The president should officially call the meeting to order by saying, "The meeting will come to order." Approving the minutes. Reports. The manager or committee chairs should only be called on if they have something to report. No vote is needed unless action is recommended. Unfinished business. Unfinished business includes any motion that was not resolved at the previous meeting. New business. Members can introduce new items for consideration. Closing the meeting. In most bodies, the president can adjourn the meeting by asking, "Is there any objection to adjourning the meeting? Hearing no objection, the meeting is adjourned." 2. Pick the right location. Typically, meetings in a relaxed setting tend to be relaxed about everything, including the meeting’s length. That’s fine. But does meeting in a board member’s living room give the right impression to a homeowner appealing a rules violation? If you don’t have an on-site meeting room, you can find free or low cost rooms at a library or place of worship. A room’s layout also should be considered. Auditorium seating usually leads to less participation by board members. In contrast, a circle of chairs can invite too much discussion. Some boards prefer U-shaped seating, which encourages participation, but acknowledges the president is running the meeting. 3. Start on time. The president should arrive early to be better prepared to tackle the evening’s business. Delaying a meeting encourages board members to arrive late and punishes those who are on time.. 4. Prepare an agenda. An agenda is more detailed than an "order of business" and lists the specific items that will be discussed during the meeting. Well-planned agendas make for shorter meetings that seem effortless. At a minimum, an agenda should list the order in which items will be discussed. If there are several important items, prioritize them. It is usually best to prepare and circular the agenda and related material in advance. Boards needing serious intervention may wish to consider a timed agenda, which gives a start and end time for each item. Such scheduling helps rein in long discussions, allowing several controversial items to be addressed. The president should announce when time has expired. 5. Set an adjournment time. At a minimum, an agenda should list the time the meeting will adjourn. This will force the board to use its time more efficiently. Some boards plan their meetings to fit a set time, such as 90 minutes. They cover more important issues first and carry over items not addressed to the next meeting. 6. Use informal procedures when you can. Robert’s Rules notes that strict procedures can actually hinder business for boards with fewer than 12 members. For example, it recommends smaller boards not require a second on each motion and allow the chair to make motions. Even during informal meetings, boards may wish to be more formal on matters of great importance or controversy. For example, they may want to observe limits on debate to keep the meeting on schedule or vote formally to help avoid legal challenges. 7. Use unanimous consent. A great time-saver for routine items is unanimous consent. Boards often use it to adopt routine reports, approve minutes or end debate. On noncontroversial matters, the president can ask if there is any objection to approving the item. If no one objects, it is approved. If a member objects, the president can ask for a motion and a vote. Some boards even use a "consent agenda" at the beginning of a meeting that includes all noncontroversial items, such as approving minutes. Any board member can remove an item and place it on the regular agenda for consideration and a vote. The board then approves the remaining items on the consent agenda unanimously without discussion. 8. Require new business in advance. If board members never know how long meetings will last, it’s probably because they don’t know what issues will be raised. Require them to submit their new business items in advance. Allowing members to bring up issues at the meeting can lead to poorly thought-out motions. The board can allow new business to be brought up for the first time at the meeting by suspending the rule and carry it over to the next meeting if the item requires research. 9. Manage discussion. Encourage new discussion and prevent repetition by asking for comments from directors who have not spoken. Seek alternative views. After hearing from a proponent, ask if anyone opposed to the motion would like to speak. When members digress, note that their comments aren’t relevant to the discussion. 10. Limit discussion. Set the discussion time prior to addressing any potentially controversial or important issues. You can do this with a motion to limit total debate to a specified number of minutes. Such a motion generally requires a two-thirds vote. When discussion is no longer fruitful, ask for a motion to close the debate. By following these simple suggestions, you can help keep your board on track, making meetings shorter, more effective and less burdensome. By Jim Slaughter - Certified Specialist

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