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Notes From a Neophyte
How I Got From There to Here
By Eric Lakien | Other articles by Eric Lakien
Four years ago, I entered the unknown world of "condo living". I had just retired, and we were downsizing. My wife had "almost" adjusted to our "new" living environment; I love it – We are still together! Lots of togetherness in the past year, of course, thanks to "you know what."
I had no idea what lay ahead for me! I had quite a bit of experience in getting involved in not-for-profit organizations, and in volunteering my time and my administrative skills. A year earlier, we had purchased a condo on Florida's east coast; that was my first exposure to the dreaded condo "Board of Directors." I diligently attended the monthly Board meetings when we were down there. What an eye opener. "I would never ever, ever, ever want to be involved in that!" I said to myself. In Florida, owners are able to attend the monthly Board meetings, which are a horror show. Unruly meetings, owners speaking out of turn, etc… They even needed a security guard present during the meetings! In one case, the City police actually had to be called to deal with a totally out of control owner! And guess what, the issue was insurance! There were six members of the Board (an even number??), one for each building, consisting of about 55 units each, in the condo association. Even then, for the past three years there has been no one who wanted to be on the Board from one of the buildings. I guess that it works out – five seemed to be a nice odd number for decision making. Decision making was often contentious, with each Director looking out for only her or his own building. The greater good be damned! Suffice it to say, while we would definitely move into a condo "up north," who needed to get involved with the Board aggravation? The answer – I did!
We (i.e. my wife) were extremely fortunate to have chosen our new digs – Landmark III of Thornhill – winner of the CCI-T 2017 Condo of the Year Award, and the 2020 Condo of the Decade. But I am getting ahead of myself!
What a surprise; great neighbours, nice surroundings, and what appeared to be a very capable management. I learned that "management" included a committed and competent Board of Directors. We had a smooth pre move-in renovation – our contractor was the guy who marveled at how nice and easy it was to deal with the manager. I also had no problems dealing with the manager and his staff. Thanks to that, the move-in was problem free. (Our Manager even won last year's ACMO Manager of the Year. Whoops, am I getting ahead of myself again?) That's what first clued me into the what might be a great endeavour for me. It appeared that there might be an opening on our Board later that first year, and I threw my hat into the ring – over the comments of friends and family. "Why do you need that mishugas?" (loosely translated: craziness). Could I add value to our condo corporation, and to the investment we had made in our new home? Was it the start of something big? That remained to be seen.
I wound up getting elected (by acclamation, but who cares how I got there?), and was welcomed by our committed and competent Board members, now my colleagues. I immediately signed up for the newly launched CAO Director Training. It mattered not that I had got in under the wire for it being mandatory. I have always been a fast learner (having spent all too many years at various universities), and with the time I now had on my hands, I immersed myself into the alphabet soup that was the condo world in Ontario. How did all the pieces fit – CAO, CMRAO, CAT, ACMO, etc…? Meanwhile, our Board (did I mention that they are very committed and competent?) involved me and welcomed me from day one. Actually, it was day eight, being the time from our AGM (I even learned what that fully meant!) to my first Board meeting. Management had loaded me with lots of condo background – strange things like the declaration, bylaws, rules, etc… At the meeting, management guided us through the matters at hand. I could see that there was full transparency and disclosure. We (I could now proudly use that pronoun!) discussed and calmly made or ratified decisions, and planned what was ahead of us. Our management company provided full monthly financials, and our Treasurer reviewed and explained them to us. My financial background (too many years working at university, not-for-profit organizations and a wide variety of for profit companies) helped me feel comfortable with the presentation, and the critical components of a condo's operating budget, and even this mysterious thing called the reserve fund. What do you know, the Board members were really competent! I could see that my monthly fees were being well applied and were in great hands – now mine being among them! Gradually I learned the ropes; it took but a few months to feel immersed and part of the action. Somehow, I even sharpened a skill I never knew I had – written communication! See what getting involved did for me?
We won the Condo of the Year Award earlier in the year that I joined our Board. I came aboard in time for some of the celebrations. I could see that it really was a big deal. We were even recognized by the City of Markham. That Award added a new set of letters, CCI, and even more, CCI-T! How did all that fit in? I assisted in preparing our successful application package for Condo of the Decade; which was a fantastic way to examine all aspects of our operation.
As I mastered more about CCI-T, I found great resources readily at hand, thanks to our condo being a member. I attended the CCI-T/ACMO Condominium Conferences, sessions and panel discussions offered by industry experts. I eagerly participated in seminars, networking and CondoSTRENGTH events. What a great way to become knowledgeable in so many facets of the industry!
With COVID-19 now a player in the mix, our condo adapted and watched over our residents' safety – as much as we could. Our owners seem to be pleased and appreciative of our efforts – I was re-elected (this time, proudly NOT by acclamation) to our Board for my second term. We survived our first virtual AGM, of which I had the pleasure and honour to be the chairperson. What a rewarding experience being on our condo's Board of Directors has been!
Thanks to one of the CCI-T Board members, who also happens to be on our condo Board, I became involved in the Marketing Committee. By this time, I had learned even more about CCI-T, as some of the folks from our management company were involved as Board members, and served on various committees. Next step - again throwing my now well-worn hat into the ring - running for a CCI-T Board position. Facing many others who had done likewise, I was shocked and excited to learn that I had been elected. Fresh blood, or the lamb being led to slaughter? Only time will tell!
The moral of this tale: anyone with the desire to serve should try to get involved. All you need is some people skills, a level head, common sense and the willingness to serve your condominium community. They say that it takes all kinds of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences to make a successful condo – and I found out it really does!