Published in the ECHO Journal, April 2007

The Best Firm to Serve Your Needs May Not be Local

The homeowner association service market is a very specialized market. The typical unit owner is very particular about what he or she expects in the way of service. Boards are increasingly reluctant to part with hard‑reserved cash for anything less than exactly what they want. And well they should be. When one takes pride in the ownership of one’s unit and in the complex in which one is a member, there is a complementary pride in retaining service providers of a caliber of which one can be equally proud.

Yet a strange thing sometimes happens on the way to the service contract. We who provide these services are painfully accustomed to the plaintive cry, “We want someone local!”

This is the age of home offices, faxs, the Internet and telecommuting for purposes of efficiency, better parenting and the benefit of the environment. Therefore, why should an association restrict itself to what may be only average quality service—simply because it is locally available when, within a hundred‑mile radius, the best service providers in any given field may be available?

Few of us would want to hire (or work for) a manager in our field of endeavor whose principal asset or contribution to the project was only that he or she was locally available. Some of the most skilled people in Silicon Valley come here from other parts of the country, even from outside the country, and we compete to work with them. Most of us sought colleges or professional schools that were the best that we could afford or qualify for. If they were in the local neighborhood, that was just an added benefit.

Those of us who enjoy wine very probably prefer varieties that are not locally grown and, in some cases, not even locally sold. Our favorite shirts or blouses may well have come from the other side of the Pacific Basin. Even our favorite cuisines may bear names connoting other cultures, other countries.

From another perspective, some service providers who may be hired locally, but are limited in experience with homeowner associations may treat you as a species of apartment dwellers. The result can be the lack of consideration of your personal needs that most associations desire.

From my perspective, unless one lives in the Napa area, the most creative CID insurance attorney is not “local”. Only in the East Bay are the largest property management firms “local”. If one lives in Monterey, or Napa, or Sacramento, the best construction litigation attorneys are definitely not “local”. The most experienced roofing consultants are neighbors only to residents of San Mateo or the Monterey/Santa Cruz corridor.

The progenitors of CID construction loan services are only “local” if your association is in San Francisco. East Bay associations may be surprised to learn that there are almost no insurance firms specializing in HOA insurance that are “local”. The only licensed, insured condominium reconstruction management firms are based at opposite ends of the Bay.

And here and there, at remote‑seeming addresses, are general and specialty contractors, property managers, CPAs, insurance specialists, landscape maintainers, reserve preparers and many others whose service to associations is head and shoulders above the more local competition.

We service providers who serve this market truly believe we are the best in our field. Those of us who have served the market for many years do not see distance as an obstacle, any more than we view after‑hours or weekend telephone calls as an intrusion. We are a small, dedicated group. Many of us worked diligently to develop the laws, standards and building codes that help define the CID universe. Please don’t rule us off of your bid list just because our office or shop seems to be a distance away. E-mail and cell phones make us as accessible as if we were across the street.

The Bay Area may seem large; more than a two‑hour’s drive from end to end. Yet the same building codes, accounting rules, landscape plantings and management guidelines that are used in Santa Rosa apply in Walnut Creek, San Jose and Monterey.

Please, when you seek service, don’t just shop locally. There’s a wide wonderful pool of talent available to you in this, our little piece of the global village.

Richard Tippett of ERTECH, Inc. is the past chair of the Central Coast Resource Panel and the ECHO Maintenance Resource panels, currently serves on ECHO’s Board of Directors and is a regular contributor to these pages.