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Real-time information concerning the real estate market in Boston. Financial, legal, management, development, and market news.


Plan Ahead for Disaster Before it Strikes

Before Hurricane Sandy Struck the east coast of the United States, everyone thought that they would weather the storm with relative ease, just like they had in all previous "nor'easters". However, at the tail end of October 2012, the nation and the world watched as the innocuously-named Super storm Sandy made landfall across New York City. Lashing rain, hurricane-force winds, massive flooding, fire and power outages wreaked havoc on many communities.

Sandy was responsible for $70 billion in damages, making it the second costliest storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina sacked New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. Although over a year has passed since the storm pummeled New England, and although billions of dollars in aid has been promised to rebuild devastated areas, many affected residents have yet to replace what the flood waters swept away. Thousands of homeowners in New York are still fighting with insurance companies, slogging through red tape, waiting for government aid - and in many cases, just waiting to return home. Could we have done anything more to better prepare ourselves for such a disaster?

For areas like New England, not known for many natural disasters, our emergency plans are not prepared for the damage of Hurricane Sandy's magnitude. More than just the occasional first aid kit tucked away in a closet somewhere, abstract preparations are extremely necessary. Flood insurance, window barriers and knowing how shut off utilities are just a few of the strategies that must be considered far beforehand.

Community associations should plan now for contingencies, before a mechanical failure or weather condition compromises the integrity of your property and threatens the safety of its occupants. These preparations cannot be enacted last-minute as they take time, but are worth the effort and are essential to any manager. By creating a master contingency plan with a directory of relevant information, including build/installation dates, useful life cycles, control locations and operating characteristics, property use and security will be better utilized. in compiling and distributing the following relevant information among association trustees, property owners and managers, common knowledge of systems, locations and cautions become part of the defense in the event of an unanticipated emergency or disaster.


•  Know the building layout. Identify the location and operation of primary water, electrical, fuel, and all electronic communications connections, HVAC and related control points and shutoffs of all buildings.

•  Create a comprehensive vendor master list. Maintain, update and distribute a vendor master list for your property, including plumbing, electrical, energy supply, roofing and carpentry. A qualified public insurance adjuster should also be included.

•  Publish emergency police and fire numbers for everyone to see.

•  Provide contact information for the president and executive committee, including specific "In Case of Emergence" names and numbers. Also include telephone numbers and email addresses for the management office and on-site personnel such as the concierge and superintendent.

•  Make sure all contact information for the occupants living in your association is up to date, especially their email addresses, and cell and home telephone numbers. It is a good idea to have a community webpage where information can be disseminated to everyone during and after disaster. This would greatly alleviate many of the questions and concerns homeowners would have. Spreading information is the most essential tool.

•   Undertake a property survey at least once annually to identify vulnerable plumbing, freezing, or water penetration locations, new system installations or the progress of life cycles/replacement schedule (for roofs, boilers, pumps, security and other high-use/high-stress systems). This will improve the continuity of operations vital to the long-term, reliable occupancy of your property.

For property owners and managers, creating a contingency plan for any kind of emergency will ultimately save you time and money, all the while ensuring safety for the homeowners, employees, and tenants. Creating a comprehensive and customized plan will help you assess any contingency and duly establish restoration procedures, while ensuring your condominiums can endure any threat nature throws at you.

While condominium life in the United States, especially New England, particularly isn't known for extreme climates, the passage of time, the ravages of nature and human error all require continual oversight. Recognizing contingency planning as one of the most vital tasks of leadership and creating appropriate internal procedures in response to these unexpected disasters, even ones as uncommon and extreme as Sandy, is absolutely critical to sustaining the life and comfort of any community.


Snow Control Tips

A snowy winter is a child's dream. What's more fun than the chance to build snowmen, dominate in snowball fights and of course, relish in the pure joy that is a snow day?

Plenty of adult Bostonians are still trembling from the memory of the winter storm Nemo earlier this year. Frosty the Snowman becomes a sinister sign of impending mayhem, especially for co-ops and condos, which are responsible for keeping residents safe from snow- and ice-related slips and falls.

Suffice to say, snow and ice are a multifaceted challenge. As the snow just kept falling, alarm rose over where to put it all, and co-op and condo boards wondered what and about what exactly their responsibility was when it comes to removing snow and ice from their properties in a timely fashion. Commercial property owners are in charge of removing snow in front of their property, as well as the nearby sidewalks and parking lots. Unsurprisingly, private homeowners are also in charge of clearing snow in front of their respective properties. Same goes for cooperative corporations and condominium associations; they too are responsible for removing snow from all areas of their buildings and grounds. As required by law, property owners must remove snow, slush, and ice from sidewalks and curb ramps abutting the property within 3 hours of snowfall ending (or 3 hours from sunrise if snow falls overnight). It is illegal and could land the association a violation, which may result in a fine from $50 to $200, depending on the type of property.

Depending on a building's staff, the size of its lot and the amount of snowfall, some-board-management teams might choose to have staff members remove the snow, while others prefer to call in the professionals. If management delegates the work to the building staff, they need to make sure to provide their personnel with the right tools to do the job safely and thoroughly.

Snow removal experts use a variety of methods and equipment to keep property safe for businesses and condominiums. The most basic snow-cleaning tool, after the shovel and plow, is, of course, chemical ice melt. The oldest and cheapest variety, commonly known as 'rock salt' is actually calcium chlorate, which is effective at melting ice - but unfortunately it also essentially melts concrete, penetrating into the pores of pavement, heating up and splitting it apart. Use of calcium chlorate during the winter means frequent restorative maintenance during the other three seasons of the year. Within the last two years, a liquid version of the calcium chloride mixture has been developed for use on city streets. It is green in color and works better than rock salt, without the damaging salt and sand that characterized its predecessor. Other, more expensive options for snow removal are heated sidewalks and driveways, and the permeable paver system. Both of these systems are expensive to install and heated sidewalks - which rely on radiant electric heat to melt snow and ice - require a steady supply of electricity to run them, but both get the job done in a way that scattered salt just doesn't.


Prune Your Budget with Smart Landscaping

Photo Credit: Patrick StandishQuality landscaping can have a substantial effect on the value and desirability of your units, but maintaining lawn and garden can quickly become a big ticket budget item. By making smart choices and keeping labor, water and fuel expenses low, it’s possible to keep costs in check while keeping your units looking their best. Here are some expert tips to keep your property looking its best without breaking the bank:   


  • Choose plants native to your location. Since they are suited to the locale, they will take less maintenance and effort in planting. This is also a factor in sustainable landscaping, which can add even more value in the right market.
  • Choose slow-growing species of shrubs and bushes to reduce pruning and shaping. Planting them a little bit farther away from a walkway or driveway – if they don’t encroach, an unruly shrub won’t be as noticeable.
  • When shopping around for landscapers, try to hire in the winter. Business is slow and they will be more inclined to bargain for discounted rates just to secure a contract.
  • Trees can increase aesthetic appeal and value of condo units, while saving energy by shading in the summer and shielding from snow in the winter.
  • If you’re doing a substantial landscaping overhaul, look into accreditation for sustainable landscaping. This can add huge value to your property in the green market, and many sustainable solutions will pay for themselves over time with reduced water and fertilizer costs.
  • For flower beds, buy low maintenance perennials and bulbs that propagate on their own like tiger lilies, hyacinths and crocus for low upkeep color every spring.
  • Diversifying gardens and flower patches can make them more difficult to keep up with, since each species will have different water and fertilizer needs. Keep things simple with fewer species.
  • Look into drought-resistant plants to reduce your water bills. Succulents like Angelina and Sempervivum have become incredibly popular lately and require very little water and maintenance and grow well in many climates.
  • Consider upgrading to moisture sensing sprinkler systems -- they will be able to tell when it’s raining or when the soil is already saturated and doesn’t need additional water, reducing water usage. They are more expensive, but if you live in a relatively moist climate, they will pay for themselves in water savings over time. 



Siding Replacement and Repair

Photo Credit: Donna & AndrewSpring is in full bloom in Boston, which means it’s exterior maintenance season for property owners and managers. Siding repair and replacement is a perennial issue, especially with older buildings; a balancing act between short term savings and long term risk. Understanding your options will help you make smart decisions and manage the potential for loss in the long term.


Band-Aids or Surgery?

Making spot repairs to siding is a normal part of building maintenance, but at what point is it smarter to replace the entire system than to keep making more and more costly repairs? It turns out that the magic number is about 10%. Once 10% of the siding needs to be replaced, it’s time to consider surgery rather than the bandaid approach. Spot repairs may seem cheap in the short run, but often they don’t address the problems that are causing real damage. Once siding starts to go downhill, you’ll have to pour more money into it year after year until eventually the whole system gets replaced. If you are unsure, have an engineer or experienced contractor perform a cost analysis for spot repairs versus full replacement before making a decision.


The Right Stuff

Selecting the right replacement siding often involves balancing a number of factors; appearance, neighborhood and association regulations, cost and maintenance.

Natural clapboard siding is the most traditional, and also one of the most expensive, but it provides an unmatched aesthetic appeal and, when high quality cedar is used, has the potential to outlast even synthetic alternatives. With wood siding it’s worth it to spring for the good stuff – high quality wood Western Red Cedar with a clear vertical grain, installed properly. It’s not cheap but it will save you from high maintenance costs down the road and look amazing in the meantime.

Vinyl siding is undoubtedly the leader in long term value, with extremely low maintenance, installation costs and a 50-year life cycle. Vinyl tends to get a bad name as far as appearance is concerned, but the technology has come very far in recent years and is becoming more and more indistinguishable from traditional alternatives. Vinyl may last a long time, but it will start to show its age through fading and cracking, which can be combated by spot repairs and painting – just keep in mind that 10% tipping point.

Fiber Cement is a relative newcomer to the siding market – a composite formed from cement and natural fibers, it can very closely mimic the appearance of natural wood siding, while costing significantly less to install and maintain. In addition, fiber cement siding is durable, fire resistant and it is not susceptible to termites or rot. Unfortunately, fiber cement does not behave well in moist climates due to its porosity and tendency to absorb water causing leaks, mold and other problems. Consult with an engineer or experienced contractor before deciding on fiber cement siding.


The Right People

Whether making periodic repairs or starting fresh with a full replacement, take the time to select a knowledgeable contractor with a well-trained team; one that is familiar with the material you’ve selected and your specific application. All the money you spend on quality siding will just be wasted without quality installation and repairs. Check references and make sure that the balancing of cost and quality match up with your expectations.   


Preventing Ice Dams

Image credit: State Farm via Flickr A decorative chain of icicle lights might look nice during the holidays, but a gutter-bulging, roof-destroying mass of real icicles dangling precariously from the eaves can spell disaster.

Ice dams are formed when snow at the top of a roof melts and water runs down to the edge of the roof, freezing into a thick strip of ice. This forms a dam at the edge of the roof where water from melting snow pools, eventually leaking into the building through the roof, causing thousands of dollars of damage.

Ice dams are caused primarily by heat loss from living spaces into the attic, which increases the temperature on the roof and causes snow to melt. It seems counter intuitive, but the roof is meant to remain at the ambient outdoor temperature to prevent excessive snow melting.

The way to combat ice dam formation is to insulate and ventilate the attic and seal the roof. Create an insulated barrier between living space and the attic and fill in heat-loss gaps from recessed lighting and vents. Installing soffit-to-ridge vents will keep your roof cool by pulling air from outside and forcing it up along the roof to the ridge vent.

Finally, sealing your roof with self-healing rubber sheets beneath the shingles, or installing sheet metal flashing where water pools along the gutters, will provide an extra layer of protection against water leakage. Avoid Band-Aid approaches like scraping ice and snow away manually or using calcium chloride to melt ice on the roof – these will cause damage in the long run.