CONDO ECOLOGY AND ECONOMICS 101 -
FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
In Brief - From a Layperson's Point of View
By Nora Fried -- West Palm Beach, FL
Published March 28, 2010
The financial “ecosystem” of the entire State relies on a system of mechanisms, which consist of both commercial and residential interacting environments. The collapse of one will likely have a negative impact on the other. Each is related to the other in some way, and both are then related to the governmental infrastructure and economy of the State.
The Glory Days. Prior to this Great Recession, as some are calling it, U.S. citizens and those from other countries planned their retirement years around an ability to move to the State of Florida. For decades, the State of Florida has greatly benefited from the travel industry and an influx of retirees. During the first decade of the New Millenium, real estate development along with market prices skyrocketed. It was only a matter of time before the floor fell out or the market bubble popped, whichever you prefer metaphorically.
State of the State. Today, there is a certain amount of luck involved that Florida continues to benefit by the travel industry. However, because of the bust of the real estate market bubble, a large portion of Floridians are either bankrupt or losing their homes (or both) either as a direct or indirect result of an out-of-control savings and loan industry. Those who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a condo development are affected by the foreclosures of others within their developments and often picking up the tabs of their unfortunate neighbors.
It doesn’t end there. It actually gets worse for condo owners. The laws are not always on their side. It seems that Florida is a proving ground for learning by mistake -- namely the mistakes of the State’s Legislature and those at the helm. We are one big pilot project for condo life. What your leaders fail to realize is that a majority of their constituents are likely to be condo owners, yet condo owners are getting the least Legislative attention. And, despite that Florida is probably one of the first places where condominiums began to be developed, it seems the least evolved in terms of experience and sophisticated management and. therefore, not the most desirable of States for a condo owner to want to live.
Buyer Beware. This phrase is most commonly and recently related to the Internet scams that play out day after day. However, little compares with the financial raping that is allowed to go on in condo developments within the State of Florida. There is ongoing public outcry to change the laws so that people are financially protected in terms of what is likely to be their largest investments --- their homes. Despite public outcry, there seems some confusion among our State’s leadership as to whether it is more important to provide power to boards of administration or protect individual citizen unit owners. While each sounds and is important, most people, including your Legislature, fail to realize there are no requirements for intellect, sound judgment, prior experience, education, sanity or anything else other than a willingness to volunteer for such an assignment of service on a board of administration. Given that is the case, it seems somewhat obvious that it is most important to develop sound reins on boards of administration. Ironically, even though there are no basic requirements for those who want to volunteer their services, and there is no State system of effectively monitoring how well, or not, condo associations are doing, the law is still set up so that the unit owners themselves are pretty much responsible, financially and otherwise, for the doings or non-doings of their board members. So, while it’s either laziness, convenience, or community living that is attracting you to condo living in Florida, do not make the mistake in believing that your responsibilities are over once you have your mortgage in place and paid your maintenance fees. You must also be responsible enough to attend your board meetings so that you can actually claim that you have done your duty to ensure that you have not voted in (or allowed to be voted in by your own lack of participation) half-wits, or even criminals, on to your board of directors.
State of the Condo. Current sale prices in many developments are back where they were in the late 1990s, or even below that. In addition to that bit of bad news, foreclosures continue to add up, and, therefore, sale prices continue decline. What if, in the midst of all this, you have a board run amok in spending, perhaps even providing kick backs to those fortunate enough to control your financial well being. Perhaps you have been assessed incessantly since 2005 and there seems to be no end in sight for fabricated reasons you need to pay an assessment. Perhaps there is little to show for those prior assessments. You may find yourself asking, “what exactly has been done with our money?” Your next step may be to opt to make inquiry of your board. This leads nowhere because there are no records, for any variety of reasons. The second step is to register an official complaint with the system your State has set up in order to manage and/or oversee adherence to law by condo associations. You are only disappointed to receive a response from the State entity, which you assumed was there to help, acknowledging some type of wrongdoing by your condo board, but lacking any type of meaningful action other than to provide educational material to your wonderful board members. (Your board members think, “Whew! That was a close call.)
Owner Options. So, here you are in your Florida condo. Isn’t life grand? You are not only possibly a victim of abuse of power by your board of directors, but the State government is uninterested in your dilemma. Those at the State helm apparently have more pressing matters. What are your options? The same as many others are already taking. They are accepting whatever amount they can for their condos just for the sake of getting out (knowing “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em“), or they’ve stopped paying their maintenance fees. Neither of these options is recommended. You can also “fight the good fight” and actually devote some of your time -- by the way, this is the “time” you were hoping to save by stepping into a condo community to begin with -- and do your best to oust the misfits from board leadership. Unfortunately, this also often means waiting for the next election. You question whether you can actually continue to tolerate the situation that long.
Future Outlook. Several associations are experiencing an exodus of residents opting to return to their homelands in northern territories and getting out of the “Wild West” of Florida condo life. We all need and want safety, predictability, privacy, security, control of our finances, ability to track our expenses in detail, and ultimately to control our future. So, many are opting out of the State of Florida for the known, greener pastures north of the border.
As for our State’s future, I’ll be looking forward to the results of the 2010 Census. Hopefully, it will not be the source of more bad news for our “Sunshine State.”
1. Current foreclosure rates hit hardest on condo owners.
2. Current laws, or lack thereof, take yet another swing at the Florida condo owner.
3. Condo owners are opting out of our State.
4. If the numbers are large enough (for those leaving the State) or the new Census numbers are small enough, commerce will also continue to suffer a great negative financial impact.
5. If commerce in Florida suffers so greatly, what then, exactly, will be of most concern to the State Legislators? The ecology and economy of our State is in flux.
The health of the structural ecology and financial economy of our State is in flux. Individual condo owners cannot be ignored indefinitely without a huge impact to the health of the State of Florida. The timing of the ecological and further economic downturn is the only unknown in this scenario.
Suggestion for the Condo Oppressed. Consider creating a website where your currently oppressed and censored fellow condo owners can share ideas and advise each other of what they know to be true about what is actually going on within your development, rather than being on the receiving end of the endless hype spewing out from your board of directors. But, do limit yourselves to the truth.
Moral of the Story.
Be careful who you vote for --- at home or otherwise -- but, do pay attention, do attend your meetings, and do VOTE!