Condo Renovation & Modernization

Nestled along the Bellingham waterfront, near the historic Fairhaven district, condos and apartment buildings take advantage of the bay view, the gorgeous sunsets and the close walk to stores, restaurants and just about everything else one would need. Some were built in the 1970’s. The more expensive, luxury buildings went up in recent years. Unfortunately, the seasonal northwest rain and winds take a toll on the older buildings, leading some to undergo significant remodeling and renovation to protect them. The Riptide was one of them. As a community association manager, I have the responsibility of looking after the buildings under my care, and I take that seriously. When it was reported by members that it was time for a bid for painting, I did a site visit. I found it was time for more than just paint.

The areas of concern included rotted soft spots in the wood on decks and siding problems. As a manager, I recommended what is known as an “envelope assessment,” when an architectural engineering firm brings in a contractor to remove some of the trouble spots to have a look at what is beneath. Their report, which included photographs and explanations of the damage, revealed some serious problems. The next steps became complicated but were necessary. The findings were taken to the Condo Association Board for review. They interviewed local contractors about the challenges to “build a relationship” and decide who would be hired for repairs. A “design-to-build” contract was decided on. Contract negotiations were handled through the association’s attorney and board of directors. Eventually, they selected a local contractor to make all the changes, repairs and updates.

Owners at the Riptide elected to modernize their property while making repairs, taking advantage of the fact that so much had to be fixed. Walls were stripped down, siding was replaced, there was electrical work to be done and seismic upgrades. Materials were upgraded. An important part of this process was improving upon what was there originally, so the material failures didn’t happen again. A requirement of the RCW code was to install new windows and doors to ensure proper installation of the building weather proofing components. The full restoration included taking it all the way down to do new sheeting, new insulation, and new deck coatings. The expense of this was high and the owners were each going to have to pay their share. In a surprising and hopeful twist, they discovered that their insurance would cover the structural repairs. This doesn’t happen in all cases. It completely depends upon your historical coverage. But the important lesson here is that the Community Association must keep historic records of all paperwork related to the building, especially the insurance documents.

Windermere’s Association Manager and staff were knowledgeable, organized, and consistently demonstrated a patient demeanor while assisting with our often complex and ongoing improvements. Their professionalism was a great asset, helping our community successfully get through the maze of financial, legal and even personality challenges that arose during a large renovation project.

Nuha Habib, Board President, Riptide Condominiums

This is part of the reason to have a Community Association manager. A good manager will make it their job to record and maintain everything you need. The work took several years. Some of it is still being done. Repairing a building with units owned by many people is complex and expensive. Below are a few more specific details:

  1. ENVELOPE ASSESSMENT – the Envelope Assessment is the first step and is expensive. It can run to $10-12K. Don’t skip this important step. Sometimes owners just want to call a contractor without the full assessment, but this is a mistake. Depending upon the age of the building, if it fails prematurely and is simply fixed the same original way, it will fail again. It’s important to improve upon it. So, evaluate current conditions. If the decks were done cheaply in the first place, don’t repeat it.RCW 64.55 (Revised Code of Washington) states that any building envelope project whose value is in excess of 5% of the overall assessed value of the combined units must hire an engineer, an architect, and develop construction design documents. The specific scope of work for your project must go out to bid. It specifies the necessity for permitting and ensures the association is getting competitive bids for the job.RCW also says that the contract with your engineer of record provide inspection records, field reports and assurances that they are following the specifications for repair. The project needs be inspected by the architectural engineering firm that did the Construction specification documents as they are most familiar with their specifications and can advise on any change orders that may occur during the project.
  2. CONTRACTOR – the Riptide had a competent local contractor, a proper contract for inspection services, an engineer of record to assist with any undisclosed damages, and a legal binding contract drafted by the Association’s attorney.Everything will take longer than you think! The Riptide project was expanded because they didn’t consider all the aspects required. Don’t be in a hurry. Proper planning will make for a pleasant project. Rushing it will only cause mistakes and misunderstandings.
  3. PAYMENT OPTIONS – There are many ways the condo owners can pay. This project had an owner-approved line of credit. Pre-payments were estimated assessments for each condo unit. Owners had multiple assessment payment options. They could prepay an estimated assessment based on projected costs. Or, they could pay at the end of the project, make payments and finance it up to 14 years through the association. There was a lien if they sold their condo, but if the owner defaulted on their mortgage and walked away, the Association would have to write off the bad debt and the rest of the owners would be responsible for it.
  4. WEATHER – NW conditions are harsh on buildings. Don’t do things on the cheap! The wind, rain, sun and snow here take a toll on decks and sidings, especially near the waterfront. Be sure to improve upon what was done in the first place, or you’ll be doing it again at a future date.
  5. PATIENCE – be patient with the Board and each other. Throughout the project, the stresses of project decision making and frustrated, construction fatigued homeowners took its toll on the Board of Directors. The stress of a remodel is high. Attend your Board meetings and don’t rely simply on reading the minutes. They don’t reflect the debate or how a decision was made, only on the end results. It is not productive or useful to criticize the volunteer Board that is working through these projects. If you want to be helpful consider volunteering yourself to relieve the burden of your fellow neighbors. They are your neighbors, and your community needs compassion and connection to thrive. The Board needs to eliminate confusion, provide transparency, and community effectively. They are the ones with the final vote. I was often proud of the job people were doing in an attempt to get along. I recommend embracing the tools your management company and experience your manager brings to your community. Communicate regularly and make sure there is a central portal for information to be accessible to your ownership. If your management company cannot provide that consider a website as a means to communicate and make information available to your owners. Information is knowledge and with knowledge comes confidence in the success of your project.
  6. LISTEN & LEARN – don’t battle with the consultants. That team is there to try and make the project successful. They are not purposefully showing off their knowledge or blaming owners for the problems. Listen, learn and look at it from their side. I’ve seen that sometimes $100,000 isn’t worth the pain the entire group will go through to do or change something.
  7. COMPLETION – celebrate the completion. When the project has finished, throw a party at the complex and become friends again. You and your neighbors have survived one of the most stressful projects that can happen.

by Brandye Hubbs CMCA, AMS Senior Association Manager, Windermere Community Association Management