The AvidXchange Podcast Network just posted a new episode of its “Middle Market Report” program. In this episode, our Jarett Tran, senior account executive, Community Association Management, interviewed Maegan Woytek, a senior account executive at Vantaca. The two discussed the findings of AvidXchange’s recent survey conducted with the Community Associations Institute (CAI) on the challenges and priorities of today’s community association management companies.
Both Tran and Woytek have worked as community association managers, bringing decades of experience to their current roles. Now, they help businesses in the industry implement technology to effectively streamline and scale operations.
Top Community Association Management Challenges in 2023
Our survey with CAI identified some of the common hurdles facing community management associations this year, including:
- Keeping HOA fees neutral/flat (56%)
- Recruiting talent (50%)
- Mitigating staff burnout and employee retention (47%)
- Implementing new technologies (36%)
According to Woytek, insurance rates for community management associations are rising due to an increase in natural disasters. This puts further pressure on community managers who are trying to keep the status quo in terms of rates and services for homeowners amidst staffing challenges and rising costs in the industry.
Setting Priorities to Address Challenges
One of the biggest challenges Tran and Woytek discussed was staffing. They both feel the community manager role can be antiquated and challenging within many associations. Juggling homeowner demands with labor-intensive internal processes often leads to professional burnout.
Automating some of the job’s administrative tasks helps lessen the load for community managers, allowing them to focus on more fulfilling strategic initiatives like budgeting, contracts and determining the future direction of the community. Additionally, leveraging automation tools with embedded business intelligence solutions help inform decision-making and ease reporting.
Tran and Woytek believe automation helps improve job satisfaction and employee retention. With smart technology investments, community managers can do more than just “push paper” and respond to homeowner complaints. Automation enables them to take breaks and implement big-picture initiatives.
Technology Improves Working Conditions
In our survey with CAI, we found that 68% of respondents agree or strongly agree that technology helps mitigate burnout on short-staffed teams. Eight-five percent agree or strongly agree that access to tools and technology helps improve professional development and career advancement. And 61% said they would not consider a job opportunity at an organization that lacked the tools or technology to automate at least some finance tasks.
These results underscore the need for community management associations to invest in digitization to not only boost internal efficiencies, but to retain and attract talent. In most cases, automation leads to improved employee satisfaction and an ability to focus on more strategic work.
Please note: “Middle Market Report” podcast is designed for audio consumption. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Welcome to the Middle Market Report podcast. I’m your host, Jarrett Tran, Senior Account Executive for Community Association Management at AvidXchange, a leading provider of accounts payable automation software and payment solutions for middle market businesses and their suppliers. I’ve spent more than two decades as a community association management professional doing just about everything you can imagine in the community association management space. I’ve just about seen it all.
On this show, we sit down with thought leaders from various sectors within the middle market to discuss the trends and innovations impacting their industry. Today, I’m especially excited to sit down with Maegan Woytek Senior Account Executive at Vantaca, one of the premier accounting and management software solutions in the community association management industry.
Maegan also brings decades of community association management experience to the table as she began her career as a community manager in 2006. She has since held a number of different roles within real estate HOA and accounting management software companies.
So without further ado, Maegan, welcome to the Middle Market Report podcast.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be invited here.
AvidXchange conducted a survey in partnership with Community Associations Institute, also known as CAI, and in the survey we found that more than half of the respondents are facing challenges with identifying ways to keep HOA fees neutral or flat as a result of rising business cost.
The other challenges were related to staffing issues. 50% said recruiting talent and 47% said mitigating staff burnout and employee retention. When you look at the challenges management companies are facing, is there anything that jumps out to you?
To me, it is all about the talent. Employees are becoming harder and harder to keep, and the more conversations I’m having with management companies, the more that is coming out.
It doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for them. So, it was not a surprise to me when the data came back showing that recruiting and even retaining talent was like a top issue for them. It made a lot of sense to me.
As a result of staffing challenges, business owners and senior leaders often end up managing properties, which is a big no-no. They have less time to focus on strategic initiatives like researching technology solutions to enable them to scale or increase portfolio accounts to grow the business. Technology like AP Automation helps reduce manual tasks and frees up time so both leaders and AP staff can focus on more strategic initiatives.
Our survey data shows that currently 37% of respondents work on strategic initiatives daily while 23%, work on them weekly and 15% of them work on them monthly. How important is it for employees to work on strategic initiatives?
I love a good strategic initiative, and I would hope that management companies are able to find more flexibility to work on them because how are you going to grow?
If you don’t talk about your strategy for growth in a consistent manner – so if we just look at like a C-suite or vice presidents and presidents or directors, like those are the people that, that probably should work on it more and it should filter down into the whole company. I think it’s incredibly important that they all do it. And we need to get certain work off of their plate to free up time for that.
At Vantaca, we have kind of this pyramid that actually starts with the concept of association happiness. And if your associations are getting what they need and they’re happy, your employees are getting what they need and they’re happy, and then when your employees are, are getting that they will eventually help within the growth of your company.
Essentially, if you have the right procedures and processes, technology in place, all of those things will help your company grow and you’re going to have more flexibility in your strategic initiatives.
And it’s true because here’s the deal: You’ve done it before in association management. Let’s say you started at 8:00 and all of a sudden you look up and it’s 4:00 because you’re just trying to get through email for the day.
And you haven’t even done all the other hundreds of things that you need to do. And then all of a sudden it’s the next day and it just happens over and over. And as soon as you get that done for the month, it starts all over again. Right? And so, I think that it’s really important that owners and operators carve out that time to focus on the strategy.
Right. My mom owns a management company in Colorado. She has only recently started not managing communities and she is starting to finally offload to other managers. But at one point, I want to say she had like up to 15 communities that she was managing as the owner of the company. How in the world? Just like you said, how are you going to grow your company and work on your company when you’re working in your company?
Like those are two different things. Working in your company and working on your company. Something our industry is lacking is the access to the data that they have. So, one thing that I am very excited about with Vantaca is Vantaca IQ. I don’t know if you were able to get a peek of it at CAI National. We had it up on a screen.
That is the first step in getting people access to their data. Cause how are you going to know how well your company is running if you don’t know your numbers? It’s the same thing with us as salespeople. How do I know I’m doing a good job? I’ve got to look at my numbers every single day to make sure that I’m staying on top of it.
And management companies should have that same type of access to their data. So Vantaca IQ is going to give them a lot of that, and they’re going to be able to see insights into their staff and communities and all of this amazing stuff that Vantaca is holding anyway just as their performance software.
I’m really, really excited about that piece for not only the finance department, but also for the executives as a whole in the organization.
But one other point to make about this whole management company owners and executives managing properties, when they’re doing that, they’re not providing their employees with the leadership, the guidance that they need. Right? And because of that, it doesn’t help with the retention situation. Right? So, I think that’s pretty important that management company owners and operators are cognizant of that, especially given the fact that it’s so freaking hard to find managers.
On top of those challenges, management companies also have an uptick of summertime events and projects that require additional labor and budgets. It’s interesting to look at how budgets and staffing are affected within the community association management industry, and despite economic uncertainty, 77% of organizations stated their budgets have increased from 2022 to 2023.
But 30% said their organization experienced staff reductions in 2022. How are you seeing companies respond to budget cuts and staffing challenges?
I actually think it’s interesting to look at the reason why the budgets increased. The most that I’ve heard is that insurance costs are like through the roof this year and that is a very difficult thing to mitigate, right?
We can’t contain natural disasters that are causing all of these insurance rates to go up. And at the same time, you have this fluctuation of your staff member going down potentially, but you still need that extra support. So to me, the best response and what I am hearing is that supplementing with technology is the best thing that they can do because the more the technology can do, the more money savings you have, the less you have to worry about all of those people.
We found that nearly half said they ended a relationship with a supplier or a vendor because of the increase in costs of goods or services directly attributed to inflation. And about a third or 35% said they ended a relationship because of the delay in the delivery of goods or services due to supply chain issues.
I’m curious, have you seen community association management navigate supplier and vendor relationships during economic uncertainty in volatile times?
I think the hard part about this specifically is that it’s very easy to get backed into a corner as a management company or even just a manager when you kind of look at the micro of it.
So I am a manager that needs something done with my pool in one of my communities as an example. Maybe the chemicals are on back order, or I’m trying to resurface the pool and the products that I need are also on back order, or they’re just unavailable. It’s likely not just affecting that one service provider.
It’s probably global to that specific area. So like all pool companies are having the exact same issue. I don’t know that there’s a good answer for how to handle this. Like you still have to work on the pool, right? So there’s no way for me to just go work on the pool myself. I still need my pool company to do it.
So I just don’t know. The survey said that 35% of people terminated the relationship with that supplier or the vendor. But how can you do that if every other vendor is experiencing the exact same thing? So, it’s kind of fascinating to me. I personally would not put all of that on one vendor.
Would I potentially try to find another vendor that is available or has the services that I need at that moment in time? Absolutely. But I don’t know that there is a good way to solve that issue because it’s really a global problem, not just an industry problem.
Sometimes homeowner emotions get involved. You know, “We need it now,” and “Kids need the pool,” or whatever. It is so true.
I think that drives a lot of it. And then you end up at square one anyway, because there are only so many pool vendors in your area or they’re all pulling from the same resources in terms of supplies and labor and all that. So, yeah.
The manager’s not doing that on purpose, right. But the homeowners think that the manager is doing this to their community and there is this friction that is caused between homeowners and boards and managers and management companies. And it’s just kind of a murky area to get involved in.
And then, going back to the very first question about retaining employees … This is probably a huge part of it. The way that people are treating the experts in our industry. It’s a difficult industry to work in. And how do you keep people when they’re just being yelled at about a pool situation that they can’t even control? So, it’s fascinating to look at how everything is interconnected.
But the other side of it is that the manager then has to go relay whatever it is that the board members and homeowners want to the vendor. And so then the vendor doesn’t understand. And that’s always fun too, because the manager’s gotta keep them happy because they’re probably using that vendor at another property.
So hard. I know. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t envy a manager at this point in time in our industry.
Given the challenges the community association management industry is facing, I want to switch gears now and talk about priorities for 2023. I’m curious, what are community association management companies prioritizing to combat the challenges that they’re facing?
One of my favorite things that I have heard recently is a complete overhaul of a management company’s organization. So, what is the future of a community manager and how can we make that job more simplified and a job that people actually want to have?
And the way that you do that is by creating efficiencies. I do think technology plays a huge part in that. When you can take a lift off of a community manager, that’s always a good thing. And then by restructuring an organization is a manager actually responsible for paper pushing? Because a lot of community management is just, “Here’s an architectural request.” “Here’s a violation letter.” “I need to respond to an email about how to get a key fob or a gate key or, or something like that.”
A lot of that is administrative work. A manager’s job should really be looking at the reserves, making sure that the budget is correct, making sure that all of the contracts are appropriately in place for that community, and then helping the board with the future direction of that community.
At the guts of it, that really is what a community manager’s job is. So if you can take a lot of that pressure of that day-to-day work off of them, I think that will actually help ease the frustration in our industry. The biggest thing that people are prioritizing is, “Hey, let’s look at this job and actually figure out what the heart of it is and how we can help our community managers be more successful.”
I agree with you. I mean, in this business there are so many things that are so antiquated. I mean, you think about just, for example, every process. Let’s just say reserving a clubhouse or an elevator for moving in and moving out. There’s a piece of paper that’s behind it and, and someone needs to get it to somebody to get into a computer system, and it’s kind of like if we can take some of those steps out and take all those touches out, it might irritate the person that’s having to process it a whole lot less when you have the right technology in place.
If you kind of expand on it further, think of things like vacations, right? It’s kind of difficult. We live in a society where vacation is hard. Like it’s hard to take vacation, truly unplug. If you’ve got the right technology in place, your systems and processes can be more automated so that people can truly check out for a little bit and not have to always be plugged in.
And when they get back to their desk, they don’t have a thousand emails, because either the technology took care of it or because you have an appropriate structure with specific admin staff that are in certain departments that took care of those little things that are, you know, two-minute tasks that the manager shouldn’t have to deal with.
And that’s one of the things I sell on all the time with AvidXchange Strongroom. And it allows their team to actually be able to step out of the office, go on vacation and not have to worry about, “Oh, is somebody going to be entering in all the invoices?” or, “Is somebody going to make sure that all those images are uploaded?” and, “Is somebody going to file those?” The check’s going to get out. You’re not going to get called on vacation because some vendor didn’t get their check today. So it’s a big deal.
Yeah. You can still pay the bills. You don’t have to be at your desk. The bills will still get paid.
Right. That person doesn’t have to be the one exactly 100%. If we break down the survey results further, 65% stated that their highest priority was identifying efficiencies to save cost.
While 34% said scaling back operations was not a priority, growth is very much still a top priority, with 62% saying its medium to high in terms of priority for their organization. How are companies continuing to grow despite uncertainty and labor shortages?
You know what’s interesting about this little area of the survey? I want to know why 62% only are saying that growth is a medium to high priority.
I can’t believe that people own businesses where they’re okay with just like either getting smaller or kind of staying the same. Like, man, if I own a company, I want it to be huge. Like that’s always my goal. So, but this industry is so interesting, right? It’s like a lot of people that fell into it and didn’t really know that a company was going to be formed.
So I actually think that we have a responsibility to let them see the potential in their growth. It’s really cool when the lightbulbs start going off and they’re like, “Oh my gosh. We can do all of that. That means I could add like 40 associations without adding any staff. Like, that’s crazy. That’s so much more revenue for me.”
So, I think having the right technology in place … To go back to the actual question, “How are companies continue to continuing to grow despite uncertainty?” This is how. Embracing the technology that is specific to the industry that we’re in is, I think, the number one way that companies are able to grow. Cause man, I’d love to go from 100 to 200 and maybe only add one person to help support that. That would be really cool.
Yeah. When I was running a management company, I had always to make this decision. If I hire someone else to support the back-office function, how long is it going to be before I’m able to get enough new communities in the door to cover that person’s salary? Right?
So when I put a client on Strongroom, that’s scalable because they’re paying for the transaction as it takes place. They’re not committing to a whole salary for a year for somebody.
And I think that you can kind of say the same thing about Vantaca, for example. Like those workflows that are in the system – the action items. You know, those companies can automate a lot of those steps. And, you know, we’re talking about retention earlier by automating some of those steps that I call the dumb work. I think it helps with the job satisfaction for people.
If you’re doing irritating work all day, at some point in time, you’re just going to be done. You know, and if we can eliminate some of that through the technology, I think that that certainly helps as well.
So, consistent with what we saw as it relates to challenges and priorities, the survey showed the top three reasons for considering an accounts payable automation solutions are to create overall organizational efficiencies, to reduce processing and or operating costs, and to reduce paper volume.
What were some of your takeaways as to why community association management companies are investing in this type of technology?
Yeah. And I think if you expand on it further, if they don’t know just with an AP process that they could make it easier. Like that’s just one teeny tiny portion of their company. Right?
Like, you can expand on it and it’s like, if I’m saving all of this time in this one area of my company (being accounts payable), imagine how it would expand into accounts receivable, financial production, compliance, work orders, homeowners calling me about a thousand different things, board members needing to approve stuff? Like, it just starts to blow up in a good way when you think of everything that you can do with the right products in place for the organization.
So they obviously know that. Getting the right technology in place, like AvidXchange, Strongroom, Vantaca, is going to help their organization in the long run.
You started in 2006, right? Yes. All right. So, when I started in like in 2004, we used to have a stack of invoices for each community, and then you’d have a stamp. Oh, yeah. Everybody had to go and write the GL code on it and all of that.
Would you believe me if I told you that there are a lot of companies out there that still do that?
I would believe you because we run into them too. It’s insane.
It is. It happens a lot and, and I think it happens for a couple reasons.
One is because there are a lot of management companies that maybe don’t even know what the best practices are out there. For example, there’s some that aren’t engaged or involved with CAI, right? Or maybe they’re in remote locations or maybe they do some association management and then also rental management, right?
And so because of that, they might not know about what’s out there. Right? And so with the AP stuff, I think that they’re starting to realize that it’s a lot more efficient and not so expensive to do it the old fashioned way.
Our industry is experiencing a shift. That shift is you actually do not have to be at your desk to do community management. You really don’t. And that’s because a lot of the things that you would normally do at a property are actually being solved with technology. So things like Compliance View 360 – someone else can go out and actually look at your property for you. You don’t even have to be there. So I could be a community manager in Texas, but I could live in North Carolina.
That is a thing now, and I’m starting to hear more and more that that is happening and that … You know, something we really haven’t talked about is the flexibility in the job. I think in the past people have felt very tied to their desks doing this specific job. But the more we go along, the more people do have that freedom to work in different ways.
And I think it’s so cool that management companies are starting to offer that flexibility. Talk about a happy employee if I can kind of … As long as I’m getting my work done … Like that’s really what it comes down to. Am I getting my work done? Are my customers happy? Do I have to be at my desk from 8:00 – 5:00 with a one-hour lunch in between?
Like is there really a need for five days a week? Like, we could also go into like the four-day work week and things like that that are starting to become really popular. Those types of things on top of technology are actually going to keep management companies’ staff happier, I think. Especially as the workforce starts to change, right?
I am a millennial. I know we get a bad rap, but like the generation after me is starting to enter the workforce and they have a lot of different needs than a millennial had. And I have a lot of different needs than a Gen X. There is a really cool thing happening, and those remote virtual employees, whatever we call them today, they are also filling a really great need.
I think that was a great point. And another trend that I’ve recently seen … I had an employee who used to work for me and I was living in Orlando. She went to work for a management company in San Francisco where I also used to live. And if you’ve been to San Francisco before, you know that it’s very expensive to live there or even visit.
And so therefore salaries are going to be a lot different in San Francisco than they are in Orlando. Right? So they hired a manager in Orlando. And they had people in San Francisco that would go out to the property if she needed them to go out to the property to inspect something, but she was doing everything from Orlando.
That’s awesome. Yeah, so different way to look at it. It is. It’s great. You don’t have to be there. If you’ve got the right people in place, they’ll be able to take care of a lot of the mundane stuff.
There were a lot of data points in that survey. Was there anything in there that really stood out to you as being bizarre? I know that you said that only a handful of people were looking to grow. That was bizarre. Was there anything else that stood out as being kind of shocking or maybe just an anomaly from what you expected?
You know, there was … It’s really small, but there was a part in here that was about, “How much do you agree that access to tools and technology helps to mitigate burnout from short-staffed teams?”
Like, that’s not really resonating with people and that’s … Don’t get me wrong, the majority either agree or strongly agree, but 25% of people are like neutral on that, and I want to know why. Like, that’s really interesting. Why would you not think that access to technology would help your team members?
I’m going to take a stab at this and tell you that I think, and I could be wrong. The people that are saying that might be people who are reluctant to adopt technology in life. Yes. They’re the people that held onto a flip phone and people who also hate the platforms that they use today. Yeah, so people who are not on Vantaca or AvidXchange, right?
So these are people that are just, they’re honestly like okay with the status quo. Because they’re just okay with being there. And I imagine our neutral people, my 25% out there, which to me just feels like a massive amount of people, are also the ones that are okay with like scaling back or potentially not growing their business.
I want to find them. I want to talk to ‘em, I want to make ‘em excited about their management company. There’s another one in here: “How satisfied are you in your current role?” 67% are either satisfied or very satisfied and, heck yeah, if I’m in the finance department, I would be. If I’m using Vantaca and AvidXchange, I am very satisfied with my job.
Yes. Because I’m just having to like mitigate the exceptions. I’m not having to worry about the day-to-day. I just have to worry about the things that like fall outside the lines, which is really rare. So it does make my job easier if I’m in the accounting department, which is great. Yes.
And you can’t mess with money. So having the accounting be spot-on is fantastic.
I agree. You know, there are some people that are, they just love managing communities.
We need people who love managing communities. This industry will not survive if we keep not being able to hire people. Like, I don’t know if it could become a fully remote employee industry.
I don’t know if that’s a possibility. So I would hope that minus the accounting team … because it’s just a little bit different than what a manager does because you’re not dealing with exterior people as much as interior people. Unless you’re like AR collections, that’s a whole different story too. But like, man, we need happy managers.
So if the solutions that the management company puts in place can create a happy manager, that’s what I want. I want people to be happy. I want people to have a delightful experience when they’re using the right products.
Well, thank you Maegan, for joining me today for this great conversation. It’s so interesting to look at trends that are impacting the industry and hear your analysis of the CAI survey.
Thank you so much for having me today. This was really fun. I enjoyed going over the data and kind of digging into some really hot topics that I’ve been hearing about in the industry recently.
Thank you for listening to the Middle Market Report podcast presented by AvidXchange. If you like what you heard, please leave a five-star review and subscribe to the channel while you wait for our next episode.
Head over to AvidXchange.com and read our latest research report about how implementing upskilling programs in the community association management industry can help close the digital skills gap. A direct link is included in the show notes, along with links to AvidXchange’s, LinkedIn and Instagram pages.
Oh, and one more thing. If this conversation has piqued your interest in AP automation from AvidXchange, there’s an additional link to request a demo of our solutions. Thanks again for listening to this episode of the Middle Market Report podcast. We’ll see you next time.