Several years ago, describing Circle Tree Condominiums as a mess would have been generous.
The 256-unit complex in Mesa, Ariz., was plagued with crime — among the residents were 68 convicted felons — the property manager had been charged with embezzlement, and the buildings were in desperate need of repair.
“Everything was falling apart,” said Dave Russell, who bought his unit there in 2007. “Fifteen buildings had leaking roofs, siding and stucco were falling off, and there was a murder of a 19-year-old girl and her unborn baby during a drug deal that went wrong. “
Russell decided it was time to step up, and today his work is held up as an example of how HOAs should be run.
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Russell already had been volunteering with the Mesa police to help clean up the property. So in 2010, he became community manager of the Circle Tree Owners Association.
Now, residents say, it’s a different world. New roofs, paint, swimming pools, nice parking lots. All accomplished without having to slap special assessments on the homeowners.
Books are audited annually with budgets and other documents available to any homeowner who requests them. And Russell’s expertise is often sought by other HOA boards, which contact him for help on how to turn a community around.
Russell said homeowners suspected the property management company was mishandling the association’s finances several years ago but couldn’t prove it.
“When the money’s coming in and nothing is being fixed, that’s a big red flag,” he said. “When you ask for financial records and they refuse to give them to you or make it extremely difficult for you to get them, that’s a red flag.”
Today, Russell oversees the property, which includes four swimming pools, Jacuzzis, and tennis and basketball courts. A management company handles the finances.
“We have the most complete set of financial records that any HOA could possibly have,” Russell said. “I can show you a receipt for every screw, bolt, nut, bearing, whatever we buy. We keep minutes of our meetings, and we put them on our website.”
Russell credits much of the success to having a good board.
“I probably have the most intelligent set of people you could ever ask for,” he said. “I have an aerospace engineer, a nurse, a woman who is a distributor, a retired school teacher, and the director of IT for the state of Arizona.”