Well-informed condominium and home owners association members are likely to make smart decisions about their homes and communities. That builds value for all.
Yet staying knowledgeable can be time-consuming. Years ago, neighbors spread news through a telephone tree. Today, that task is no longer slow and cumbersome, thanks to listservs, websites, and web-based groups.
Listserv: A good news, bad news tale
An HOA or condo listserv is an online site where home owners can register their email address—and keep it hidden from other users—and then send emails to and view emails from others who join the list. “Our listserv makes communication faster,” says Sue Walton, who’s on her 40-unit condo association’s communications committee in Evanston, Ill. Walton uses a listserv built into her association’s website. “We like it a lot.”
If you don’t have a website or yours doesn’t have listserv capability, L-Soft offers a free listserv, as do Majordomo and Mailman. “You can set up a listserv so members have to be invited or request permission to join,” explains Walter Wimberly, a web developer in Orlando. “That keeps outside people off and makes sure salespeople won’t cause problems.”
However, listservs can be complicated. “Once you get them set up, they’re easy to administer,” says Bill Horne, owner of William Warren Consulting, an online data security company in Sharon, Mass. “But you’re in for a steep learning curve.” Horne, a self-professed “ubertechie,” spent a week and a half working out the bugs on a listserv for his son’s scout troop.
It takes only a few minutes to create a group at a website like Google, Yahoo, or Nexo. However, those who join must set up an account, which some might be hesitant to do. “Those groups are supported by advertising,” says Horne. You also may have to put up with ads on each email that goes through the list.
With both listservs and web-based groups, you’ll probably need a monitor. “A lot of angry people will, when not face-to-face with others, take out their aggression on everybody,” explains Teri Ross, president of Imagine That, an Internet marketing company in Minneapolis. “Establish terms and conditions up front—no attacks or profanity, and be respectful.”
Also consider rules governing whether home owners can “sell” themselves on your site. Perhaps Joe has a home-based cookie business. Users may get angry if he posts seemingly friendly messages that are veiled ads. “Others almost always resent people taking up their time with promotions,” says Horne. “The exception is lines of text after a person’s signature. People will tolerate ads there.”
If home owners don’t follow your rules, you may need to eliminate their access. “It’s easier to shut down an email account with a listserv,” says Wimberly. “You can also do it with an online group, but often the offending messages remain for everyone to see.”
How long should monitoring take? That depends on the size of your group and how active members are. It could be just an hour a week, says Wimberly. If it takes much longer, arrange for several people to share the work.