About Pilot Property Management
Not unlike Steve Jobs and Apple, Pilot Property Management was born in a garage. As a real estate agent working for a company that did not choose to deal with rental property, Tony Easton found himself being asked to manage rentals. He created an office in his garage and the fight to match Mr. Jobs began. An early customer, a singularly cautious lady who owned a oceanfront duplex engaged him. One Friday he visited the property and entered a storeroom on the ground floor. It had silver foil covering the walls and ceiling and additional lights powered from the one socket in the room.
Pilot was not officially created until May 1998 when Tony finally decided to embark on managing homeowners associations. A friend invited him to an HOA board meeting at which the then manager presented a bill for replacing one of the building’s roofs for $9,500. Tony enquired quite inappropriately if it was the same building that he saw as he entered the complex where 5 gallon buckets of tar and rolls of asphalt sheeting were stacked. That was to become our first association which we continue to manage today.
Pilot started by offering to pick up the slack from the larger competitors by offering to take on any customer too small for them. We grew quickly but ended up driving all over town.
So in one breathtaking decision we fired our biggest customer in La Jolla who represented 40% of our income and focused on the north county coastal area only. Over time we have grown to take on customers in Vista and San Marcos but essentially decline anything south of the merge.
Some communities are happy to run their own affairs but want someone to handle the books. We can act as the financial custodian, collecting dues and paying bills. The fee is considerably less than full management.
In 2006, we recommended our communities set aside a certain sum for bad or doubtful debts. Not surprisingly not everyone believed they had members who might not pay their dues on time. Since then we have been able to assist communities collect overdue assessments, have created payment plans allowing he member to catch up on overdue amounts and in some cases have had to resort to more vigorous measures. We highly recommend certain attorney firms to act when a bankruptcy is declared or in the use of the foreclosure process.
Pilot’s first role is to offer advice and counsel. Many communities are not aware that there is presently no licensing of HOA or Community managers.
Legislation was enacted in 2012 which called for the certification of everyone providing HOA or community management services, but no rules or regulations were enacted, no criteria for qualification was drawn up and no testing was created.
Since inception Pilot has required its employees to attend and pass as many classes as they can in the fields related to our business. Staff has been to classes held at local community colleges, and attended functions held by organizations that have focused their attention on providing valuable class material beneficial to community management. Pilot also provides some in house training and offers a bi-monthly lunch and learn at which vendors teach Pilot’s staff about roofing or plumbing procedures, ways to save water in landscaping, drought resistant plant material, how to extend the life of asphalt, the value of higher deductibles and other risk management services, along with a slew of other classes. Training is an ongoing process; staff is required to pass any exam required by the class and members are reimbursed for the cost of any studies they successfully complete.
While every management company can essentially provide the same services with or without supporting technology, Pilot focuses in this high tech world on hiring and training people who possess the desire to satisfy our client’s needs.
Of course we don’t always do that as when a member wants a discount on his dues because the pool heater wasn’t working one weekend, or he doesn’t like the new paint colors adopted by the association, or his dog just died. We even had one customer, who owed several thousand dollars, complain to the judge that we didn’t cut the grass frequently enough and he couldn’t even see the small patch of grass from his unit.
Pilot strives to offer a level of satisfaction so that even the unhappy customer knows that we tried to resolve his issue, problem or dispute. Everyone is treated the same as far as is humanly possible.
People live in the communities we manage, people enjoy the facilities within their communities, people pay the dues, and people do have disputes with their neighbors.
Our role, as we see it, is first to lower the temperature then to assist in the resolution of their issue. When it is not within our power we try to explain whose power controls; sometimes it’s the governing documents, sometimes it’s the law, sometimes it’s indeed their neighbor, sometimes a board will make a decisions in the best interests of the community even if not everyone agrees with it.
A great community has a great board of directors. Pilot has no say in who is elected to govern but excels at guiding and sharing information allowing boards to be better informed and able to reach the best decision after reviewing a number of better choices.
We believe the best decisions are made when one had a number of admirable choices.
We are very conscious of the terrific vendors who support our communities and bring thoughtful and in many cases cost saving suggestions to improve the lives of those who liv in a community. We are blessed with the knowledge some of the individuals who work with us bring to their different professions. We value the relationships we have with our vendors whom we pay weekly, while offering a fair arms-length and competitive basis for bidding.
Homeowners may pay your association dues online.
The HOA management industry is about 30 years old but in California is still an unsupervised industry. Neither the Real Estate Commissioner nor the Department of Corporations has any interest in setting up guidelines under which practitioners in our field operate.
This is of course a two edged sword. Communities can choose to self-manage, as many did 30 years ago, or they can engage an entity that is perhaps not well prepared to guide and assist them.
We can provide a financial services package that produces a budget each year, pays all the approved bills and collects all the dues (hopefully). The service includes preparing monthly income and expense statements, and a monthly balance sheet reconciled with the different bank accounts. We provide annual results but do not provide annual tax returns or financial audits or reviews. We believe these are best done by an independent entity so that one more set of eyes review the final figures.
Pilot has offered this service to a small number of communities which has in most cases resulted in a move to full management at a later stage. If a community has members well versed in say finance, insurance, construction, HR and legal affairs they are certainly better prepared than most. When those talented and giving members move on that may be the time to consider full management.
It is said that community management is all about the 3 Ps: Pets, Parking and People, not necessarily in that order. It is however really about listening. Sometimes the real underlying reason for a request or a complaint is not readily apparent. Sometimes we simply need to listen.
Tony Easton has been managing rentals since 1985 when he was offered his first account by an investor back east who had difficulty collecting his rent on time. Tony made a quick trip to the property chatted to the tenant about his rights and quickly earned his first customer who was delighted to receive a check for the back rent. He, the owner, didn’t know that he was the instrument that started Tony on his journey to provide superior management counseling and advice. He never knew that Tony had taken a certain Guido to the front door of the tenant’s condo. Ok, Ok, it never actually happened that way but Tony was once offered the services, in all seriousness, of a certain group of individuals who travel neither in cars, buses or trains. Fortunately we have never actually encountered the need for such a service.
Knowing superior vendors, building relationships with them over time, some of whom tony has worked with for 30 odd years is a valuable asset.
Knowing how to provide timely and efficient bookkeeping services provides repeat business and sometimes valuable referrals.
Knowing the ins and outs of the law, and the legislatures need to constantly tweak it sometimes in knee jerk fashion is essential.
But if there is one underlying feature that separates good management from the others it is the due diligence to verify. Pilot enjoys a wonderful group of tenants made so by selecting the very best from a group of applicants.
Marketing a property requires a number of talents among them setting a fair market rent and advertising in a way to gather a number of choice applicants from whom to select a verifiable party.
Pilot is very careful not to discriminate on any basis and has indeed over time selected tenants whose track record was less than perfect but who have turned out to be the perfect tenants. We look for “red flags”. Too many is disastrous but one with a verifiable explanation is fine.
Offering prompt and courteous service to those tenants allows us to keep them for several years. We have some tenants who have been with us for 6 or 7 years and of course we are delighted to say we have some owners who have been with us since 1985 and 1986. Their mortgages have been paid off and their retirement nest egg has both grown in value and is supplying an increasing net income.
You can now make your payment online.
A few years ago we took over an association that was struggling with unpaid assessments. They totaled nearly $200,000. In one instance the legal cost to recover the dues was equal to the amount collected. In one case a judgment was obtained, the attorney then offered for $1200 to find the same debtor and pursue recovery. This is the same debtor they had successfully obtained a judgment against. The board was unsure how to act.
We were able to reduce that total indebtedness and collect from members who had lost their property in foreclosure.
It became apparent that we could quietly focus on individual members who were in financial difficulties and assist them with payment plans or seek judgments in small claims court that cost the association a fraction of the cost of a superior court judgment. Certain cases are too large for small claims and certain claims are indeed best handled by the association’s attorney especially when there are rent back provisions, bankruptcy issues, foreclosure looming from a superior lien etc etc.
But if an association consistently chases the smaller delinquencies while they are still small quite often payment plans make a good alternative to court action. One homeowner is paying off his not inconsiderable debt at the rate of $25 a month which is all he can afford; another is paying only $100 a month towards a debt of over $10,000.
We apply the stick and carrot method, always offering a carrot but wielding a big stick in the background. We love payment plans because the debtor has volunteered, in most cases, to make a certain commitment; when in court, we always offer to mediate the matter before trial, for the same reasons people who voluntarily come up with their own solutions usually commit to them. Besides the North County courts have some wonderful volunteer mediators.