|The February 2012 issue of the Florida Community Association Journal has a cover article on the Green Cay Village web site. |
Green Cay Village
2011 Best Website and Internet Communications Winner: Larger Community
Green Cay Village: The Web that Binds
by Kathy Danforth
The Green Cay Village website was named Best Website for larger communities in the 2011 Communities of Excellence contest. Not only is it a reliable and thorough source of information, but it is very likely the most economical website as well. Board member Peter Schulz has volunteered his time and resources to create and run the website to benefit the community.
As one of the first residents in Green Cay Village, when it began in 2007, Schulz saw the need for clear communication to help pull the community together. “I was a project manager at IBM for 30 years and have done websites before, so this is something I was experienced at,” Schulz states. “I wanted to do something good for the community and be involved—not just looking in the window wondering what they were doing.”
Since Schulz is solely responsible for the website, he has a comprehensive disclaimer posted. “I protect the community from being sued for any errors that might occur. I’m doing the best I can and have the legal disclaimer saying that the website is not owned or operated by the community. I am the creator, author, and editor, and accept no payment. I pay for everything and that gives me a certain editorial freedom,” he remarks. “Actually, I walk a rather fine line because I have access to more information as a board member, but the information on the website is available to every homeowner anyway.”
Schulz puts in about an hour each day, writing articles or updating the site. “The way I designed it, it’s easy to input articles because it’s database driven,” he explains.
The website is a multi-faceted affair, offering basic news and material on the association, extra information on items of interest in the area, homeowner and hurricane preparation tips, and a mobile streamlined version for quick reference. “The ‘About’ section has 15 pages with just about anything you’d want to know about the association, including demographics, history, etc.,” Schulz shares. The community includes 160 low-income apartments, 160 condominiums, and 100 townhomes. “It’s a very mixed community in terms of ownership and was marketed to teachers, firemen, and others priced out of home ownership,” Schulz comments.
“The most popular sections are the homepage and the articles—those are the things that people who live here would like to know and need to know. About 50 people visit the website each day. This is not a retirement community; most people here have very busy lives and are working, picking up kids, looking for jobs, and taking care of family members,” Schulz observes.
The site makes the official documents for Green Cay Village available and searchable. “All the forms, documents, rules, regulations, warranty information, and budgets with current spending are posted,” Schulz volunteers. “It saves the property manager a lot of work and makes this a very open community—if you want to know the rules or how much was spent, it’s there.”
Shellee Solomons, Property Manager at Green Cay Village, appreciates the wealth of information provided, including board member information, committee information, Florida statutes, and forms—such as service order requests and architectural review forms. “The reader is able to look up the information directly themselves and correspond with management at their convenience,” she observes. “The Green Cay website is very beneficial to both the community and management,” she adds. “The community has the ability to view a variety of interesting and valuable information regarding Green Cay, the association documents, and exciting information about the surrounding area, along with beautiful pictures!”
A real plus that Schulz sees is, “The website helps on sales or leasing of units. When a prospective resident walks away from the website, they feel like it’s a good place. It sells Green Cay Village.”
One feature that has been removed from the site was a public message board. “People could post comments with anonymity. It was an open forum for derogatory comments,” Schulz found. If there was a members-only area, Schulz notes, “I could again consider having a forum because if people are identified, they are more likely to act responsibly. However, I don’t plan to do that. It’s one limitation of running the site informally—I would have to have access to individuals’ information.” Schulz is content with the situation, though—“I can say what I want to say without asking for approval!”
“The site is one-way except for a ‘Speak Up’ section,” Schulz says. “They can send tips or complaints, and we get good feedback, maybe on housekeeping problems or a neighbor they don’t want to get involved with. They should go to the property manager or maybe the police, but this way they can stay anonymous. It works.”
Schulz has used the website for satisfaction surveys, but advises, “I haven’t done it lately because it just seems to stir things up. They didn’t have anything to complain about before we asked them, so it’s sort of like poking a stick at the residents to make them start looking at what bothers them. As with any community, we always have some problems some place, but I feel that management has a pretty good handle on what’s going on. As far as surveys, I may or may not conduct them again,” he concludes.
For the residents on the go, Schulz started a mobile version of the website. “It’s a truncated version so it fits on the screen and looks good. It has the ‘About’ section, news, calendar, classified ads, and contact information, but doesn’t have all the documents since that could use up their data allotment,” Schulz states. E-mail blasts are also sent occasionally to about 100 residents but are not used for routine communication.
The community has been especially challenged by the timing of their entry into the housing picture. “The community was sold in 2006–7, at the worst height of the housing market,” Schulz points out. “Home values are 50 percent less than what homeowners paid. That means numerous foreclosures, which in general are being sold to cash investors. Other people who needed to move have had to rent their homes because they couldn’t sell them.”
“On the bright side,” Schulz states, “the community is extremely well-managed. We’ve done extensive painting and tree planting this year, and it’s more litter-free than Magic Kingdom.” On the financial side their management is even more impressive. “We have had no fee increases since we started. We keep fees down by being relentless on delinquent accounts,” Schulz explains. “If you’re two payments late, it’s off to the attorney; we send a demand letter, file a lien, foreclose on the lien and take ownership, and run the property until the bank forecloses, if it comes to that.”
And the website lets homeowners know exactly where they stand. “We have an article on the website that explains that if you’re in trouble financially, don’t pay your mortgage but DO pay us. If you think for a moment that you cannot pay us, you’re making a terrible mistake. They may want to not pay their mortgage for two years while they live here. If they don’t pay maintenance fees, it will take us about six months—then they have to pay rent or move.”
“Green Cay Village is a nice place to live. If you can just forget how much you paid and how much it’s worth now, you can be happy forever,” Schulz wryly explains. “Everything is nice and safe and it’s a pleasant setting. The community got caught in the wrong place in history, but the website helps make it better. It gives focus to management. The community feels like they know what’s going on and they do.” Despite the financial turmoil created by the housing market, having one place to go for reliable information—at no cost!—has been a uniting force for the community.