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This Thing Called Ownership - - - - -
by Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC

f someone asked you who owns your community, what would be your answer? In asking this question around the country, I have heard all manner of answers: my boss - a group of investors - my boss & his friends - my parents - me - my husband and I - are some of the more common answers. Bob Nielsen, a Community Manager who has been at the same location at an all-age community in Lakeland, Florida, for over ten years says, "Nelson Steiner only thinks he owns this community. It's mine!" And his attitude of ownership shows. He takes it personally when an applicant shows up. Not only will that person be his neighbor, but that person will reflect on "his" community. Bob keeps the community sparkling clean - not an easy task in an all-age community! He is out and about all times of the day and night - checking on "his" people; making sure things are going okay. When Nielsen shared his feelings with Steiner himself, Steiner's reply was, "Good! I want all my managers to feel that way! It is their community."

During a recent visit to the Chicago area to do some sales and management training for Capital Development Community Managers much the same attitude was displayed by many of them. They feel it is their community and that Dick Kalarchek (president of Capital Development) is a guest in their home when he visits the property. Dick's comment? "Great! That's why my managers do such a wonderful job! You have to let them feel like they own it." There's a lot of wisdom in the words of these two men. Steiner and Kalarchek have both discovered the power of pride and put it to use for them. By encouraging their Community Managers to develop an attitude of "ownership" toward the property, these owners have shared one of the most powerful motivations in business with their employees. These employees in turn share this pride with their residents. And - it is not unusual to overhear a resident at a community activity say, "This picnic is an annual thing for my community." Did you catch that "my community" coming from a resident? Have you heard it coming from your own residents? Many of us want our residents to take pride in home ownership, to take pride in their homesite, and to take pride in being a resident of "our" community. But the real reward is when our residents take pride in "their" community; when they develop that attitude of ownership that says it IS their community. One of the most notable examples happens over and over and I have seen it displayed time and again all over the United States. It begins with the internal deterioration of the community in terms of the quality of residents an continues with the decreasing levels of cleanliness and curb appeal. Pretty soon we see a community that would be most often be called a "turn-around" problem. We see an image problem developing within the surrounding area. And we see good residents leaving for a different community. Sometimes, those residents who stay will finally reach their limit. They take all they can take and decide to make a stand for "their" community by starting a Neighborhood Crime Watch Program through their local law enforcement office. These residents often make statements such as, "This is my community and I'm tired of watching this happen," or "I'm not going to stand by and continue to let this go on in my community." These residents have developed an attitude of ownership. They have decided to show their pride by demonstrating some of the mental attributes of ownership.

Recently, an all-age community reduced crime and improved their image with just such an attitude of ownership. By working with the sheriff's office to start a Neighborhood Crime Watch Program, crime decreased by an unbelievable 80% in just five short months according to the local sheriff's records! Would that have happened if the residents had not taken "ownership" of the community? I doubt it! Legal claim to a piece of developed land is not the only form of ownership - nor is it the only form we need in our industry. In order to continue to have well-maintained properties with few vacant homesites, the groundwork for an attitude of ownership must be laid among Community Managers, staff and employees, volunteers, and residents. Encourage the participation of your residents through liaison committee representatives in some of the decision making processes connected with management of your property. Get them involved in some of the issues that help shape the lifestyle of the community and set the tone for all residents and prospects. Allow them to take pride in this place they call home by giving them credit for what they do. Make sure to include a "thank you" for residents when notes go out the door. Some manager's have even "named" certain events after residents: Joe's Friday Night Potluck or Sue's Tuesday Morning Koffee Klatch. What a boost to personal pride by sharing this thing called "ownership"!

These seemingly little things are big things to residents. They take pride in being involved. This pride grows when nurtured and sprinkled liberally with praise. In regional manager's meetings, communities are often identified by the manager's name rather than the property name. At such a recent gathering, I heard "Donna's community" rather than "Sterling Estates". Such references increase the pride of "ownership" managers have in their property. In turn, their loyalty to the corporate entity or their supervisor increases. The level of dedication to "their" property they "own" is much higher than if it were "a" property they were merely managing. It's a win-win situation! You, the legal owner, gain a whole new level of management commitment when Community Managers adopt this attitude of ownership. You, the Community Managers, gain immeasurable benefits when your residents adopt this attitude of ownership. Put yourself on a winning team today! Share this thing called "ownership".

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