Location, location, location.
Debi Franklin knows what makes a neighborhood attractive to buyers.
She also knows how to keep it that way.
Franklin is a resident of Fenwick, an Oklahoma City housing addition north of NW 164 between Western and Pennsylvania avenues.
She spent 37 years at Tinker Air Force Base, working as a logistics specialist in the B-1 bomber repair depot.
So she knows a thing or two about keeping things moving along.
Franklin said she moved to Fenwick in 2003 for its location, with turnpike access making it easy to slip out for trips to Bricktown, Tinker and the gym.
Fenwick residents have Edmond schools and Oklahoma City utilities. They vote in Oklahoma City’s Ward 8, which is represented by longtime Councilman Pat Ryan.
Fenwick has 713 homes, a junior Olympic swimming pool, two ponds with fountains, a wetland and walking trail, neighborhood swim team and soccer field.
Two sections of the housing addition are gated, Fenwick Garden Village and Fenwick gated. Residents in those neighborhoods are members of the main homeowners association, and have subordinate homeowners associations of their own, with dues to maintain the gates and entrance landscaping.
Fenwick residents pay $382 in dues per year. Residents of the gated sections pay an additional $309 (Gated) and $345 (Garden Village).
There was a ruckus when the main homeowners association doubled dues, from $200 to $400 in 2007 without being able to justify the increase to residents, Franklin said.
“They didn’t have it all together,” she said.
The board subsequently rolled back the increase and got together a budget.
After a few years serving on homeowners association boards in the neighborhood, Franklin and her husband, Carl, formed a company to manage neighborhood business.
Putting her experience to work — “what works is the process” — she has built a model homeowners association that keeps the pool hopping, the clubhouse busy, the parkland manicured, the neighborhood entrances landscaped, and the property values high.
Patience is her watchword.
Homeowner associations, she said, “need to be empowered, but they don’t need to be powerful.”
Gentle persuasion tends to succeed in reminding members to keep their yards mowed and edged, houses painted and RVs out of the driveway.
Franklin’s management company works exclusively for the Fenwick association board, despite inquiries from other associations for help with their business needs.
Franklin does the books, handles violation letters, replies to messages left on the clubhouse phone and manages clubhouse reservations.
She also hires the lifeguards for the pool.
Not every neighborhood has lifeguards, but they are worth the expense to Fenwick.
“I think so, and everyone else agrees,” Franklin said.
On a warm spring afternoon, the pool is filled with children at play.
One lifeguard watches over the activity in the water while another checks IDs by the gate.
The pool is private and for a variety of reasons, including liability, access is limited to neighborhood residents.
The homeowners association has invested in recent years in resurfacing the pool and replacing the clubhouse air conditioning system.
Investments in ornamental streetlights and the ponds, walking trails and wetlands maintain the neighborhood’s character, Franklin said.
In Fenwick, she said, “You’re in the country in the city.”
A cautionary tale
A dispute between northwest Oklahoma City neighborhoods is a cautionary tale for homeowners.
Chapel Creek residents say their neighbors in an adjacent housing addition have failed to clear away debris and keep water flowing through a stream that cuts through both neighborhoods.
As a result, the Chapel Creek residents say, water backs up into their neighborhood.
They say that creates a health and safety hazard, reducing their property values and interfering with the developer’s efforts to keep selling lots.
And here’s the head-turner for homeowners: The Chapel Creek Home Owners Association says its neighbors are individually responsible for the problem.
Chapel Creek’s lawsuit seeking damages names about 100 individual property owners in Willow Bend Section 1 housing addition.
Filed last year, the lawsuit also named the Willow Bend Section 1 Property Owners Association, the Willow Bend Section 1 Owners Association and Oklahoma County.
The lawsuit said damages exceed $75,000.
It sought an order that the stream be cleared out so the water can flow, payment of damages, and reimbursement for attorneys’ fees.
The Chapel Creek residents claimed Oklahoma County bore partial responsibility as the owner of a portion of Willow Bend Section 1 known as “Common Area, Block A” – essentially the stream, which is designated as a drainage easement. Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves dismissed the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners as defendants last year.
The Chapel Creek homeowners’ lawsuit said the plat, or legal description, of the Willow Bend Section 1 housing addition was filed with Oklahoma County in February 1989.
The homeowners say the plat provides that maintenance of the drainage easement “shall be the responsibility of the Property Owners Association, comprising of all lot owners owning property” in Willow Bend Section 1.
The lawsuit said Oklahoma law provides for formation of an “owners association” with duties including “management, maintenance, preservation and control” of common areas in housing additions.
It said an owners association was formed when the plat was filed with the county. The Chapel Creek residents conclude the individual homeowners named in the lawsuit “comprise the members” of the property owners association and are responsible for keeping the water from backing up into their Chapel Creek neighbors’ property.
The lawsuit said the Willow Bend Section 1 homeowners “have enjoyed the benefit of the plat but have failed to discharge their maintenance obligations over the drainage easement.”
“The current state of the drainage easement and ongoing lack of maintenance violates Oklahoma City ordinance and subdivision regulations causing special injury” to Chapel Creek residents and their homeowners association, the lawsuit said.
In their 16-page reply to the lawsuit, the Willow Bend Section 1 residents maintained Chapel Creek’s issues were somebody else’s problem, saying they don’t own the property comprising the stream “whether in common or with others.”
They denied being members of a property owners association and denied that the filing of the plat created one. State law regarding real estate developments and owners associations have nothing to do with the dispute, they said. In fact, they maintained, the Chapel Creek residents themselves may actually be responsible for maintaining Willow Bend Section 1’s stream.
They also denied Chapel Creek’s problems are a result of a lack of maintenance, and denied the problems are a health and safety hazard or that they negatively impact Chapel Creek property values.
Oklahoma City spent $88,649 to clean out the drainage easement in 2009, the Willow Bend Section 1 homeowners’ reply said. They said the stream at the time was in private hands, and that interest and other costs brought the total to more than $127,000. Oklahoma County eventually re-acquired the property two years ago, they said.
They asserted Chapel Creek’s residents were negligent and are responsible for any damages — “if any” — they have suffered.
Homeowner Association Q&A
Q: What is a homeowners association?
A: According to the Neighborhood Alliance, a homeowners association is a group of homeowners who live within set boundaries, and are mandated to pay dues and required to belong to the association. They typically have covenants to enforce and often were established by the developer. Attorney Matthew Winton, who specializes in the law governing homeowners and condominium associations, said they are community associations, from the Latin root that means people associated around a common idea or theme.
Q: How is a homeowners association different from a neighborhood association?
A: A neighborhood association is a voluntary group of citizens who choose to join and choose to pay dues, if and when they are assessed.
Q: What do homeowners associations and neighborhood associations have in common?
A: Both are concerned with maintaining property values and increasing safety within their neighborhoods. Debi Franklin, who manages the Fenwick homeowners association in northwest Oklahoma City, says safety is the association’s No. 1 priority: “Right behind that is property values.”
Q: What are covenants?
A: Covenants are the “rules I live by in my neighborhood,” according to Winton, who is a member of the Community Associations Institute. Covenants are filed with the county clerk’s office and they “tell you what you can and cannot do with your property,” he said.
Q: What are common covenants?
A: Winton breaks covenants into two categories, structural and use restrictions. Outbuildings are a common source of contention — “people fight about sheds” — and covenants may govern square footage of dwellings. Covenants may decree type and color of roofing materials, and there are cases where homeowners have replaced their roof and had the homeowners association tell them to tear it off and install materials that follow guidelines. In such cases, pleading ignorance of the restrictions likely won’t save a homeowner from an expensive re-roofing project. Calling up a satellite view on Google of a neighborhood with a homeowners association can show clearly how roofs conform to restrictions. Use restrictions may limit the commercial use of a residence; daycares are an example of a business that could be forbidden, Winton said.
Q: What about money?
A: Homeowners associations collect dues, and residents must pay. Winton and Franklin emphasized the importance of reserves in keeping a homeowners association on an even keel financially. Reserves are a savings account for expenses associated with “common elements” such as parks, trails, clubhouses and pools for which residents share responsibility. Associations also may levy one-time assessments beyond annual dues; Franklin’s Fenwick association has levied $170 in the past few years to install ornamental street lights. Winton said he sees dues that range from $25 to $50 per year up to $1,200. “Generally, they’re too low,” he said.
Q: How are homeowners associations governed?
A: Volunteer boards make decisions for the association; bylaws govern the process, homeowners attend association meetings and participate in decision-making. Franklin said covenants forbid board members from being compensated, though they may be reimbursed for legitimate expenses. Franklin has organized a management company to handle the day-to-day business of running Fenwick. “The real problem is this kind of work doesn’t ever pay much so most people don’t want to do it,” she said. “We do it because we live in Fenwick, and it’s close to our interest and heart.”
Q: Do I want to live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association?
A: Before investing, Franklin said, read the covenants and rules. Learn about the finances. Ask: What are the dues? Are there special assessments? Is the association solvent? Does it have a reserve account? What percentage of residents are delinquent on their dues? Winton said a 95 percent rate of having dues remitted without the association having to send reminders — or worse — is good. Drive through the neighborhood, Franklin said: Are the yards well-kept? Houses neat? “Go to a meeting,” she said. “See if they’re fussing amongst themselves.”
Q: How will my homeowners association keep me informed and involved?
A: Strong communication is the mark of a strong homeowners association, Winton said: “You have people who are really intentional about creating community.” The Fenwick homeowners association has a website, Facebook page, and bulletin board outside the clubhouse. Residents get e-mail “blasts” with neighborhood alerts and other news. The association maintains a hotline at the clubhouse that is checked frequently for messages.
Q: What are the biggest expenses?
A: In Fenwick, Franklin said, the biggest ongoing expense is the landscaping contract, which provides for mowing and edging weekly, weed killer and fertilizer applications, and seasonal planting of flower beds. The association in recent years has paid $70,000 to have its wetlands area cleaned after an ice storm downed tree limbs, and $140,000 to have ponds dredged and stocked with fish, and its dam stabilized.
Q: What about pools?
A: Winton said safety is a major expense. Pools are private and cannot host swim meets attended by the public or sell memberships unless the association is willing to invest in expensive retrofits to meet requirements that facilities be accessible to those with disabilities. Fenwick has a neighborhood swim team that works out at the pool but meets are conducted elsewhere.
Q: How about private roads?
A: Some housing additions have private roads; Fenwick is among them, in the neighborhood’s gated sections. Shannon Cox, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City public works department, said there are 1,029 lane miles of private roads in the city. Roads are an area where reserves are especially important; unanticipated repairs are expensive.
Q: What happens if the association can’t keep the peace?
A: “You get volunteers when people are mad,” Franklin said. “That’s just the truth.”
AT A GLANCE