Home Owners Associations (HOAs) are non-profits responsible for maintaining the common elements in housing communities. In order to run smoothly, HOAs require active participation from board members and homeowners. Board members are responsible for managing the property and coordinating with the people who live on it. Homeowners pay their dues to cover HOA expenses and are encouraged to voice their concerns and suggestions which could benefit the community. Skills across different dimensions are required to keep things running in order, from the financials of the HOA to the communication between homeowners and board members. In this lighthearted article, we’ll analyze the popular fantasy series Lord of the Rings (LOTR) written by J.R.R. Tolkien and look at the parallels between this tale and that of a modern-day HOA.
The shire and the burden of the ring
The LOTRs stories start by describing an area of Middle-earth called The Shire. The Shire is a rich grassland with sweeping hills that house communities of inhabitants called Hobbits. You might correlate the Shire to an HOA property with its residents who call this place home. The Shire is cultivated, well kept, and hosts central areas where Hobbits gather to trade goods, celebrate special events, and socialize. In an HOA, this might take the form of a community pool, elevators, or a club house. Amongst the Shire exists Frodo, an insignificant Hobbit, roughly three feet tall with pointed ears and furry feet, who came into possession of one of Middle-earth’s most powerful trinkets, the One Ring. The One Ring, a small and rather ordinary-looking artifact, possessed an evil power that could transform any individual with a sliver of greed into a deranged being. The selflessness of Frodo’s personality made him a perfect candidate to resist the ring’s evil power. HOA leaders are looked upon to have the same character traits as they undertake a huge responsibility. The ring came to Frodo via an old wizard with grey hair and a pointy hat named Gandalf the Grey. Frodo did not want nor desire the ring, he was given it. HOA leaders might relate to this because sometimes they are forced to take the responsibility of being a board member because no one else is stepping up to do it.
“All we have to decide what to do with the time that is given us.” — Gandalf
This phrase, referring to periods of dark times, expresses the idea of making the best of a given circumstance rather than questioning why it exists. A change of thought from “why me” to “what can I do” came over Frodo throughout the story enabling him to mentally endure the challenges he faced. The bravery, courage, and open mindedness of this little hobbit might serve as inspiration to a board member questioning their position in an HOA. Very few things in life are permanent and this quote suggests that it’s best to take advantage of time while you have it.
Because of the complexity involved and the variety of skill sets needed, the president of an HOA board cannot single-handedly perform all tasks. This requires a multi-person board preferably with people from different professional backgrounds. The average board in an HOA may consist of 4 positions: president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary.
“I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.” — Frodo Baggins
If the president does not know how to accomplish a task or seeks information in a specialized area, they can reach out to a particular board member for help. The vice president exists as a replacement for the president while advising and assisting them as needed. The Treasurer can provide accounting or financial expertise, and the Secretary handles documentation and scheduling of events. The HOA board seeks out a diverse skill set to ensure its competency, just as the fellowship in LOTR recruited races of all kinds with different skill sets to help Frodo accomplish the destruction of the One Ring.
The “ring bearer”
Frodo Baggins, the ring bearer, was chosen to possess the ring and therefore held the most decision-making power in the group. In the world of HOAs, the one most similar to this position would be the HOA president. Frodo chose which paths to take, which terrains to travel through, and when to turn around when things looked bleak. A great deal of will, leadership, public speaking, and general knowledge of HOA rules and regulations would be expected of one who holds the presidential position.
The “wandering wizard”
There is a need to have someone ensure the president’s performance and replace him if necessary. Gandalf the Wizard in LOTR played a similar role and could have taken Frodos place but insisted it would be better off in someone else’s possession. At the same time, he advised and helped Frodo when challenges arose. V.P’s exist as a precaution to step up and assist when absolutely necessary.
The “dwarf merchant”
HOAs are supported financially through dues paid by homeowners, which are then spent (or saved) for maintaining the property. The treasurer’s job is to keep an eye on expenses, collections, and savings. The person holding this position should be good with numbers and highly organized. The Dwarves of Middle-earth were good with tools, using pickaxes and hammers to extract valuable minerals, which were then used as leverage to barter, trade, and purchase goods to improve their communities. Someone who can maintain a budget, keep track of expenses, and trade reasonably would be needed for the HOA treasurer position.
The “night elf”
HOAs consist of a board that holds meetings, promotes discussion, and makes decisions on the spot. These things must be scheduled, recorded, and documented. This responsibility falls into the bucket of an HOA secretary, who is there to assist in keeping everyone on the same page.
“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” — Lady Galadriel
As rudimentary as they sound, the responsibilities of an HOA secretary are essential to keep things running smoothly. LOTRs Elrond of Rivendale held a secret meeting, The Council of Elrond, to discuss among the fellowship the fate of the One Ring and who shall take it to its final resting spot. The meeting was a starting point for the fellowship requiring alignment before carrying out the One Ring’s destruction. Transparency among members is essential, and it is up to the secretary to inform all members of such events and maintain a culture of healthy communication.
The fellowship’s quest led them through vast grasslands, mountain tops, caves, and dense forests with enchanted creatures deep within. Each member was individually suited for different tasks, meaning everyone had to play their part at different times for the group to succeed. An HOA faces various obstacles on a daily basis and the terrains the fellowship traveled through can serve as metaphors to describe these challenges.
When resources are tight
The ability to maintain, save, and manage a group resource is a significant task for an HOA. Frodo and his apprentice, Samwise Gamgee, another hobbit, faced dwindling resources while ascending mountainous landscapes upon destroying the ring. The lack of oxygen meant that they had to use their energy wisely. HOAs might face similar challenges when running low on reserve funds, giving off a feeling of suffocation. Smart budgeting systems, whether done on paper or through software, need to be in place so that board members can plan how much needs to be collected and how often to avoid a mountain of debt.
A web of confusion
HOA boards aim to consist of everyday homeowners with adequate knowledge in the required areas. On occasion, relatively simple goals may require expert knowledge to be completed. Mounds of paperwork and webs of governmental regulations may give off the feeling that one is going in circles in order to accomplish an easy goal. When the fellowship entered Murkwood, a dense, enchanted forest with thick foliage and massive spider webs, a meandering path was visible, yet ended up being incredibly difficult to stay on. Why was it so hard to stay on one might ask? It was because of the air. What about the air? The air was saturated with an evil magic, confusing the minds of the fellowship and while the path at first seemed easy to follow, eventually became almost impossible to navigate due to the evil magic. Here at Dials, we plan on eliminating the air of confusion by making it easy for HOAs to find expert contractors and service providers. The goal is to reduce friction at each step, starting from obtaining different quotes, to monitoring progress, to making payments and enforcing warranties in the months that follow.
Shedding light on topics
HOAs can face scrutiny from homeowners who claim a lack of clarity on the decisions being made and how their money is being spent. Board members can mitigate these challenges by providing financial transparency through annual disclosure documents, newsletters, and open meetings.
“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” – Lady Galadriel
Providing visibility on key information is a great way to empower homeowners in an HOA. Lady Galadriel, a Night Elf of the woods of Lothlórien, anticipated areas of darkness throughout Frodos’s journey and gifted him a vial of light to be used in dark regions. A single light provides local visibility and if bright enough, can illuminate what’s ahead. HOA board members can be assured that trust will build if they continuously shed light on important topics with homeowners. In turn, they will thank you for this enlightenment, just as Frodo was thankful when he used Lady Galadriel’s gift of light to drive off a hungry Shelob, a massive spider who lunged at Frodo looking for her next meal.
Accountability and leadership
The more people one is responsible for, the more likely one will be criticized for the actions taken. Frodo had the weight of all Middle-earth on his shoulders and its inhabitants may have had different opinions on how he handled the quest. The ring was so strong that its effects indirectly possessed even Frodo’s own team members into thinking that the ring should have been in their possession instead of his. Manipulative tactics and psychological warfare ensued between Frodo’s enemies and allies alike throughout the entire series- it was almost as if Frodo was on the journey alone with no genuine allies.
“Deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.” — Aragorn
Board members might find themselves in situations requiring them to make decisions that do not have majority support such as raising monthly dues or enforcing an expensive assessment. It is important to know that these decisions are made with sustainability in mind so that the value of the property can stand the test of time. Frodo destroyed one of the most valuable items on Middle-earth to secure a future for its inhabitants. One might imagine how many power-seeking individuals resented this decision; just ask Golem. Let this decision be a beacon to those who are faced with a choice between what is right versus what is desired by the group.
Middle-earth, in all its innocence and evils, displays a spectrum of scenarios we all face in modern times. HOAs are mini governments that watch over properties like a council of wizards who watch over Middle-earth. Board members are chosen by either popular vote or on a volunteer basis to accomplish the goal of keeping the community safe and organized. Here at Dials, our mission is not only to improve the way members represent their HOAs but to also encourage leadership through story and experience. We hope this refreshing article inspires those striving to simply improve their everyday lives. As Bilbo Baggins, a famous Hobbit from the Shire, once said:
“It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life”
and we tend to think the same.
-The Dials team
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