“Keystone Spotlight” is an ongoing series introducing our top performing staff who continue to go out of their way to provide exceptional service
For Kara Foley, HOA management is much more than checking tasks off a list—it’s about paying attention to the impact of her decisions on the lives of people in a community. As General Manager of Irvine’s thriving Portola Springs, Kara thinks carefully about every decision she makes, knowing that the actions she takes on a daily basis will affect the residents of the 3,100+ homes in the community she oversees.
Managing a single community with this magnitude of square footage and amenities brings its own unique challenges, and no two days are ever alike. Sometimes affectionately called, “The Mayor of Portola Town,” Kara oversees an ever-changing mix of shifting schedules and community needs. “Even though Portola Springs is just one property,” she says, “there are so many facets of the job. I manage expectations for the homeowners, developers, HOA board, and vendors. For me, every day is different. Every challenge is different. And that’s why I love it.”
Kara knew early on in her career that property management would be a good fit for her. “Ever since I can remember, I have always loved getting to know people and working with various personality types. For me, the best part of the job is the different types of people I get to come in contact with every day.”
Working with vendors who share her dedication to serving communities is critical to Kara. “I can’t possibly manage a community as large as Portola Springs on my own,” she says. “I have a personal expectation that the vendors we select are the best of the best. We work as a team. We’re both in this together, so I don’t believe in finger-pointing or assigning blame. Instead, I am clear about my expectations and work with vendors who have a long track record of clear communication and follow-through.”
Her ability to vet and retain superior vendors was proven out recently, during an asphalt project that had some unexpected surprises. A section of the community was gearing up for an asphalt project that was set to impact about 200 homes. Due to a minor typo in the announcement letter, the asphalt project was scheduled to begin on trash day. This created confusion for residents who were advised to keep vehicles and other objects off of the streets.
Because this project had been scheduled for months and homeowners were already rearranging their lives to accommodate the plan, scrapping the dates and shifting the schedule was not an option. “It was then that the manager of the asphalt company took matters into his own hands,” says Kara. “He offered to personally collect and return the garbage cans of the affected residents so as not to inconvenience them twice. I was extremely impressed at his willingness to find a creative solution and his understanding that above all else, the residents of Portola Springs are our priority.” In the end, rain created a shift in schedule anyway, but the positive impression this vendor left on Kara remained.
Helping the board make advantageous decisions is another one of Kara’s important responsibilities. With 10 swimming pools, 15 or so parks, three clubhouses, plus acres and acres of scenic residential streets, helping the board to make sense of conflicting bids for projects requires the input of an experienced property manager. “Though I don’t make decisions on behalf of the board, they do look to me to provide recommendations based on my own experience in Orange County HOA management.”
Kara’s evaluation of a vendor starts long before the project commences. Her assessment begins during the bid process. Does the vendor follow the request for proposal (RFP) instructions? Is the bid submitted on time? Does the quote take into account the unique features and challenges of the community, or is it a generic proposal? Kara looks for vendors who apply the same level of personal attention to their work that she does to hers.
Her network pays off for other community associations as well. As a member of the Board of Directors of the Orange County Regional Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), the nation’s leading authority on community association governance and education, Kara often recommends outstanding vendors to other area managers who are in the project bidding phase. Her recommendations aren’t based on the cheapest or fastest contractor—she suggests vendors she thinks will ultimately do the best job and provide the greatest value.
Kara’s rising star in community management has ascended steadily over the course of her 22-year career. She recently received the Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM) credential from CAI, which is the highest industry designation a property manager can receive. Kara is number 3,026 in the nation.
To achieve this elite level of recognition, Kara authored a 130-page case study detailing challenges and solutions facing the HOA of a high-rise apartment building in the Bay Area. “One of the biggest challenges for me was how different the needs of this association were from my job in Orange County HOA management,” she explains. “This property not only featured residential housing but also had retail commercial space as well. Interfacing between three separate associations that were managed under a single umbrella allowed me to apply my expertise in managing interpersonal relations to develop a management strategy that ensured that everyone’s needs were met.”
Kara’s success in the industry is exciting, but not entirely surprising. During her seven years with Keystone Pacific, she has continued to impress us with her professionalism and ability to manage challenging situations. She may have reached the highest designation with CAI, but with her current momentum, we know she’ll continue to soar.