Reduce spending before increasing HOA Monthly fee.


When we moved to the Cloister 9 years ago the Cloister Home Owner Association had over $1 million in the HOA reserve account. Within several years this was spent down to a $96,000 balance.

During that time:

  • all the roofs were replaced
  • the streets were repaved
  • underground ground water drainage was installed
  • a number of large walls were rebuilt
  • A few homeowners decided to upgrade basements constructed of breeko brick walls and concrete floors to living room condition at considerable expense. Although these basements were the responsibility of the homeowner, the HOA paid to replace water-damaged finished basements at no cost to the individual homeowner.

DOW DJIA Snake Oil

A great deal of money was wasted on projects.

  • The Arms Chairman and HOA Board insisted that roof shingles be hand nailed instead of using air nailers resulting in twice the cost for each roof.
  • Underground drains are being clogged with leaves for years because the board failed to install rain gutter leaf guards where trees overhung the roofs.
  • A contractor failed to rebuild a major 12 foot wall according to specifications resulting in a wall with only 60% retaining strength. The HOA Board did not force the contractor to build according to the specifications or reduce the invoice amount but simply paid the invoice in full.
  • Many projects have not been put out for competitive bids, the board simply used a sole contractor and paid whatever the contractor decided to charge.

Now this recently elected HOA Board has decided to raise association fees without any effort to control and reduce costs. There is one item of expense that should be cut before any increase in HOA monthly fee.

DOW Fat BankerThe greatest single expense we pay every month is for Basic Comcast Cable for every Cloister unit. We even pay for cable service to units that have been vacant for years. Cancelling cable service would save enough that an increase in HOA Monthly fee would not be necessary and represents a saving of over $100,000 per year based on the 2013 HOA Budget.

Good management requires that all cost control efforts should be made before any increase in association fees.

 Can we residents ask any less then that our elected Board practice good management through cost control before increasing HOA monthly fees?

We homeowners should insist that the HOA Board cancel Comcast service and allow homeowners to negotiate for the cable, internet or phone services they desire. Times change and keeping a 30 year old agreement with Comcast is simply stupid and wasteful and prevents us from negotiating the best price for services when prices for have declined significantly for cable, phone and internet services over the last 30 years while we have paid increasing amounts over and over and over for decades. And we pay for unused cable services for some home units that have been vacant for years.

It is time for the HOA Board to become responsible and take smart financial decisions

HOA Fee.

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In 1997 Dave Ramsey wrote a book “Financial Peace”. He is very active, he publishes books, conducts seminars, broadcasted on radio, was even featured on some major TV news and talk shows. I read his book and was impressed by his simple plan that completely changed the way we ran our financial lives. Ramsey made a number of suggestions, among them were…

  • Live below your means (spend less than you earn)
  • Get completely out of debt
    • Pay minimum on all debt except the smallest loan or credit card
    • Dedicate everything you can to pay off the smallest
    • Then pay off the next smallest like rolling a snowball
  • Pay cash for every purchase
  • Never, ever “invest” with someone who earns commissions when they sell you an “investment”
  • Never, ever “invest” in something you don’t understand completely.

We follow these, and other suggestions in the Ramsey book even today, living debt free changed our lives. Since the late 1990’s he has published other books and various products related to money management. I still follow most of his suggestions with some exceptions:

  1. I don’t use debit cards I use a credit card and pay the balance to zero every month
  2. I make monthly payments on my new car because Toyota gave a zero interest car loan as part of their new car deal.
  3. I no longer trust the Banking and Wall Street thieves

The Tiny Sign on My Front Lawn


PrimeLawns5Sometimes when you pass our Cloister home you will see a tiny sign on a wire stuck in the corner of our front lawn. A company called Prime Lawn offers a great deal to Cloister residents that helps keep our lawns looking good….and for $15 per treatment. Jim Johnson has been treating our lawn and that of some of our neighbors for a number of years. This is an example of some of the treatments he offers…

PrimeLawns3

Jim doesn’t even bother us when he is in the neighborhood. He simply leaves his little sign and mails a bill

Tennessean about The Cloister Neighbors

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Article in the November 5, 2013 Tennessean

Seniors at Belle Meade community must pay $15,000 to keep homes

Residents say diocese didn’t tell them rights to land under their condos had expiration date

Early in 1997, Imogene Shea, then 71, moved into a neat community of 240 single-story brick-front condominiums for senior citizens in Belle Meade.

A retired nurse, she expected it to be her last home. Now she’s not so sure.

“I paid $140,000 and now they tell me I don’t really own it,” she said in a recent interview.

She says she can’t afford the $15,000 fee she’s being asked to pay on top of mortgage payments, association fees, taxes and other assessments for living at the Cloister at Saint Henry.

So she finds herself caught up in a cautionary tale about planning for retirement — except that in her case, the diminutive 87-year-old is looking for relief from an unlikely adversary: a development company working on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Nashville.

What Shea, a lifelong Catholic, and some others living at the cloister say they have been told is this: Yes, you do own your home, at least the inside of it. But not the ground on which it rests.

In an arrangement that most everyone agrees is unusual, especially in Tennessee, Shea and others purchased something called a leasehold interest on the ground beneath their condominiums. The lease severely restricts their ownership rights.

It’s not rare for condominium owners to share interest in community property around their homes. But attorneys locally and nationally say the arrangement at the Cloister is unusual in that the condo owners have only a leasehold interest in the land on which their property sits, one with a relatively short expiration date for a ground lease.

But perhaps more alarming was the news that when the leases begin to run out in 2043, they will not be renewed — and then ownership of the land will revert back to the development company set up by the diocese.

Many residents, Shea included, say they weren’t told at the time of purchase that their rights to the property had an expiration date. The residents say they’ve been told, but only within the past three years, that if they do not purchase something called a “fee simple interest” for the ground under their condo before the leases run out, they will lose their homes eventually. And while many don’t expect to live that long, they worry that their children and grandchildren essentially will be out of luck.

Of perhaps more immediate concern, the price of that fee interest has been climbing by $1,000 a year. It started at $12,000 and now stands at $15,000.

Program defended

Representatives of the development company and the diocese say the fee simple program was set up to benefit residents by making it easier for them to sell their property or get financing. And, of course , they note that participation was strictly voluntary.

“The intent was to provide reduced-price retiree  housing for people over 55,” said David Glascoe, an official of the diocese. “What was sold was a leasehold interest, and the prices reflected that.”

Glascoe acknowledged that the leasehold interest arrangement was unusual but said it helped make the units more affordable. Records show initial purchase prices ranged between $70,000 and $80,000. He said 70 percent of the residents had signed up for it.

Shea, who stands barely 5 feet tall and weighs less than 100 pounds, sees it differently.

“It’s a bad situation,” she said. “They’ve scared some of the people. Just two or three of us are standing up.”

“It’s grossly unfair,” agreed Helen Bratcher, who has lived at the Cloister for 18 years. “The church is money hungry. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”

Others were more supportive of the diocese. David Stansberry, an association officer, said he bought a fee simple interest when he moved into the complex, knew what he was getting into and has no problem with it.

“A lot have gone along with the program, a lot have not,” he said.

But records and statements by Shea and some of the other residents show that the battle has a long history, a history not fully disclosed to her and some of the other residents.

Donated land

The Cloister at Saint Henry, as it is formally known, came into being some three decades ago when the diocese decided to take part of a huge tract of donated land to develop a senior citizen community directly behind Saint Henry’s Catholic Church.

In 1999 a proposal was put forward to have the Cloister Owners Association purchase the land. A vote was held. The purchase was approved in a vote, although the margin is a matter of dispute, and Glascoe said the considerable rancor that followed led the board to drop the purchase plan.

Opponents had hired an attorney who argued that under the arrangement, the condo owners would be unable to get title insurance, an argument Glascoe says is false.

Caldwell Hancock, the attorney for the opponents, said the proposal called for each condo owner to pay $8,500, an amount that was set despite the fact that the supporters had not paid for an appraisal to base it on. Hancock, whose mother lived in the development at the time, said residents erupted angrily after the sale won a slim vote of approval.

In the latest effort, residents have been greeted with a steady stream of messages, most delivered in newsletters about the advantages of buying the fee simple, along with warnings about what could happen without it. Fee simple units sell for higher prices, but the homeowners may not be able to get long-term mortgages because the lease will run out in 30 years, the newsletters warn.

“The diocese and the Bishop cannot and will not extend or otherwise amend the existing ground leases. This is a valuable asset,” a July 2009 newsletter stated.

A separate newsletter published by the cloister association quoted Gino Marchetti Jr., a lawyer for Bishop David R. Choby and the diocese, addressing the residents’ concerns.

“Despite the numerous discussions surrounding this issue,” Marchetti wrote, “I don’t think anyone has provided any reason why this property should be given to current unit owners or the leases extended free of charge.”

Shea said she regards the messages and statements made by officials of the diocese at meetings as threatening.

“They have done all kinds of intimidation,” she said. “There should have been a meeting and a vote.”

Glascoe says a vote was not required.

“I’m sorry that they feel that way,” he said. “It is totally voluntary. I don’t know why they would feel that.”

Little choice

While Shea and Bratcher say they will stand firm, attorneys not directly involved in the fray take a more cautious view. Wes Turner, a Nashville attorney, said the lease is going to run out and the residents don’t have much choice about what to do.

“The best course would be to apply for the fee simple,” he said.

Michael St. Charles, a Chattanooga real estate lawyer, said the legal structure of the Cloister condominium was extremely rare. “There can’t be more than a handful across the state. There are none in Chattanooga that I know of.”

Meanwhile, Glascoe said the owners are now being asked to approve a merger of the new condo association with the old one. And if it doesn’t pass, he says that will have no effect.

“I imagine they’ll just have another vote,” he added.

Claire Calongne, who bought her Cloister condo in 1994, says she hasn’t gone for the fee simple and is not concerned about the ongoing debate — though she knows she may lose out in the end.

“My heirs will have to deal with it,” she said.

Contact Walter F. Roche Jr. at 615-259-8086 or wroche@tennessean.com.

Blogger’s Note:

If all three women lose their homes when the lease expires the youngest will be 101 years old, the oldest will be 117 years old. Many dozens of Cloister homes have been sold since the start of the Fee Simple program. If necessary, a Fee Simple purchase is made at the closing resulting in a valid Title Guarantee and the ability to obtain a mortgage but will make a difference in the selling price of the home. Attempts to sell a Cloister home without Fee Simple Ownership results in a considerably lower final price.  I would not be surprised if the cost of a fee simple purchase does not go up by another $1000 next year.

.CloisterSales 2011-Oct 2013

GJCC Just a Mile Away

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INDOOR-SWIMMING-POOLHidden, just two blocks from The Cloister, at the first traffic light past St Henry Catholic Church towards Bellevue is the Gordon Jewish Community Center. GJCC LogoThe GJCC complex includes a day care, an elementary school, and the Community Center building with meeting rooms, a large auditorium/theater, organized children, adult, and senior programs, a large group exercise room, a superbly equipped exercise/conditioning center, and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. The indoor pool has four swim lanes and a two lane area dedicated for aquatics exercise groups and individual water walking and water exercises.

Just as you don’t need to be a Catholic to own a home at The Cloister at Saint Henry, you don’t need to be Jewish to be a member at the GJCC.

INDOOR-SWIMMING-POOLThe senior rate is : $45 for a single and $63 for a couple.  Senior age starts at 70 but if you are eligible for Silver Sneakers, that is 65.  Silver Sneakers is a health facility subsidization program from Healthways that is covered by six different insurance companies.  Those companies include: AARP Medicare Complete/Secure Horizons, AARP  Supplement/Medicare Medigap, AmeriGroup, HealthSpring, Humana, and BCBS 65+.  Silver Sneakers members’ enrollment is paid for by their insurance companies.GJCC SilverSneakers

I have been a member for over 5 years. Besides aquatic exercise in the indoor pool my wife and I enjoyed the Bridge group and TGIT(Thank God It’s Thursday) Lunch and Learn programs featuring some interesting speakers.

The most welcoming group at the GJCC is The Prime Time Group for active senior adults. They host a huge variety of activities including monthly dinners with interesting programs, monthly meetings, day and overnight trips, parties, brunches and lunches, monthly casino day trips, overnight casino trips, holiday programs, varied classes, cultural events including plays and the TPAC Broadway series, concerts, pot luck dinners with original entertainment, and opportunities for group participation in community events. The Prime Time group also hosts a yearly retreat or trip.

The GJCC people welcome Cloister residents to drop by and use the facility with a free trial guest pass..

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AMAZON LogoA few years ago we had started to use Amazon.com as a source for some purchases where we did not need the products immediately, there is always several days required for shipping. The situation is rapidly changing. Recently Walmart has announced a resurrected “Buy American Program” but it is a sham. See Walmart sham and We can’t Shop Ourselves into Prosperity.

I try to keep track with what is going on in the rest of the world

  1. I watch cable news from Europe and Asia available on Comcast Channel 241, MHz broadcasts worldwide news programs from Midnight thru 7:00am.
  2. I read foreign news on http://www.worldpress.org/

Alibaba LogoI have noticed something very interesting.

The Chinese news channel frequently covers news and events about an Internet Marketing firm called Alibaba.com which at one time exclusively sold products in wholesale quantities worldwide while selling those products in individual quantities to the Chinese public.  Alibaba has since become the largest internet sales company in China and sells more consumer product than any other company in China, and perhaps, the world.

Alibaba has now expanded their consumer internet sales operation to where they sell consumer products to anyone, anywhere, at any time, any place in the world. I have made several purchases from Alibaba, delivery can take up to 3 weeks but… they usually pay the shipping costs. They ship via China Post Air Mail  and there is no China sales tax. I pay 1/3 to 1/10 of what I would have paid for the same item from a U.S. source.

This is real globalization that is starting to benefit you and me rather than U.S Multinational Corporations.

When I search an item in Aliexpress.com I see comments from others who have bought the same item, as well as the quantities purchased to date, Alibaba even includes a small national flag identifying the country of each purchaser. I have made my living involved in manufacturing and exporting consumer hard goods, we spent a lot of time in determining where to build factories in the US.  Walmart refused to deal with distributors and sales reps and insisted in dealing directly with manufacturers and bypassing the middlemen.   Eventually when US companies began to import foreign manufactured goods we selected what factories to close down until there were no factories left to shutter. And later Walmart bypassed American Importers and bought direct from China. We consumers had no power at all.

Now the Chinese are beginning to sell direct bypassing the U.S. corporations and retailers and offering absolutely great prices. It also appears the Chinese government supports this China export effort by subsidizing the shipping costs so Chinese exports ship free to anywhere in the world.

You can take a look at this unique internet marketer at http://www.aliexpress.com/

Alibaba Page