Signs of the Times

Do you ever think about how many freeloaders we have in society today? You can go up to them with a rightful request for them to participate and they will coldly look you in the face and refuse to help because they seem to know others will fill that void.

We came into full realization of this freeloading tendency when the entrance wall of our subdivision was falling down, and we tried to ask the 240 homeowners to help out. Only about 20% of them contribute in any way to the upkeep of the entrance that requires mowing, trimming, lighting, fertilization, irrigation and landscaping.

We do not have a formal home-owners association (HOA), so contributions are completely voluntary. And, the annual dues are now $150 per home, or $12/month, to keep the front entrance area shrubs and flowers watered, weeded, grass mowed, and nighttime lights paid for. And, the average home in this subdivision is worth well over $500,000. It costs about $10,000 a year just to maintain the beautifully landscaped entrance, so all we would need is for about 25% of the homes to pay their dues to keep all the bills paid.

But, no, even after community meetings where we served drinks and snacks, most of the homeowners simply ignored the need. As we showed detailed pictures that the entrance walls were going to collapse, they still wouldn’t step up. Yes, there were about 10% of the homeowners who did, but 90 percent did not.

My wife Susan and a few other leaders in the community debated whether they should put a sign in the freeloader yards indicating they didn’t pay.  We all knew that wouldn’t work and might actually backfire.  So, she and another member of the community Board of Directors came up with a better idea: offer two signs homeowners could put in their front yard: one larger and more colorful one if they paid their dues and contributed to the capital repair budget, and a more plain one those who simply paid their dues.  Pictures of both are shown here.

As you might expect, the results were dramatic with over 65% of the homeowners now paying their dues and/or making donations … they don’t want the appearance of being freeloaders.  Guilt is good!  And, given that about 20% of the homes are vacant and the owners have no idea their property has this image, I am still amazed that about 15% of the homeowners are perfectly fine being recognized as freeloaders, having no sign at all.  Some good news resulting from all this work is we were able to repair the entrance wall that was ready to collapse and looked dilapidated, giving our whole neighborhood a black eye.  The project cost almost $50k, but we raised it and now have a beautiful entrance that makes everyone proud to live here, and Realtors tell us it really improved our home values. The other benefit of the project is it did bring our community much closer as we had a project to work on together.


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