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May 6, 2013

The Value Game™: A New Class Of Business Methods For The Condominium Reconstruction Market

Summary:

The Value Game is a new class of business methods that alters the incentive structure of a distorted market such that everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the best interest of the community.

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Part 1: Correcting a Distorted Insurance Market

For many condominium associations, the maintenance, repair, and reconstruction industry has devolved into a minefield of distrust and dysfunction. Countless lawsuits have taken their toll on the industry to the point of near dysfunction where many contractors simply walk away from condominium projects. The worst form of “capitalism” ensues where everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the counter-interest of their community. The Value Game promises to reset this negative incentives condition while enhancing community resilience.

Here's How The Problems Start:
The board of directors of a homeowner's association is entrusted by the residents to hire a contractor to perform a complicated reconstruction project. Unfortunately, condominium board members are not very good at writing contracts or issuing requests for proposal or collecting bids. When a contractor is selected, the scope of work is often poorly established. The expectations between the community and the contractor begin to diverge. Soon, a law firm is engaged my some residents to sue the contractor for damages. After a long battle, a settlement is awarded, but it is not enough to fix the problem after expenses are paid.

A Chain Reaction:
Fortunately, the contractor in the suit was insured, but this does not cover the personal, professional, and opportunity hardship of defending against the suit. The insurance company also increases the premium for coverage for condo projects. Most good contractors say, “it's just not worth the trouble.” As the pool of available contractors dries up and the price for reconstruction increases, many condos are forced into deferring maintenance in a distorted market.

Cascading Failures:
After a while, a condominium springs a few leaks in their piping system. Each leak results in a relatively small water damage claim. When the insurance company notices several claims in the same building, they begin to fear that a mainline is about to rupture next, and threaten the condominium with cancellation of their policy unless the community replaces the entire system immediately. Now the insurance industry is in a double jeopardy: they force the contractor out of the market and they force the condo out of the market to basically avoid suing themselves.

The Dysfunction Deepens:
Banks will not make construction loans to condominiums that are not insured. Likewise, they will not make mortgage loans to buildings that are not insured. The property values plummet and the owners are sent under water. Soon they begin to default on the mortgages that the banks already hold. More maintenance is deferred as owners move out and renters move in. Buildings fall apart and become unsafe. Banks pull out of the market to avoid defaulting on themselves. The wider community suffers.

The Value Game
The Ingenesist Project is currently deploying The Value Game to the condominium reconstruction market with remarkable success. The Value Game is a new class of business methods that alters the incentive structure of a distorted market such that everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the best interest of the community. Clearly the intention is to demonstrate that asset preservation is the domain of engineering and not the legal system.

Here Is How The Value Game Is Formed:
The first thing is to identify the “shared asset” in whose best interest it is for everyone to preserve. In this case, the shared asset is the physical condominium building where preservation is the context about which a community interacts.

If we look at each of the players individually, we see some consistent patterns.

  • It is obviously in the best interest of the residents to have a safe and well-maintained home.
  • It is in the best interest of the contractors to have a successful and profitable interaction with the building.
  • It is in the best interest for the Insurance industry to reduce the risks that they underwrite.
  • It is in the interest of the financial industry to loan money into a viable, organized, and disciplined community.
  • It is in the best interest of the real estate industry to represent strong values and complete insurability of assets.
  • Finally, the broader neighborhood benefits from the presence of a viable condominium community.

In short, it is actually in everyone's best interest that the others are successful.

About The Value Game Game Board
The first rendition of the Internet was populated by static websites built for a person, or to sell a product, or to deliver entertainment, or to provide information. The next level of the Internet included social media, where users actually create the content that populates a website such as Facebook and Twitter, etc.

The next level of the Internet is taking on a form consistent with the Value Game where a social network is built about an asset that communities share.

Part 2: Case Study — High Rise Condominium Re-piping Project

The current case study is a condominium re-piping project in Portland, Oregon. The actual community consists of 200 units (400 residents) who occupy a single high-rise tower that must undergo a major reconstruction project that will impact everyone. The total value of the project is about 3 million dollars. This is real money in a real Value game.

For this project, we built a website for the physical building with its own social network where all of the different (and willing) players can interact with each other to preserve each other's best interests.

The first thing to accomplish is to reduce the likelihood of diverting incentives that can result in litigation. This may be accomplished by introducing strong community management. In this particular case, a professional engineering firm was hired to represent the best interests of the asset. The engineers represent the needs of the homeowners association to selected construction technologies, defined project scope, wrote the RFP, wrote the contracts, selected the contractors, and managed the project.

The Social Network Dynamics
The website used in this case study is a common open source WordPress platform with a Buddy Press backend to provide “Facebook-like” features (except with privacy). The engineering firm submits all reports, surveys, test results, assessments, photographs, schedules, products, accessories, and plans onto the website for members to see equally (there are some exceptions to protect financial data).

Individual residents are invited to form “groups” and start “threads” in topics for which they have an interest or a concern. People naturally migrate toward other people with similar interests and they build relationships.

Contractors are able to see all of the assessments, conditions, and work scopes directly from the website instead of paper submittals. They can ask questions and post ideas of their own for community review.

Engineering firm(s) can monitor discussions and collect frequently asked questions, which are posted in a FAQ. Everyone gets the same correct answer to their questions without rumors or speculation.

Communities: Community meetings are held. There is no bickering or infighting because everyone is educated and prepared to ask unique and relevant questions of the presenters. When a community is unified, they can easily come together to make important decisions that impact the quality, cost, and schedule of the project.

The insurance company is given limited access to the website which demonstrates that the community is acting to mitigate the risks that the insurance company underwrites — this keeps the policy in force.

With website access, the insurance industry can also see that licensed engineers professionally manage the project in a vibrant community. This reduces the likelihood of litigation against contractors. The insurance industry can now classify this project among “commercial” insurance pool instead of the litigious condominium insurance pool.

Contractors feel comfortable with this professional engineering management and insurability, which brings more contractors to market thereby increasing the talent pool and reducing costs. At the end of the project they may get 400 likes on Facebook, YELP!, and Angie's List.

The bankers will have access to the website to monitor progress. With insurance policies fully enforced, banks will lend favorably to the homeowner's association which needs to fund a major reconstruction project. Banks will also lend favorably to mortgages in this structure because it is well maintained.

It is in the best interest of the community to be civil and thoughtful in their discussions knowing that they are being observed by some of the other stakeholders. This eliminates the incentive to be disruptive and increases the incentive to be engaged and productive in the project.

Over time, the website becomes a forensic record of all matters associated with the project. Everyone knows who said what, when, where, and why with an electronic time stamp. There is little to be disputed.

Interaction With The Wider Community:
Real estate agents always describe property in poetic hyperbole — they rarely tout the improvements that a community works so hard for. The website could be a place where a real estate agent can advertise their services in exchange for a promise to mention the re-piping project. The market will respond to a well-maintained building by an engaged community, which will drive real estate valuations up.

Hotels, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, service groups and civic organizations benefit from prosperity and resilience in their community.

In the end, the shared asset is preserved and everyone is profitable.

Update: Important Observations

In deploying the Value Game, we need to be careful of how much collaborative innovation we are able to introduce to a system that is normally adversarial. A general distrust of new ideas and the technological platforms that they depend on is still fairly high. For this reason, we estimate a 40% adoption level of the principles discussed here.

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