Is HOA trade group’s survey a valid measure of satisfaction?

How does Community Association Institute’s industry-sponsored research data compare to scientific studies of public satisfaction with local government?
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

Every two years, trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI) rolls out the results of its survey of U.S. residents of association-governed communities, including homeowners,’ condominium, and cooperative associations.

CAI insists their survey data is “objective” and “consistent.” The trade group boasts that residents are “overwhelmingly satisfied in their communities.”

But critics recognize that CAI’s self-funded research is deliberately designed to generate predictable data that is then filtered and presented in the best possible light to housing policy makers and, to a lesser extent, housing consumers.

This year’s 2018 survey brochure, entitled “Home Sweet HOA: Community Associations Remain Popular with American Homeowners” provides no summary of survey methodology. As the reader can see from the screen shot below, this year, we don’t even know how many residents were surveyed, nor are we told how the survey was administered. Was the survey distributed and completed online, by telephone, email, or some combination?

The only facts provided: the survey was conducted by Zogby Analytics for the Foundation for Community Association Research, and the results of the past 7 surveys are somewhat consistent.

CAI 2018 survey page 2 no methodology
(Source: CAI 2018 survey, Home Sweet HOA. Screen capture June 17, 2018)

What we don’t know: how representative was the survey sample?

Although CAI implies their survey sample was a “national, demographically representative” one, the Research Foundation provides no transparent access to raw survey data to support their claim. The reader is provided no data as to the demographic profile of the sample in terms of race, age, education levels, household income levels, ownership status, type of association-governed community, and so on.

And, even if CAI were to provide access to demographic data in response to its critics, there’s another fundamental flaw with consumer surveys of residents of association-governed communities.

Because the U.S. Census doesn’t track residency in privately governed communities, there’s no basis for determining if a research sample is truly representative.

It’s quite likely that the demographic profile of all U.S. residents of association-governed communities differs significantly from a general nationwide, demographic profile.

To explain in more simple terms, the U.S. population in general might be more racially or economically diverse than the population of residents of various forms of HOAs. Level of education achievement and homeownership status of residents in association governed communities are also likely to differ from that of residents in the general population and residents of non-HOA communities.

All of these demographic factors affect lifestyle choices, spending habits, and levels of satisfaction within one’s community, as we will see later in this post, from another survey provided by a different organization.

Other pertinent facts we don’t know about the CAI survey sample

Of course, many important factors can influence survey respondents’ levels of satisfaction with their association-governed communities. For example, we don’t know how many of the survey takers are owners vs. tenants.

We also don’t know how many “residents” are primarily non-resident owners, part-time/seasonal residents, or investor-landlords. For those who reside in the community two weeks per year, does that qualify as “Americans who choose to live in common interest communities?”

In fact, we don’t know how many residents own multiple properties in their community, or if they happen to own multiple properties in more than one association-governed community.

It stands to reason that “residents” with investment interests beyond owner-occupancy have a vested interest in survey results that present association-governed communities as “preferred places to live.”

Considering all of these unknown factors about the Research Foundation’s survey sample, how can the reader feel confident in its results, let alone CAI’s conclusions? Can we be certain that satisfaction levels are not skewed (biased) somewhat in the positive direction?

Are CAI survey statistics really selling points for HOA, condo, co-op real estate?

That said, and playing along with the assumption that we can accept the 2018 survey data at face value, what does it really tell us?

Here’s what CAI boasts about:

CAI boasts statistics survey 2018
(Source: CAI’s HOMEsweetHOA report 2018)

Notice the positive spin on otherwise lackluster survey results? Looking at the small print and survey graphs presented in the document, we see that only 63% of residents gave their HOAs a positive rating. What CAI does not highlight is that 14% of those who answered their survey gave their communities a negative rating.

As for the 22% of folks who gave their communities a “neutral” rating, they are likely owners and residents that would move in a heartbeat if they could find a better housing option — one that they can also afford.

Speaking of affordability, here’s the survey graph with regard to assessments:

CAI 2018 home Sweet HOA assessments graph

Can you imagine an advertising campaign for any home in HOA-ville or Condo Palace, if it made use of these survey statistics?

I’ve put together a gallery of hypothetical homes for sale, with marketing pitches based upon CAI’s survey data.

What do you think? Will I attract a lot of buyers?

New 2-story in Phase 3 of community. 62% of homeowners say HOA protects our property values.
Historic downtown condos for sale or rent. Almost two-thirds (63%) of residents say they love living here.
Executive estate home – with 73% approval rating for HOA management.
condo-2414328_1920 highrise urban glass
Modern urban condo. Only 33% of owners think assessments are too high.

In this modern age of internet and social media reviews, Most Americans won’t try out a new restaurant, stay at a hotel, or book an Airbnb with positive ratings in the relatively low 50-74% range. Why should housing consumers choose to live in association-governed communities, if they can find alternatives without the extra layer of regulation and expense?

CAI also brags on page 4 of “Home Sweet HOA” that “73% of residents say their community managers provide value and support to residents and their associations.”

Positive ratings of community association managers are down from 83%, as reported in 2014.

Let’s face it. Few American consumers would be eager to buy a car or truck with a 3-star rating, especially if auto consumers report bad warranty service — the functional equivalent of community association management services for HOAs.

In 2018, CAI reports that 19% of residents did not view their community manager’s service as valuable or supportive. That negative statistic has hovered between 17-22% since 2007.

So industry performance is consistent, but not in a good way.

And, more importantly…

How does HOA governance compare to traditional public government at the local level?

Look no further than the Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City survey! According to the raw data, provided in the PDF link below, 80% of people surveyed rated their community as a place to live as “Excellent” or “Good,” compared to an HOA positive rating of 63%.

Atlantic Media/Siemens State of the City Raw Data

And, in comparison to the Zogby Analytics research sponsored by CAI’s research foundation, the Atlantic Media/Siemens survey is scientific, with transparent sharing of details about survey methodology and demographics of the sample used. The detailed raw data file is 611 pages.

Interested readers and survey wonks can delve into the details of this survey on America’s satisfaction level with local governments of all sizes. And the data provides the basis for meaningful comparisons of urban, suburban, and rural communities, as well as analysis of differences of opinion based upon race, household income, and education levels of American residents.

For some interesting highlights of the Atlantic Media/Siemens survey, see the following articles.

Americans Love Local Government—They Just Don’t Necessarily Want More of It


Which Government Services Are Citizens Most, Least Satisfied With?

See how certain municipal services score in citizen satisfaction surveys.

The United States of Unease

2 thoughts on “Is HOA trade group’s survey a valid measure of satisfaction?

  1. Claiming residents are “overwhelmingly satisfied” is comical and tells us everything we need to know about the validity of this “survey.”.

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