After retiring from the National Institute of Health (NIH), where she worked as a Scientist and Administrator, Jeanne N. Ketley, PhD, joined Maryland Homeowners' Association in August 2004. She served as president of the MHA for the past five years. MHA is a consumer advocacy group dedicated to promoting the rights of unit owners and homeowner associations. She has been chairperson of the MHA Legislative Action Committee and editor of the MHA E-Communicator.
Jan: What inspired you to write Happy Homes?
Jeanne: The need for such a book became apparent to me from my volunteer work with the Maryland Homeowners’ Association (MHA.) After I retired from NIH, I joined MHA when I realized that MHA was the only group in Maryland that provided answers to both Condo and HOA owners and board member questions and complaints. As Vice-President and then President of MHA, I answered telephoned and e-mail questions from both homeowners and boards and I came to realize that many in both groups had no idea of what it means to live in a common ownership community.
Jan: Some of the terms used in the laws of MD and most states are rather daunting to read and understand. For example what is an HOA and a Condo Association?
Jeanne: Although both are common ownership communities, your ownership of your home is very different in an HOA (homeowners association) versus a Condo (condominium association). In an HOA you own your lot and home and the HOA association owns common property such as green space or a shared swimming pool. In a Condo, you as a unit owner, own and have use of the space within the walls of your unit, and the condominium association owns the building itself.
Jan: What percentage of MD residents live in these shared communities?
Jeanne: Since most HOAs and Condos are not registered with Maryland, it is hard to get an exact answer to this question but it is estimated that approximately 20% of Marylanders live in these communities. Estimates from Community Associations Institute (CAI) data from January 2011 suggested that more than a million Marylanders are owners in Common Ownership Communities.
Jan: How did your volunteer work with MHA and your earlier career as an NIH scientist, researcher and administrator prepare you to write this book?
Jeanne: My work with MHA gave me an idea of the problems that can arise when one doesn’t understand both the nature of shared communities and the laws that regulate these communities. My background as a scientist gave me the patience for doing tedious research into Maryland law.
Jan: Who would benefit from buying and reading Happy Homes?
Jeanne: Anyone who owns or rents property in a Maryland HOA or Condo should read Happy Homes. For most of us, our home is our most important investment. We all need to make sure that association managers, lawyers and boards are dealing straight with us. Certainly, since the legal responsibility for the management of an association falls on the Board of Directors, every board member should read and refer to it.
Jan: How can people in other states benefit from reading Happy Homes?
Jeanne: Many state laws in this area are the same and certainly the “best practices” for living in a shared ownership community are identical. The topic headings address problems commonly encountered by people living in these communities and most often cause misunderstandings. I believe Happy Homes can help HOA and Condo owners in other states understand how to best navigate their state laws.
Jan: What did you discover during the process of writing Happy Homes?
Jeanne: I discovered it’s really hard to write a book. And I learned what writers mean when they talk about writers block. For example: I must know dozens of examples of each issue mentioned in the book from people writing into MHA, and yet I spent endless hours staring at my computer unable dredge one up. My solution? I would go on to another section and then remember a case that proved a suitable example. Also since I am scientist by training, I tended to approach my writing like a scientist and put the evidence first and then identify problem and solutions, but that gets in the way of writing a readable, user-friendly book. So I had to rethink my writing approach. I also arranged for very fine editorial help, secure in the knowledge that while I don't think of myself as a natural writer, my editors would polish the glitches.
Jan: I would have thought people serving on boards would know all of this. Why do you think there is such a gap between what people know and what they need to know?
Jeanne: Board members are volunteers with real lives and they don’t have the time to take courses on how to be a board member. However, because board members are responsible for millions of dollars worth of property, I believe most of them want to help their communities and do a good job. And I’m hopeful that an easy to read book like Happy Homes will make their job easier.
Jan: And yet, the laws of most states continue to change. Will regular updates be available and how can people find out about changes in Maryland laws?
Jeanne: I plan to put yearly legislative updates up on my web site, www.jeanneketley.com as well as update the book every few years. I’m very excited the Kindle version of Happy Homes is now available at a bargain price of $4.99 and is accessible to more people. ((http://www.amazon.com/Happy-Homes-Consumers-Practices-Homeowners-ebook/dp/B00LR37PZ2/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1405348791&sr=1-1&keywords=Happy+Homes)
The neat thing is that the e-book version has live links in the Contents page to each section, and if you are connected to the Internet, live links to the web sites of the organizations referred to in the Resources section.
Jan: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Full disclosure - you are my spouse. But I must say, The Resources section, as well as the Best Practices Appendices for Hiring a Management Company and Hiring an Attorney give essential information to Maryland HOA and Condo Boards. Please provide links and information for readers who need to buy a copy of Happy Homes, either for themselves or their boards.
Here’s the link to the print version http://www.amazon.com/Happy-Homes-Consumers-Practices-Homeowners/dp/1497520622/#reader_1497520622
About Jan Bowman
Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, Jan's stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, and a Pen/O’Henry award. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers.
A recent story was a finalist for the 2013 Broad River Review RASH Award for Fiction, another story was a 2013 finalist in the Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. Jan’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection, Mermaids & Other Stories. She has nonfiction publications in Atticus Review, Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers. Learn more at: www.janbowmanwriter.com (note: homepage under revision right now) so visit blog: http://janbowmanwriter.blogspot.com