Populated with tyrants and rebels, torn by feuds, and led by cabals, homeowners’ associations engender all manner of drama.
No one knows this better than Ryan Hodson. As the founder of Real Clear Neighborhoods, it’s his job to manage the day-to-day operations of HOAs across Northwest Arkansas.
His duty is to oversee maintenance, landscaping, financials, and on occasion, conflict resolution arising from the stringent covenants, conditions and restrictions — the dreaded CC&Rs — that govern most planned residential developments. Pursuant to his task, Hodson has developed a computer automated system that enables anonymous violation reporting, payment processing, financial reporting and document management.
While the association’s board remains, the dirty work is, in effect, outsourced to Hodson and his business partner, Andy Hague.
“We’re the bad guys,” Hodson says, in summing up his latest venture.
Hodson, 41, says he has nine neighborhoods under contract, another 16 about to close, and another 20 as prospects. He also said he is in the process of trying to take his business model to markets outside the state of Arkansas.
Though the fee is nice, Hodson says he derives the greatest satisfaction from seeing order restored to subdivisions once riven by strife.
“That’s the best part of this business, is going into a neighborhood and seeing people be neighbors again,” he said.
The idea was conceived a few years ago when one of Hodson’s banker friends told him that HOAs hire accountants to keep their books. With that being the case, why not hire a management company to look after the entire subdivision?
Hodson said he drew up a business plan that night and showed it to Hague the next day.
“And then we were rolling,” he said.
Not exactly. While the idea itself is a few years old, Real Clear Neighborhoods has only been active fulltime for about a year. Though that might not be long, Hodson said it’s been long enough.
“We think we’ve identified a big need judging by the number of phone calls we’ve gotten,” he said.
Growing up the son of a well-traveled and successful businessman, Hodson followed the family fortunes across the United States: Jacksonville, Florida, Los Angeles, Dallas, and finally Little Rock, where he graduated from Catholic High School for Boys.
At the last minute, and after taking a look at one of the most famous pieces of real estate in Mississippi, The Grove, he decided to attend Ole Miss rather than the University of Arkansas. Not long after graduation, he moved to San Francisco and for a year, worked in the dot-com boom.
“That was the most insane year of my life,” he said.
In February 2000, just before the dot-com bust, known as dot-bomb, he moved to Northwest Arkansas and opened Ripple Outfitters, a retailer of hunting and fly fishing merchandise. In 2002, he was named to that year’s class of Forty Under 40 by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.
But, in 2003, his wife Amanda died from an eating disorder. A heartbroken Hodson liquidated Ripple and moved on to his next venture, the one by which he made his name — Slim Chickens.
Inspired in part by Abner’s and The Coop De Ville, restaurants he experienced while at Ole Miss, Hodson and business partners Tom Gordon and Greg Smart launched the sauce-and-tenders outfit in 2003 in Fayetteville. The restaurant was a smash hit, and soon Slim Chickens expanded to seven locations in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
However, in October 2012, Hodson sued, claiming, among other things, that his partners had pushed him out of the daily management of the business. In 2013, as part of the settlement, Hodson sold his shares and got out of the restaurant business.
“It was fun,” he said. “I loved it. The first day I worked in a restaurant was the day it opened.”
Though it’s been a couple of years, plenty of people still associate him with Slims. But these days, it’s all about Real Clear Neighborhoods, a job that keeps him at it, sometimes 18 hours a day.
“My girlfriend makes me come home for dinner,” he said.