Ask two different homeowners what they think about living in a community with a homeowners association and you may see one of them scowl and another one smile.
The difference of opinion on homeowners associations, or HOAs, depends on several factors, including individual personalities and preferences and the quality of the particular HOA. Rules and dues vary but, in general, homeowners who live in an HOA must abide by its regulations and pay a monthly, quarterly or annual fee that pays for management and maintenance of the community.
Many homeowners prefer to live in an HOA for several reasons, including:
§ Community appearance: Homes within an HOA must meet the standards set by the association or face a fine, so you’re less likely to see unkempt lawns, peeling paint or a garishly painted house. Some HOAs have a design review board with the power to approve any changes to your home’s exterior, and which establishes a color palette for exterior paint and trim. Many HOA’s have rules about how many cars or even what type of vehicles can be parked on your property. For example, they may ban commercial vans or RVs.
§ Low maintenance: Depending on the HOA, services such as trash and snow removal and lawn care are handled by the association, leaving less work for the homeowner. Typically, common areas are maintained by the association.
§ Recreational amenities: While not all HOAs have swimming pools and tennis courts, many offer a range of amenities such as a community center, walking trails, sports courts and playing fields reserved for residents.
§ Association management: If you have a problem with your neighbor’s dog barking, loud parties or a dispute over a tree, you can ask the management to handle the issue rather than getting directly into a spat with the homeowner next door.
Living Within an HOA
For some buyers, the idea that a management association can tell you when you can put out a decorative flag or that you can’t park your truck in front of your property is a deal-breaker. If you have a concern that something that’s important to you, such as your ability to run a business from your home, could be banned by HOA rules, then be particularly careful to read all the regulations before you buy a home in a community with a homeowners association. This doesn’t mean you can’t buy at all within an HOA, but you’ll have to find one with regulations that meet your requirements.
HOA regulations are usually set by a committee or board of directors and then enforced by a paid management company or a group of volunteers. You can become involved with the HOA in order to have a voice in the decisions being made. Homeowners can request a rule change or an individual waiver, but there’s no guarantee that your request will be granted.
HOA fees vary as much as HOA regulations and depend on multiple factors such as the amenities in the community and which services are covered by the fees. When you’re buying a home, you need to compare HOA fees from one community to another based on what they cover. You may find that the HOA fee includes a gym membership so you can spend less on a private gym. You should also decide if you’ll use the amenities you’re paying for, such as tennis courts or a swimming pool. Keep in mind, however, that the presence of these amenities can add to your home’s value, even if you don’t directly take advantage of them.
Many homeowners appreciate that HOAs often maintain higher standards for a neighborhood’s appearance, but there’s no question that you need to understand the regulations and costs in every community where you’re considering buying a home.