Homeowners associations, or HOAs, are governing bodies that set and enforce the rules of a neighborhood or condominium development. They maintain common areas and oversee the amenities, covenants and restrictions of the neighborhood. There are many ways a HOA can be beneficial to you, but there are also aspects that you might find restrictive. If your new home falls under the jurisdiction of a HOA, learn all you can about it so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises.
Rules of the HOA
Your real estate agent should be able to get a copy of the HOA rules for you. Review them together so you have a good understanding of what is expected since you can count on them being enforced. Some items that may be regulated by the rules include satellite dishes, pets, exterior paint colors, plant and tree choices and fences. Parking campers, boats or commercial vehicles in front of your house may be covered. Yard decorations or hanging laundry on a clothesline may be addressed. Each HOA has its own set of rules and restrictions. You need to know what you are buying into and if it suits your personal preferences.
Learn about the annual fees
What is the cost and how will it impact your budget? Find out how much the fee costs and when it is due. Check to see when the fees were last raised and what is the process for increasing them. Know what the dues cover and if there are any additional fees collected regularly. Find out the size of the reserve fund. Ask if there are any special assessments pending? Special assessments might be for unforeseen expenses, such as storm damage to a clubhouse roof. Some also may be for periodical projects, such as resurfacing a parking lot or a big landscaping plan for a common area.
Talk to the neighbors
Chatting with a few people who live in the neighborhood can give you a good idea of what the HOA is like. Ask if it is overmanaged or if they find it difficult to deal with board members. Is the money well managed so that bills are paid efficiently? Are conflicts settled reasonably? You want to live with a HOA that does a good job taking care of the neighborhood regulations, but is not overbearing and intrusive. If you have concerns, attend a meeting before you close on your new home. You can depend on your real estate agent to provide specifics about the HOA as well.
Outstanding violations can delay a home sale
If the seller of your new home owes money for HOA violations, they need to take care of the issue and the accompanying fee before you take possession. Common violations often concern exterior maintenance, such as painting or landscaping issues. To guarantee that problems have been corrected, the title company will request an estoppel certificate from the HOA indicating the status of the violation. If the issue has not been addressed prior to closing, the closing date could be delayed. Another option is for the sellers to put money into an escrow account to cover the problem. They will get the money back once the fix is completed within an agreed time period.
There are benefits to a HOA
HOAs promote financial stability of the neighborhood and protect property values. They help residents get to know each other through community work days, social events and activities. This helps the neighborhood feel more secure and comfortable. Common areas are kept neat and amenities, such as pools, walking trails and tennis courts, are funded through fees collected from all the residents. Architectural rules keep home painting or remodeling within the original design of the neighborhood. Many HOAs pay for trash collection, pest control and snow removal.
There can be disadvantages to a HOA
You need to know the details of your neighborhood’s HOA rules to determine if they are too restrictive for you and your family. Many HOAs limit the number of vehicles allowed at each residence; if children’s backyard playset may be installed; and how mailboxes must be placed. They may dictate what exterior colors you can paint your house, whether banners or flags may be displayed, or even if holiday decorations are allowed. They may require pre-approval of exterior building plans such as storage sheds or new decks.
Be aware before you buy
Living with a HOA is usually not a problem and will enhance your neighborhood and home value. However, they are not for everybody. Educate yourself well before buying within a HOA community and decide if it’s right for you.