- It is in your best interest to know as much as you can about an HOA before you buy a home in its jurisdiction.
- Familiarize yourself with the HOA rules you might be buying into.
- A good HOA community will serve to increase the individual value of each home in it.
We have all heard of homeowners associations (HOA), but I am willing to bet that fewer people actually know about them in the detail they should. How do homeowners associations work? Why do HOAs exist? Better yet, what’s in it for the homeowner? The answers to all these questions, and more, can be gleaned below.
As the name suggests, the definition of a homeowners association is just that: an organized group of homeowners within a particular subdivision, condominium or planned unit development. HOAs typically consist of a board of directors that have been elected by local homeowners to maintain predetermined rules, regulations and rules. In other words, HOAs are nothing more than elected individuals tasked with maintaining an area’s status quo. The exact status quo, however, is entirely dependent on the area in which a home resides. Nonetheless, most HOAs focus on preserving, maintaining and enhancing the homes within its jurisdiction.
It is worth noting, however, that while HOAs can drastically improve neighborhoods through steady regulation, they come at a price. Those that buy into a neighborhood with an established HOA are automatically enrolled and forced to pay dues that typically support community improvements. Additionally, some HOAs are highly restrictive; they have a say in what homeowners can and can’t do to their own homes. Some HOAs, for example, will limit the colors you can paint your house or even require you to maintain an inherent level of curb appeal.
All things considered, HOAs typically add to the value of a neighborhood, but at a cost. If you can get behind the idea of letting someone else tell you how to run your home, the HOA fees that go into bettering the community may be worth the cost of admission. However, if you’d rather have the final say in what you can do to your home, it may be in your best interest to avoid communities with HOAs.
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How Do Homeowners Associations Work?
Homeowners associations are relatively simple organizations. They are typically put in place by the developer of the original lots, and eventually handed off to the homeowners after selling a predetermined number of lots. Generally speaking, subsequent buyers must become a member of the association — that is, if they want to call that specific location their home. Those that buy into a home governed by an HOA will, therefore, be required to obey the governing documents and By-Laws. In addition, homeowners must pay monthly or annual dues, which are typically reintroduced to the community in the form of improvements. So while there are fees to worry about, they typically improve living conditions, and sometimes even increase the value of nearby homes.
Why Do HOAs Exist?
Homeowners associations are typically formed by the same real estate developer that is responsible for the community in the first place; it’s a way for them to keep tabs on the community and ensure it continues to flourish. Perhaps even more specifically, developers will introduce an HOA to their latest project as a means of marketing, managing, and selling homes and lots. HOAs are essentially a way for developers to maintain a presence in a community once everything is built.
What Are Common HOA Rules?
In addition to maintaining status quo, HOAs are tasked with establishing rules and making sure the homeowners within their jurisdiction abide by them. Otherwise known as “covenants, conditions, and restrictions” (CC&Rs), said rules are applied to any new homeowners within the community. At the time of their purchase, new homeowners are required to sign a contract saying they will follow the rules set forth by the HOA.
Not unlike HOAs in general, the rules enforced by each community will vary depending on individual priorities. That said, individual rules (or CC&Rs) can cover just about anything from types of mailboxes to whether or not you are allowed to have a dog. It’s not uncommon for some HOAs to prohibit certain breeds of dogs entirely. Generally speaking, however, most HOA rules will fall under one or all of the following categories:
Fees: All homeowners associations will coincide with fees, and those that wish to live in an area with an HOA are expected to pay said costs. The fees go towards bettering the community and amenities.
Noise Restrictions: A lot of HOAs have some sort of noise level restrictions. In addition to limiting the noise you are allowed to make (whether it’s a party or power tools) most HOAs will inform quiet hours, meaning you can’t make too much noise after a certain time of the day.
Decrease Clutter: HOAs a primarily concerned with the overall appearance of a neighborhood, so it stands to reason they will prioritize a home’s aesthetic appearance. In other words, they want your home to look good so that everyone else’s does, and to do so, they will most likely limit the clutter you are allowed to display. That means you need to be conscious about patio furniture, barbecues, and similar items that may be strewn about your yard.
Pet Regulations: It is quite common for HOAs to enforce several pet rules, not the least of which include how many animals you can have, the type of animal and breeds, cleaning up after your pet, leash laws, and noise levels.
Maintenance Requirements: Most HOAs will require their individual homeowners to maintain an inherent level of curb appeal, meaning each home should conform to a certain standard. More often than not, maintenance requirements will have homeowners cut and water their lawn regularly, maintain siding or stucco work, keep driveways and walkways clean and clear of clutter, and a number of other aesthetic requirements.
Respect The Neighborhood: HOAs typically stress the importance of a family friendly environment. That means many of the rules will focus on safety and keeping everyone on the same page.
What Are The HOA Dues?
In order to maintain the local community, HOAs will require the homes located within their jurisdiction to pay what are known as dues. Otherwise known as fees, HOA dues are typically collected monthly or annually. On average, homeowners can expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 to $300 a month in HOA fees, but that’s not to say there aren’t outliers. In fact, depending on the size of the home and the services the HOA provides, fees can either be a lot higher or lower.
What Do The HOA Dues Pay For?
HOA fees can pay for almost anything the HOA deems necessary for the betterment of the community. That said, most homeowners will know exactly what their fees are going towards, as the allocations are typically stated in the By-Laws and CC&Rs.
Perhaps even more specifically, however, fees are usually distributed to communal amenities. It is quite common for HOA fees to cover the maintenance costs of local parks, pools, and a number of similar amenities. On top of that, HOAs may ask for additional dues in order to cover emergencies or community projects. For instance, some HOAs may ask for additional funds to pad their coffers in the event they want to replace roofs or pay for unexpected damages.
Who Else Is Part Of The HOA?
An HOA community consists of homeowners that have bought into the same development. In other words, anyone living within the jurisdiction of an HOA is, in fact, a member. If for nothing else, HOAs aren’t exclusive memberships; participation is required by anyone buying a home in an area that has one.
How To Get Rid Of Your HOA
An interesting point within the HOA definition is that they are not permanent organizations. Surprisingly enough, HOAs can actually be dissolved—if certain conditions are met, that is. If you find your HOA is simply not operating effectively (or at all) there are steps you can take to improve the situation. The following list outlines the process for getting rid of an HOA:
Obtain A Copy Of The CC&Rs: The first step in improving or dissolving an HOA is to learn what you are working with. Obtain a copy of the CC&Rs either online or from a board member, they should be easy to access. The CC&Rs will outline what type of process must be followed to start the dissolution of the HOA.
Check The State Laws: In some states, there are laws that will actually dissolve an HOA if the organization does not take proper steps to renew itself. While this is unlikely, it is still important to double check before moving forward. If you do find your HOA has failed to follow the state’s laws, it will make the dissolution process much easier.
Survey Other Members: Do you know of anyone else in your neighborhood or building who is frustrated with the status of your HOA? It is a good idea to join forces. Ask around (politely) to learn how many individuals feel the same as you. More often than not, it will take a vote of 80 percent or more to get rid of an HOA.
Make A Plan For Ongoing Projects: As you might expect, it will be highly difficult to dissolve an HOA that is in the middle of a community project. If there are shared facilities in your neighborhood, you and the other members need to think about how they will operate without an HOA to oversee management.
Work With A Lawyer: Believe it or not, getting rid of an HOA is actually a legal process—one that may require working with a professional. If there are other members who would like to help get rid of the association, this step may not be costly. However, anyone working alone to get rid of an HOA should start the process of finding a lawyer and be prepared to pay legal fees.
Not all HOAs are ineffective, in fact many agree that the vast majority work to improve the neighborhoods they serve. However, with anything this is not always the case. If you live in a neighborhood with an ineffective HOA pay attention to the above steps and see what you can do to improve your community organization. As you research you may even find the HOA just needs better leadership in order to run more smoothly.
Do Renters Pay HOA?
It is entirely possible for renters to encounter HOA fees. Despite not owning property, renters who move into an area with an HOA will be required to follow the rules set by the organization and in some cases, pay the fees. In some cases, the landlords will be responsible for the HOA fees though this designation will be specified within the lease agreement. Landlords are also responsible for giving renters a copy of the CC&Rs upon move in, so they are aware of the neighborhood rules. If renters have any questions or concerns about an HOA, they will often communicate through the landlord.
How To Avoid Paying HOA Fees
Anyone living in a neighborhood or building with an HOA will not be able to avoid paying the fees altogether. It is possible, however, to have them lowered if the costs are not being used effectively. If you are unsure about where your HOA fees are going, request a copy of the budget to learn more. This will show exactly how the organization delegates funds, and should reveal potential areas for improvement. For example, if you notice the HOA pays an increased rate for yard maintenance it may be time to renegotiate the contract with the landscapers (or work with someone else).
In the event you do find unnecessary costs in your HOA budget, you can either speak with a board member about what you have noticed, or become a board member yourself. If you opt to join the board, you may have the opportunity to dig deeper into the annual budget. Look out for costs like insurance premiums, maintenance fees, and reserve contributions—which essentially build up a savings account for unexpected costs. As a member you may be able to vote to reduce the amount spent on these areas, either by finding new service providers or eliminating certain costs altogether.
Can An HOA Raise Dues?
HOAs can raise dues periodically, though there are often specific guidelines within the CC&Rs that must be followed. For example, most HOAs have rules regarding how frequently and by how much HOA dues can be raised. Increases are often implemented to fund new neighborhood projects or cover extra maintenance costs. In some cases, HOA fees may simply increase to cover inflation or rising operating costs. If you are concerned about potential fee increases, be sure to consult the CC&Rs as well as your state’s laws for a better idea on what to expect. Many states have additional laws set forth to protect homeowners from dramatic fee increases.
Common HOA Mistakes
Despite the vast majority of HOA board members having never served on a board before, many of them are responsible for the most valuable assets in a given community. That said, HOAs are not immune to making mistakes. Most notably, there are a great deal of board members that neglect to collect fees on time. In doing so, the HOA is not only losing out on valuable funds, but it’s setting a poor precedent for its members. Inherently, erratic collections may lead to internal dissension. At the very least, poorly timed collections serve as an obstacle to the betterment of the community.
Remember, while mistakes may not be common, they can still happen. If you are looking at a home with an HOA, make sure it has a good track record. The last thing you want is to move into a new home with a poorly managed HOA.
HOA means something different to different homebuyers. For some, it can represent added neighborhood amenities or a sense of community. For others, an HOA might be unnecessary costs that push a property over budget. One thing that is always true about properties with an HOA, however, is that they should not be a burden. Homebuyers looking for properties with an HOA should consider how it adds value to a neighborhood, and if it is worth it. HOA real estate is not for everyone, though it can represent a number of benefits in the right area.
Have you ever wondered how an HOA works? Did this guide answer the questions you had? If you have any other input on the matter, please feel free to comment below.
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