If you want to live in a community where your property is taken care of without you having to lift a finger, or where you have a variety of amenities to use at your disposal, then a homeowners’ association (HOA) might be perfect for you.
But before you jump in with both feet, there are a few things about HOAs that you should be aware of.
After all, buying a home is a huge investment – most likely the biggest one you’ll ever make. And as such, you want to be sure the choice you make is the right one for you.
Buying an HOA is Like Buying a Lifestyle
When it comes to an HOA, a certain amount of conformity is involved. If you’re not too keen on keeping in line with the standards of a particular HOA, it could be a nightmare for you if you actually buy into it.
There’s a certain price tag that comes along with the scrupulously manicured lawns, the well-maintained exteriors, and the consistently paved roadways. Every HOA has their own set of conformity rules that homeowners need to abide by in order to maintain this level of care among the properties and the common areas.
Before you scoff at these rules, you should understand the reasoning behind them: they help keep property values up over the long haul. In fact, the main goal of an HOA is to protect the investments of homeowners within the community and ensure that property values are maintained and increased over time, rather than allowing the area to go down the tubes like many American neighborhoods have.
So, if you’re OK with keeping your garage door color the same as your neighbors, or putting a limit on the number of lawn chairs you plop on your front lawn, then an HOA just might work for you.
HOA Fees Encompass Different Things in Different Complexes
It’s common knowledge that living in an HOA involves paying fees on a monthly basis. These fees go towards a bunch of different things, namely the maintenance and upkeep of common elements of the community. This can include anything from cutting the grass to cleaning the pool.
You’re basically paying someone else to maintain your property so you don’t have to. It’s a pretty good deal: you don’t have to physically maintain the property yourself, and the community as a whole is always in pristine condition.
But the HOA fees in one complex might not necessarily cover the same things in another one. Not only that, but the fees themselves might vary drastically from one complex to another. The average HOA fees usually range between $200 to $400 per month, but the more well-to-do the building is, and the more amenities it’s got, the higher you can expect the HOA fees to be.
In general, these fees cover services like water, sewage, garbage removal, lawn maintenance, repairs to the outside of condo buildings, and the care of common area amenities. Make sure you find out precisely what the monthly HOA fee is, and what exactly is covered under these dues.
Ask questions. How are increases in HOA fees determined? How often do they occur? How many times have they already been increased in the past? Is cable included?
Compare these fees to the average dues in surrounding neighborhoods. Are they at par? Or are they a lot higher? It’s worth noting that you’ll be paying for the complex’s amenities even if you don’t use them. If you’re not going to use the swimming pool or the on-site tennis court, ask yourself if you’re OK with financially contributing towards their upkeep. If not, it just might make sense to choose an HOA that doesn’t have such amenities, which will be reflected in their lower fees.
There’s This Thing Called an ‘Assessment’
Not only do you have to pay HOA fees on a monthly basis, you’ll also be responsible for contributing to an extra ‘assessment’ if there’s not enough money in the HOA’s reserve funds to pay for major expenses, like replacing the building’s roof or repairing its foundation. If money in this reserve fund is a little short, the HOA could charge you an extra assessment to cover the added expenses, that can be pretty pricey.
Before you buy, inquire about any assessments that are in the works for the near future. If there are, you need to be prepared to dish out a little more than what the current HOA fees demand.
You Have a Say
If you don’t like some of the rules within your HOA community, then do something to change them.
The ideal HOA encourages residents to get involved and have a say in how the rules are implemented and what changes can and should be made. The HOA will advertise their meetings that residents are allowed to attend, so consider going to them when your schedule permits so you can voice your opinion and put in your two cents about what is working and what isn’t. You might even consider running for a seat on the board to fight for the changes that you and fellow residents want.
Learn about the process for making any changes to rules or adding new ones. If you think the rules are too restrictive, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Bottom Line
There are definite perks to living in HOA community. You’ve got access to some great amenities, and you don’t have to worry about having to mow the lawn or trim the bushes. You also don’t have to worry about annoying neighbors who like to park their cars on their front lawns or let their weeds grow out of control – the HOA won’t allow that sort of thing.
But, like any other investment, a little due diligence is required on your part to make sure the one you’re making is right for you. Don’t buy into anything that you’ll regret shortly after moving in.