On a street near my childhood home, a neighbor painted the whole exterior of his house in bold camouflage patterns, and then painted the RV parked out front to match. I must’ve walked by that house a thousand times, hoping to catch a glimpse of the inside, which I assumed was filled with guns.
That block clearly had no homeowners association (HOA) to govern neighborly disputes. And while most people don’t go to such extremes to stand out—or blend in?!—neighborhood disputes are more common when there are no community rules in place. If you’ve ever had a neighbor with a barking dog, loud parties, or an overgrown lawn, you understand. But I also know many people with quality homes in good neighborhoods who cherish their freedom to pick their paint colors, install a shed and garden, or build a large play set for the kids.
HOA Benefits & Amenities
Neighborhood associations offer numerous benefits, including maintenance of common areas, access to recreation and amenities, community newsletters and advocacy, conflict resolution, and enforcement of standards that protect home values for everyone. But what many people don’t realize is that HOA dues often go toward insurance (earthquake, damage to common facilities, etc.) or special assessments that benefit homeowners and distribute the costs appropriately.
Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs)
If you’re like some 63 million Americans living in a newer suburban community, you may have experienced challenges with the other side of conformity. Why should you pay an association to dictate whether you can have more than 2 pets, park your car in your own driveway overnight, or fly the American flag out front? Have you ever had someone measure the height of your grass with a ruler? To some people, the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) can seem silly or too restrictive at times. While the uniform look helps maintain the neighborhood aesthetic as well as the property values, an HOA is not for everyone.
How to Evaluate Homeowners Associations
So if you’re in the market to buy a home, here’s the advice I’ll give you about HOAs:
Decide what’s important to you. Do you value living in a neighborhood where everyone must do their part to keep up their yards, limit clutter, and maintain their home exteriors to a high standard? You may need to relinquish some control, personal style and freedom, and tolerate some inflexible rules. On the other hand, if you value the freedom to control your own land, you may want to avoid an HOA community. Perhaps you want to raise chickens, pick your paint colors, hang a bunch of Christmas lights, or work on old cars in your driveway someday. Don’t move into a house you like in a neighborhood you wouldn’t enjoy living in. Decide if an HOA is right for you.
Do your research. If you’re buying a home with an HOA, find out what’s in the CC&Rs, and make sure you can live with it. Take your HOA rules seriously, because violations can result in everything from simple fines to property liens, foreclosure and eviction. If you’re buying a home without an HOA, survey the neighborhood to see what kinds of neighbors you’ll have, and imagine what the area will look like 5 years from now (based on current maintenance and upkeep). You also need to know what to expect with HOA fees, which can range from $30 to $300 per month, depending on your amenities. Factor those costs into your overall housing budget! Talk to your friends and family to find out their experience with HOAs.
Love the HOA You’re With. If you do buy a home with an HOA, pay attention and consider getting involved in leadership. An HOA can be a great thing, so long as it serves the needs of the community. If you find yourself getting annoyed or frustrated by the rules, find out if they can be amended, or if a significant percentage of homeowners might be in favor of a compromise. You should start by reading the Bylaws, and the Rules and Regulations, to determine what steps you need to take. Do some research to understand the reason for the rule, and zoning laws or municipal codes that impact restrictions. Ask good questions, because there’s a good chance the rules exist for a reason, and you need to be willing to compromise. If you disagree with the Board of Directors, consider putting your hand up for the next HOA election.
Be a good neighbor. Whether your community has an HOA or not, the basic principles still apply. Homeowners should avoid doing anything that compromises the neighborhood property values or disturbs the peace. If you find yourself getting frustrated with a neighbor, find a way to approach the issue respectfully. And if you are at the center of a complaint, be willing to listen and share perspective.
Thanks, Mister Rogers
Whether or not you have an HOA, the best neighbors are the ones who voluntarily work together to improve the community. Facebook Groups and NextDoor.com are making it easier to keep in touch and communicate with neighbors and discuss issues openly.
Whatever your preference, it’s important to be informed about HOAs when you start looking at homes. Shoot me a message if I can help you evaluate your options and find the right neighborhood!