If you’re looking to buy, you probably already started building your checklist of things to consider: asking price, lot size, neighborhood safety, proximity to parks and schools… but what about a homeowners’ association?
While simply hearing “HOA” can conjure up visions of extra dollar signs and red tape – there are definite advantages to being a part of a community that has one. But before we get to that, what is a homeowners’ association?
An HOA is an organization within a residential community that creates and enforces the rules for that community. Those rules can cover anything from how the neighborhood looks, to where you can park, noise levels, etc. You can find them in condominium or town home complexes and even private neighborhoods. Sometimes they are self-managed (by volunteers from the neighborhood they govern) or are managed by an outside management company. Depending on the association, residents are required to pay a certain amount of fees or dues on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, etc.). Those dues help pay for the upkeep of community areas like parks, landscaping, and even sometimes neighborhood road conditions.
The Community Associations Institute estimates that in 2015, there were between 336,000 and 338,000 community associations throughout the nation. Nevada has more than 3,000.
Whether you love the idea of them or hate them, there are things to consider on both sides. Let’s take a look:
- Neighborhood appearance – Part of following HOA rules includes keeping your property looking nice – that means no peeling paint, overgrown lawns or yards covered in weeds. Depending on your HOA, some associations may even handle lawn care and snow removal, which equals less work for you. Following these rules will not only keep your neighborhood looking sharp, but will also help your curb appeal and home value rise if and when you decide to sell your property down the road.
- Community amenities – Many HOAs use money from your fees to maintain community areas like parks, recreation areas and in some cases, community pools. Using these areas don’t cost you anything extra and you can ensure they stay looking nice.
- Building camaraderie – Many HOAs help build a sense of community by organizing neighborhood-wide events and gatherings like block parties, family game nights or holiday carnivals.
- Dispute mediation – Because of all the enforceable rules, you’re likely to have fewer neighbor disputes (because there are penalties for not following them). And if an issue does pop up, the HOA would be the one to address it with your neighbor and not you.
- Changes need approval – While following the rules keeps your neighborhood looking nice, it also can limit the changes you can make to the exterior of your house and/or your front and back yards. Many associations require that you get written approval before changing the color of your house or building that patio that you’ve wanted to add to your backyard.
- Recurring costs – Keeping up appearances isn’t cheap and those monthly/quarterly fees that you pay to the association can really build up over time. You want to make sure you factor in those expenses when determining if your property falls within your budget.
- Extra assessments – On top of the regular dues, the HOA can slap you with extra fees if you fail to follow the rules. Didn’t pull those weeds within the required time frame? Your new satellite dish cord isn’t painted to match your house? While they usually give you a warning and a deadline to get back in compliance, failure to do so won’t be cheap.
- Poor management – Some HOAs are made up of volunteer community members that have full-time jobs on the side. If they don’t have enough time to devote to community management, problems or important matters can fall through the cracks. To remedy this problem, other associations hire a management company to oversee things. However, some feel the downside to this is that the company doesn’t have a direct tie to the community and could seem “out of touch” with the neighborhood needs.
One last tip
Before you make your final decision, ask to get a copy of the association’s rules and bylaws. Make sure what they require are all things that you can honestly live with. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to be told what to do, your frustrations could outweigh the perks.
And it wouldn’t hurt to take a peek at the financial records and minutes from the regular board meetings. It will give you an inside look at how the association is really managed.