All your life you have wished for a home of your own—with a lovely front porch, landscaped courtyard, huge kitchen, fireplace, and lots of windows and space. It is your own slice of heaven. But wait—you don’t want to lose your connection to an active community or access to amenities?
For people who really want their own home but also enjoy a community with well-maintained amenities, investing in a home governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA) may be the right option. And for those who love the freedom to dictate their personal preferences and styles of their homes, life within an HOA community may not be the right place to call home.
This Craftsman-style home, with its appealing yet subtle color scheme, well-manicured lawn, and attractive landscaping, would fit in well in most HOA communities. (Plan # 142-1051)
A Word about HOAs (Homeowners Associations)
Simply defined, a homeowners association is an organization set up to govern a private community, subdivision, or condominium. It collects monthly or annual dues for recreational facilities, landscaping services, trash collection, security, and general repairs. HOAs can also issue fines for rule violations and penalties for late payment of dues—and in some cases, they can foreclose on your property.
Since their establishment in the 1960s, HOAs have been on the rise. Housing experts estimate that today about 55 million Americans live in residential communities overseen by HOAs. In recent years, disputes within HOAs have made headlines. However, a 2012 survey by Zogby International indicated that over 90 percent of residents living within an HOA were either positive or neutral about their community association experience.
What Is So Good about HOAs?
As in everything in life, there are some advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of a well-managed HOA include
1. Availability of recreational facilities/activities: Parks, hiking trails, bike paths, swimming pools, tennis courts, clubhouse, and at times even a golf course are accessible to residents.
2. A sense of community, belonging, and camaraderie with neighbors and other residents: Most people bond over common issues and similar activities.
3. Protection of property value: The HOA keeps a close eye on how well homes are maintained, and as a result, they typically retain their value better than those outside an HOA environment.
4. Landscaped, well-manicured common areas that make the community attractive and appealing.
This bungalow is from a row of similar bungalows in one of Chicago’s historic bungalow districts. The Historic Chicago Bungalow Association helps homeowners maintain and preserve their properties. (Photo credit: "4940 North Keeler Avenue" by Teemu008 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
5. A safe neighborhood.
6. Shared expenses for snow service, dumpsters, trash removal, lawn care, etc.
7. Support for dealing with neighborhood issues: If you have complaints about your neighbor’s pets, the overgrown grass on his lawn, or too much noise, you can use the HOA board as a recourse to handle the “hot” issues instead of getting into disputes with your neighbors
What Is So Horrible?
People who prefer not to live within an HOA community have these reasons:
1. Too many regulations and restrictions: Limits on creative expression with regard to styles, materials, and finishes are dictated by HOA. It also controls outside structures that you may want to add, such as porches, decks, patios, roof gardens, and the like.
2. Bureaucracy over improvements over time: Potentially almost everything has to be approved by some HOA boards, including exterior paint colors, yard ornaments, balcony and porch adornments, and more.
3. Extra expenses (unexpected dues and assessments) in addition to mortgage, real estate taxes, and insurance.
4. Difficulty with resale: Every potential buyer may be subject to scrutiny by the HOA.
5. The threat of foreclosure on your home: Some HOAs can put a lien on or foreclose your property on non-payment of dues, assessments, or fines.
6. Lawsuits against the HOA that depletes the community’s reserves may result in increased fees and additional assessments.
7. Potential for poor management: HOA boards are usually made up of volunteers who may or may not have experience in running a company. A well-managed HOA board will have members who are responsive to homeowner issues; however a poorly managed or overzealous HOA board may not have the interpersonal and decision-making skills needed to manage the community.
8. Potential misunderstandings/strained relationship with neighbors on HOA issues.
How Can You Make It Work?
Some people love the rules and regulations, and some can’t wait to get out of these residential developments.
Here are a few tips on selecting an HOA community right for you and how to happily live in one:
1. Do a thorough research of HOAs, and understand the concept, rules, regulations, and contracts that bind homeowners when they buy into a property.
2. HOA fees and assessments are expensive. Be sure to shop around for better deals at reasonable costs—keep in mind that these fees are added to your mortgage, insurance, and real estate taxes.
3. Once you have decided on a particular residential development, familiarize yourself with your HOA’s bylaws and rules—and abide by them to avoid penalties/fines.
4. Consult your HOA before making any changes.
5. Pay your dues and assessments on time.
This stylish two-story condominium complex has four three-bedroom units that feature covered front and rear porches. If you own/live in a condominium, you have to abide by the rules and regulations of its HOA board. (Plan # 158-1151)
The final word on HOAs
Living in an HOA community is not for everyone. There are passionate groups both for and against them. The ancient adage, “Know thyself,” is probably best applied before making a decision to buy within an HOA community. That said, the concept of an HOA community can be compelling: to create appealing and comfortable homes for families while also providing community, safety, facilities, and amenities maintained by the association. Despite the occasional headline, most HOAs are keeping their members happy and contented with the arrangement.
Ultimately, living in an HOA or not is your choice. Is it what you really want, and are you willing to pay for it? Just be sure you have looked at every angle—and are completely certain and satisfied with your decision.
Footnote: The lead image (upper) in this article is a two-story, four-bedroom house plan made for a narrow lot. For more on the home, view: (Plan # 108-1708)