For everyone out there looking at homes right now, there are three little letters that could make or break your purchase decision. They are “H,” “O” and “A.” Three of the most frightening letters of the alphabet, imposed over the largest purchase you’ll ever make — it’s a recipe for high anxiety.
But not every Homeowners Association is the nightmare that many home buyers imagine. As long as you do your homework and know exactly what you’re getting into, your HOA may be the best decision you ever made.
Homeowners Associations, Maintenance and Uniformity
HOAs are often part of life for condo, townhouse and some single family homeowners. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad. Their purpose in this modern world is to maintain a sort of uniformity and authority that can not only help neighbors deal with disputes, but help the neighborhood as a whole keep a nice, shiny reputation.
When it comes to attached homes, like condos and townhouses, the HOAs also maintain the exteriors of buildings, including roofing, and common areas, like lawns. Single family HOAs often provide amenities like pools and common buildings that can be used for parties. The more the HOA does, the more the fees will be. And sometimes there will be fees even if they don’t do much.
Homeowners Associations Versus Neighborhood Associations
Another point to clarify is that there is a difference between a neighborhood association and a homeowners association. Neighborhood associations are voluntary, generally have very low fees for membership and do not run with the land. That means that you can buy a house where the former owner was part of the neighborhood association, but decline to be a member yourself.
On the other hand, if you buy a home that’s part of a homeowners association, the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) run with the land itself. So, you buy the land (usually with a house on it) and at closing sign that you agree to the HOA’s rules. You can only change those by being an active part of the association itself and going through the process it takes to allow RV parking in the front yard or whatever it is that you really want to do.
Is an HOA For You?
It’s really hard to know if you’re going to get along in an HOA-controlled neighborhood without taking a long hard look at those CC&Rs. They vary widely, just like the people who live in different neighborhoods. Even if you find a home that you absolutely love, don’t sign a thing until you’ve seen the CC&Rs and gone over them with your real estate agent. You will be living under those rules for a while, make sure you can accept that.
While it would be fun to have a pool you don’t have to clean, sometimes you have to be realistic and say, “These rules just aren’t for me or my lifestyle.”
But, sometimes those rules are really practical and make a lot of sense. For example, some might state that your grass has to be kept under six inches high. Great rule, this practice reduces animal and insect problems by removing cover.
Others might say you can’t have a clothesline or a fence, which might be a total deal-breaker for you. There is often an appeal process, but if that clothesline is a big enough issue, don’t risk it. There are plenty of houses in the sea.
Don’t Forget, HOA Fees Are Included in Your DTI
Last, but not least, remember that HOA fees will be included in your debt to income calculation. So, if you are just barely able to afford that lovely home, the monthly fees may make your lender give you the red light. This is an important item to check when you’re investigating the other terms of the HOA.
You can expect them to run anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars a month. Definitely something you want to be sure about before committing. Would you rather have that much more in home, or in amenities?
Already in Love With the Idea of a Home In an HOA?
If you and your real estate agent have taken the time to investigate the HOA and the CC&Rs and you’re still good to go, write that contract! Make that home yours and know that the rules will help to maintain home standards, even if they can be a bit draconian at times.