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Homeowner's Association: Friend Or Foe

By Elizabeth Elstien

The financial manager and policing squad of a home development, a homeowner's association (HOA), can be a friend or an enemy. Some HOAs have relatively lax standards while others are fanatic about enforcing the rules. A board of directors voted on by member-owners runs the non-profit HOA.

Before buying a home in a community, spend some time reading the HOA covenants, conditions and restrictions, bylaws, financial statements and board meeting minutes. This can be a time-consuming process, but can make or break your home purchase. Like to paint your outside trim in vibrant colors? Some HOSs can be quite restrictive in what colors are acceptable to paint the exterior of your home. Have a lot of pets? Other HOAs may have a pet restriction or don't accept pets at all. Try informally talking to potential neighbors, too, to get their take on the HOA. Many HOAs have a website and this can be a good way to ascertain what the community organization is like informal or businesslike, restrictive or lenient, ridiculous or tasteful.

Of course the more amenities the HOA has to cover, the more fees each owner is required to pay. Fees can cover water/trash, annual termite inspections/treatment, road and lighting improvements, roofs, yard work, pools/spa and tennis/basketball/volleyball court maintenance, tree trimming, etc. Regular fees can be assessed on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis and must be paid on time. Special assessments may also be charged if agreed on by member-owners to cover adding extras or excessive maintenance costs. The HOA can charge late fees and can legally place a lien on your home if fees have accrued.

Homeowners can be fined by the HOA for not following the rules. For instance, I've heard of HOAs who fine owners for leaving toys on their front porch or parking on the street, even when there is not enough parking for guests. Be wary about HOAs that dictate what and where you can plant vegetation on your property or how you should walk your pets (one HOA had owners carrying their pets inside common areas). On the other hand, some HOAs don't enforce the rules at all, so the community may look shabby and rundown.

HOA rules are meant to create a certain lifestyle, improve the community and increase home values, which makes the HOA a friend. Sometimes these rules become excessive and overbearing, making the HOA a homeowner's foe. Make sure before you final any home purchase in a community that you understand all the rules and fees and can live with them. If you can't do this, then continue your home search.

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About The Author

Elizabeth R. Elstien has worked in real estate for over 15 years as a real estate...

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