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HOAs: Necessary Evil Or Just Plain Annoying?

Posted on the 06 September 2012 by Msadams @HilaryFerrell

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The home buying process has forced us to come up with definitely answers to all kinds of questions—do you like vinyl floors?, would you like a walkout basement?, do you have to have a formal living room?, does your master bath need a soaking tub?, etc.

We thought we had all the basic questions figured out until one day we saw a listing for an amazing house in a planned community with a very serious homeowners association. It was the first time we had to ponder about our feelings regarding HOAs.

The hubs and I both grew up in older communities (my neighborhood was built in the 1960s/70s) that never had homeowners associations. Our parents were free to grow gardens, build decks, paint the house, and erect fences without a second thought. Now all of a sudden, we were considering living in an area, where basically every change we wanted to make to the exterior of our home would have to receive the HOA’s stamp of approval.

Having no personal experience with the pleasures or annoyances of living with a HOA, I decided to reach out on Facebook to ask my friends about their personal experiences living with HOAs. I was astounded to see how divided the debate was—people either completely hated the idea of living with a HOA that dictated rules or they loved the neatness and uniformity that HOAs create.

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The comments I received were so insightful that I thought I would share a few.

The people who resoundingly liked having a HOA lived in a neighborhood where the HOA fairly enforced a standard set of rules. The rules helped to keep neighbors properly maintaining their yards and exteriors, which helped to preserve the neighborhood’s overall value. These people tended to like a neighborhood with uniformity and consistency.

On the other hand, the people who voiced incredible opposition to HOAs generally had a negative personal experience with their own HOA. One person recounted a story of their HOA fees tripling overnight to almost $1,000/year. Another person talked about the political wrestling that comes with HOAs—it encourages neighbors to police one another which we all know can cause a lot of drama. A lot of people mentioned that the rules can often times be a little excessive.

It really seemed like people’s opinions regarding HOAs were dependent on the types of people who ran their HOA. If there were crazed, strict egomaniacs running the HOA people tended not to like it. If the HOA was run by reasonable normal adults, people tended not to mind them.

A bunch of people suggested getting a copy of the HOA rules and talking to neighbors before purchasing a home in a neighborhood with a HOA. A friend familiar with managing HOAs mentioned that you should ask the sellers agent to provide a resale package before settlement. This package should include guidelines on home modifications, special assessments, and the maximum assessment increase per year. Additionally, she suggested requesting the financials and minutes from the latest HOA board meeting. All of this information is required to be furnished to buyers on their request.

Crazy that I got all of that from a simple Facebook question huh? The joys of social media.

It would be nice to say that all this information helped make our decision easier but it turned out that the house wasn’t right for us. I would say that I had some serious apprehension about a few of the rules that required HOA approval for decks and gardens. I really don’t think anyone has the right to tell me I can’t grow tomatoes in my own backyard. It’s one thing to force neighbors to maintain their property (i.e. cut their grass and pick up trash) and quite another to tell them how to decorate it.

So for now, I guess I can say that the HOA debate has been put on hold until we find a home we absolutely love. Although who knows, we could be swayed out of purchasing our dream home if the HOA seems to absurd or rigid.

What do you think about HOAs?

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