Picture it: a beautiful, serene neighborhood. There are beautifully landscaped yards with lawns immaculately cut, fragrant with flowers. The houses are tastefully painted or made of brick, and the mailboxes are straight and perfectly aligned at the curb. It’s suburban heaven—perfect and pleasant in almost every way.
Almost. Because there’s that one house that’s giving the neighborhood a black eye. The lawn is two feet high and gone to seed. The mailbox has a pronounced lean. There’s a large sign in the yard screaming in all caps about some obscure political issue encouraging you to go a website and “LEARN THE TRUTH.”
This is exactly why homeowners associations (HOAs) were invented. They’re to protect you from a weird neighbor trying their best to almost single-handedly bring down your property values.
But what is an HOA exactly? How does it affect where you live? And how much does it cost?
These are all great questions. Let’s take a look!
First of all, what is an HOA?
A homeowners association is an organization that makes and enforces rules for multiple-unit buildings like condominiums and townhouses and planned communities of single-family homes. If you buy a property with an HOA, you automatically become a member. You agree to abide by the rules and regulations and to pay dues, known as HOA fees. An HOA will usually have its rules in a document called a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R).
But all homeowners associations aren’t the same in services or cost. In general, the more features included in the community, the more you’ll pay in HOA fees.
A condominium is like an apartment you own. You own the interior of your property, but the HOA owns the exterior and all common areas. As an automatic member of the HOA, you’ll be able to vote on who serves on the condo board—the people who manage the finances and enforce the CC&R.
Condo HOAs tend to have the most restrictive rules—covering everything from where you park to what color your window treatments can be, to whether or not (and what type) of holiday decorations you can display in your front windows or entryways. The HOA will also manage any fitness centers, swimming pools, parking garages and storage units.
A townhouse is single-family residence with at least two floors and at least one shared wall with another townhouse. They’re most commonly found in urban areas where land is scarce and housing prices are high.
Townhouse HOAs usually provide the same types of features and amenities that condo HOAs do, but they’re typically not as restrictive. Because you also own the exterior of your townhouse, you have a little more control over what you can do with it. While there may be rules about what types of landscaping you can have and what color your mailbox is, you can usually put up Christmas lights without having to fill out two or three forms. Your townhouse community may also include a pool, clubhouse and fitness center, and the HOA will manage those.
Single-Family Home HOAs
Although homeowners associations are usually associated with condominium and townhouse complexes, they’re also becoming more and more common for detached single-family houses that are part of planned communities. In fact, in 2017, 61% of new, single-family homes built in the U.S. were in an HOA, up from just 46% of those completed in 2009.1 HOAs for single-family homes are more popular in the West and South (around 67% of new-home construction) than they are in the Midwest (47%) and Northeast (29%).
Some communities provide safety in the form of gates or security guards. There might be a pool or a community center with a gym or a playground for the kids. Some communities focus on retirees and their needs. Others may be built around a golf course. Suburban HOAs usually cost less per month than those for condos or townhomes because they cover less. For example, youare responsible for the upkeep of your own four walls, yard and insurance. But these HOAs can still be demanding about to the do’s and don’ts of living in the community—especially in upscale neighborhoods. They can regulate everything from what type of trees you can plant to whether or not you can leave your garage door up during the day. So, do your research up front. And that brings us to our next point.
What are the pros and cons of HOAs?
Like everything in life, there are good things and not-so-great things about belonging to a homeowners association. You’ll need to weigh them carefully when deciding whether or not to purchase a property with an HOA.
A well-run homeowners association is a blessing. In fact, research shows that being a member of an HOA can increase the value of your property by 4.2%.2 That’s a lot.
On the other hand, a poorly run HOA can be a nightmare. If it doesn’t have enough money on reserve to handle maintenance and upgrades, you can be hit with special assessments that require you to cough up that money. This is in addition to monthly dues you pay.
Which brings us to money. HOAs charge monthly or quarterly fees to pay for shared expenses like security, pool cleaning, trash removal, golf course maintenance, landscaping . . . you get the idea. The more stuff the HOA provides, the more money it costs. This is something to keep in mind when you’re budgeting to buy a home. You’ll have a chance to speak with an HOA representative before you buy, so make sure you ask them how much it costs, how frequently the rates go up, how many people are on the board, and how long the terms are. Learn as much as you can about the HOA because, once you buy, you’re a member—and you’re stuck with each other until you decide to move.
HOAs charge monthly or quarterly fees to pay for shared expenses like security, pool cleaning, trash removal, golf course maintenance, landscaping . . . you get the idea. The more stuff the HOA provides, the more money it costs.
Also, be aware that just about every HOA has that one guy who acts like he’s the Wyatt Earp of the HOA. This guy is the worst¸ and he makes it his business to get all up in your business. He’ll complain about your curtains, the color of your mailbox and how many guests you entertain. He’s apparently got nothing better to do with his life, so he makes it his mission to make everyone else in the complex miserable. There’s not really a way to learn who this guy is until you’ve moved in. But once you do, you’ll want to keep it in mind and do your best to avoid him.
Pros: A good HOA is a pleasure to work with and can increase your property value.
Cons: A bad HOA can make your life miserable and cost you time and money.
A well-run homeowners association can be a blessing. A poorly run HOA can be a nightmare