Summer is the unofficial time to move. Let’s face it, the thought of moving during a snowstorm, with sidewalks covered in a layer of ice, is not that appealing. That being the case, it is not surprising that home sales see a consistent jump each year just as the weather really starts to warm up. This means that plenty of fresh-faced newcomers are making their way into neighborhoods across the country, many of whom have never had any experience with an HOA. So, what does the neighborhood-ingenue need to know as they sign on the dotted line and become the newest member of the neighborhood and, by extension, the HOA?
So…What Is It?
Unsurprisingly, the first question that needs to be answered: What, exactly, is an HOA? The HOA, short for Homeowners Association, is certainly not a new phenomenon. The idea really started to grow in popularity in the mid 20th century, when the suburban neighborhoods were popping up at record speed. The HOA is a self-governing body that is established at the start of a new community. Whether it be single-family homes, townhomes or condominiums, most HOAs are formed and operate in pretty much the same way. The association creates the rules that future members of the community must abide by. Once you purchase a home and move into the community, you automatically become a member of the association, and are required to abide by the rules that have been put forth in the community's governing documents. Additionally, members are required to pay fees (monthly, quarterly or yearly) that help to support the community and its amenities. Let’s get into that.
What Does it Cost Me?
Nothing in life is free, right? Well, odds are that you have become pretty familiar with the monthly withdrawals from your account for all things home-related. Mortgage, utilities and, now, dues. That’s right, living within a covenant controlled community will add an additional line to your monthly budget. The dues that you pay to your HOA will vary greatly depending on your area and community, but the nationwide average sits right around $250 of your hard-earned dollars. Now, don’t start thinking that these fees are “optional.” Choosing to forgo payment can land you in some pretty hot water, including the possibility of actually losing your home. Trust us, write the check. And while the prospect of paying out on the regular is not immediately appealing, your money can get you some pretty sweet stuff, depending on your community.
So, What’s in it For Me?
What makes living in an HOA worthwhile? Arguably, quite a few things. Most communities with a homeowners association boast some pretty cool benefits, known as amenities. The number and type of amenities will (of course) vary, but some of the most common include, parks, greenspaces, pools, gyms and community buildings/clubhouses. The money that you so graciously pay out each month both allow you access to these perks, as well as their ongoing maintenance.
Additionally, it is probably safe to say that you are sinking a significant amount of money into the purchase of your home. No doubt that, when the time comes to sell your home, you’ll want it to not only have retained its value, but to have grown as well. Well, luckily for you, that is the main goal of the HOA. The vast majority of the regulations put forth serve the purpose of retaining and increasing the value of the homes within the community it govens.
Happily Ever After?
Take the time to really read through your community’s governing documents (if possible, BEFORE you decide that this is the neighborhood for you). Having a clear understanding of the rules and expectations, both of residents and the association itself, can help to create and maintain a harmonious relationship. Once you know the rules…follow them. By moving into the community, you are acknowledging that you plan to live and play by the rules and if there is something that you think is unfair or needs review, follow the appropriate channels to seek resolution.