Here we are, we have finally put 2020 behind us, and are looking forward (albeit with bated breath) to what this next year has in store.  With mortgage rates remaining low, and hopes high for a better year ahead, many would-be homeowners are eyeing 2021 as the year to finally take the plunge. But, before you break out the champagne and sign on the dotted line, there are a few very important things that you should understand about your new dream home, especially if that home is located within a covenant controlled community.  Doing thorough research at the very beginning of your hunt for the perfect house can save you from a lot of pain and heartache down the line.  

Dues

When purchasing a home, there are a lot of numbers to be considered: loan amount, interest rates, monthly mortgage payment, etc.  However, if you plan to purchase a home in a community with an HOA, there is yet another number that you'll  need to consider.  HOA fees are typical for the majority of purchased apartments, townhomes, condominiums, and single family homes within planned communities.  These fees cover the costs of maintaining common areas and amenities.  Some HOAs will include services such as trash collection, snow removal or water/sewer in these fees.  The fees associated with an HOA will vary widely, as well as the timeline for payment.  Some associations will collect fees monthly, while others will collect quarterly or even yearly.  This information can be found in the governing documents of the community, and your realtor should be able to easily acquire the information as well.

When looking at these numbers, it is incredibly important that you are both willing and able to pay these fees, because neglecting to do so can result in a lien being placed on your home, as well as potentially costly litigation costs.  

Pets

Whether they be furry, feathered or scaled, they are so much more than friends, they are bonafide members of the family, and just like any other beloved member, they need to be considered when contemplating a move.  Although possible, it is unlikely that an HOA would ban pets all together (though you’ll want to be sure).  However, there are likely some regulations regarding animals that any potential homeowner, planning on  bringing along a precious pet, would need to be aware of.  The most common pet-related rules will govern the number of pets allowed to a household, as well as the type of animals allowed, and even specific breed, or weight restrictions.  You’ll also want to check with the city and county regarding breed restrictions for dogs, as many have rules surrounding what are considered (by some) to be “dangerous breeds.”  

Something else that you may want to familiarize yourself with, if you are planning on cohabiting with a canine, are the association's policies regarding fencing.  Some communities have specific regulations as to the height or design of fencing (to maintain the desired aesthetic of the neighborhood) and some of these designs may not be conducive to keeping Fido safe inside your yard.    

Service Animals

Federal Housing and Disability Laws allow persons who have physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to have service animals.  If the animal is considered to be necessary for the individual’s health and /or safety, then then the homeowner’s association must allow them.  To be clear, however, these laws do not necessarily apply to “emotional support” animals.

Amenities

One of the biggest draws of planned communities are the amenities that they can offer.  These comforts can range greatly from place to place, the most common including: open spaces, parks, pools, fitness centers, club houses and athletic courts.  When pondering the perks of a given community, think about the amenities that are important to you now, as well as the amenities that you feel you may desire later.  If you plan on being in your home for some time, you'll want to be sure that these amenities meet your needs for as long as you are living there.  Young couples, purchasing their first homes, may be drawn to communities boasting fitness centers and clubhouses, but a bit down the road, parks and community pools may be a bit higher on the list of importance.  If, however, you do not plan to utilize the “extras” offered by an association, then you may want to look for a community that does not offer quite as many.  Whether you plan to use them or not, if your community maintains these facilities, you will be paying for them in your HOA fees.  

Specific Desires and Personal Deal Breakers

Do you feel compelled to dry your laundry on a line outside of your home?  Are you planning to run a business from your garage?  Have you dreamt your whole life of collecting fresh eggs every morning from your very own flock of suburban hens?  Most associations have strict rules regarding the aesthetic of your home and yard, how the property can be used and even the way you decorate for holidays.  If painting your home lime-green, or having your skivvies on the line to bask in the noon-day sun for all to see are things that you are simply not willing to live without, then you’ll want to be sure that the community shares your convictions.  Decide what is important to you and be certain to do your research.