You’ve finally landed that raise, your kids are getting a little older, and you’re ready to move on up! Better than the east side, you’re headed to one of the swanky gated communities you’ve always dreamed of living in.
And then you realized it’s governed by a homeowner’s association.
You’ve seen The X-Files. You know how important it is to find a good fit with your HOA. And what’s more, you genuinely want to get along well with your new neighbors.
So what do you do?
If you’re completely new to HOAs, we recommend you start with our Beginner’s Guide to Condo and Homeowner Associations. Once you’re familiar with what an HOA is and what it does, check this list of six things you need to do before joining an HOA.
1. Learn the Rules
Every HOA is different. Make sure you understand the rules for the one you’re joining and that they’re reasonable enough for your lifestyle. In addition, learn how the HOA is organized, how often it meets, what happens when rules aren’t met, and the procedure for changing the rules. Conversely, it’s important to know what restrictions the HOA places on you as a homeowner. This information should be available online, but if you can’t find it, your real estate agent should be able to help.
2. Know the Fees
How often are fees collected? Annually? Quarterly? What do fees cover? What is the budget for your HOA, and how stable have their operating budgets and financial statements been over the last few years? Are there funds in reserve for emergencies? These answers will help you gauge how well your HOA is managed, how often you have to pay regular fees, and whether you should expect increased dues or special assessments for larger issues.
3. Know Your Coverage
What services are included in your HOA fees? Many condo associations cover much of the external maintenance of homes. For single-family home communities, your individual maintenance is likely not covered, but you may receive snow removal or other seasonal services. HOAs can also cover community buildings, clubhouses, or other communal facilities.
4. Make Sure the Home You’re Buying is in Compliance
It’s important that you understand the structure and organization of your HOA before you purchase your home so you know if it already meets compliance. Have rules recently changed that inspired the former homeowner to leave? Will you be required to make upgrades or repairs upon moving in? If so, this could add considerably to your move-in expenses.
5. Sit in on a Meeting
Your HOA could end up being more or less casual than you expect. On the one hand, casual HOAs may give you a lot of leeway in your home repairs and upgrades in years to come. On the other hand, that could also make it difficult to deal with neighbors who are out of compliance. Understand the culture and general practices of your HOA by sitting in on a meeting and seeing the committee in action. If you can’t make it to a meeting, ask for a copy of the minutes from the last meeting.
6. Assess the Environmental Practices
Did you know that your HOA can dictate what fertilizers, pesticides, and sprinkler systems you’re required to use (or not to use)? If environmental impact is important to you, or conversely if you’ll do whatever it takes to get that Stepford-green front lawn, know your HOA’s stance on lawn care and maintenance.
You’re in! Now what?
Wow! Your HOA is a great fit for you and your lifestyle. It covers everything you need it to cover, and it doesn’t overly restrict your decorative birdhouse collection. Now that you’re settled into your fabulous new home in your wonderful new neighborhood, you’re good to go, right?
Your HOA governs your home for the duration of your ownership. It’s important to stay involved in its growth or transformation over the coming years. Here are four additional things you should do once you’ve joined an HOA.
7. Meet Your Neighbors
Your neighbors are just as invested in the neighborhood as are you. Get to know them and learn their tastes and motivations. Stay informed on any changes to the HOA rules. If necessary, your neighbors could be a great source of support if there are measures within the HOA that you’d like to change.
8. Get Involved
Go to your HOA meetings and voice your opinion about matters that are important to you. By being an upstanding member of the community, perhaps even a voting member of the board, you are making sure the process works in your favor.
9. Follow the Right Procedure with Complaints
If you develop a complaint about a particular neighbor, don’t go straight to the HOA board. Be professional and considerate about any issues you may have. Start by talking directly to your neighbor. Often a direct conversation means you can avoid board involvement. Along the same lines, if you have a complaint about the board itself or new regulations, follow proper procedure in addressing them.
10. Accept Any Fines Gracefully
Should you find yourself on the other end of fines or complaints, accept them gracefully and move on. The HOA works for the good of the community. As a positive community steward yourself, you should strive to pay fees and dues on time. (If you don’t like the rules that caught you, you could always get involved with the board and petition to change them.)
All real estate is local. In order to make confident real estate decisions, we believe it important for you to have timely and neighborhood-specific information. If you would like more information about HOA and COA rules for certain neighborhoods, our experts at Beverly-Hanks are here to help. Contact us today to speak with a Beverly-Hanks real estate agent about buying homes and land in association-governed communities.
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