If you’re considering purchasing a new home, one factor you may not have considered is the presence of a Homeowners Association or HOA. While you can find subdivisions in nearly any American city, Homeowners Associations are usually found in planned communities, including condominium, townhouse and single-family developments.
An HOA is a private association, usually a registered corporation, designed to maintain property standards and common elements of the community. Just like any corporation, they have a board of directors and by-laws, often called covenants, that all members must adhere to.
In exchange for membership dues, the HOA is responsible for maintaining common areas like parks and community pools, as well as potentially providing some services like landscaping or snow removal.
While the concept of an HOA may seem novel to homeowners who live on independent properties without a management association, as many as 24% of Americans live in a community with an HOA, so they are not as uncommon as you might expect.
In short, yes. If you’re considering purchasing a home or unit in a planned community with an HOA, that purchase automatically makes you a member of the HOA and requires that you comply with all covenants and pay membership dues.
While some HOAs receive bad press for being unnecessarily restrictive or improperly managed, the general concept and motivation of living in a community with an HOA makes a lot of sense.
HOAs enforce a number of rules, including standards for landscaping and property maintenance from the individual homeowners, the number, types and location of vehicles that can be parked on a property, and even what types of modifications are allowed to the home. The idea is, by maintaining a high standard of consistency, the community is also able to maintain its property values and be viewed as a desirable place to live.
They also decide what colors homeowners are allowed to paint their homes and stain their decks, in order to create a consistent color palette throughout the neighborhood. And they ensure that homeowners keep lawns, decks and home exteriors in good repair, so you don’t have to worry about living next door to a home with overgrown grass and chipped paint.
HOA fees are typically charged monthly and vary from one community to the next. They could be as little as $100 or as much as $700. This is something that should be discussed as you are considering a home purchase. Make sure you get the upcoming year’s fees in writing and, if possible, ask for a history of fees in the past, so you get a sense of whether the HOA increases fees regularly.
HOA use fees for a number of different reasons. Fees are used to pay contractors for maintenance of common areas, whether that is mowing park lawns, treating the pool or plowing snow. If these contractor fees change, the HOA fees will change as well. The HOA is also often responsible for holding liability insurance on common areas, and if these insurance premiums rise, the cost is passed down to members.
When evaluating HOA fees and whether or not you want to live in a particular HOA, the key is to look at historic trends and any projected fee increases that might be available. While small gradual increases typically reflect increased cost of service, sudden and large increases can be indicative of a poorly-run HOA and should motivate you to dig further or look elsewhere.
Most HOAs will have a few avenues for communication, depending on your needs and the urgency of the matter. HOA covenants will typically require an annual general meeting where all HOA members have an opportunity to voice concerns and propose changes. In addition, the HOA will hold regular board meetings, where members may also have a chance to speak, within certain time and topic restrictions.
While these might seem difficult to fit in a busy schedule, think of attending these meetings as an investment: One day you will need the HOA’s help or approval and your visibility plus the relationships you form will make a difference.
If you have a concern you feel your HOA needs to address, particularly related to property and design standards, it’s important to submit this communication in writing. Many HOAs will require written statements before they can take action, so even if you’re friendly with an HOA board member or two, you will still have to write it down.
A quick internet search will reveal a host of news stories about HOAs imposing unfairly harsh restrictions on their members or charging outrageous fines for small infractions. Another thing that comes up is maintenance and repair assessment cycles that can surprise homeowners with large expenses. While most HOAs do a wonderful job and bring great benefit to their members, not every one of them is a model of good business sense and community engagement.
If you have concerns about the way an HOA is run, either before or after you move into a community, the first step is to do your research and talk to other members. If you’re finding the covenant enforcement is inconsistent or unfair or there are frequent unplanned expenses, there’s every chance some of your neighbors are finding the same thing. There is strength in numbers, so before you decide to take on the HOA by yourself, see if anyone else in the community is willing to help.
If you live in a community with an HOA and are considering making changes to your home’s exterior appearance, like staining your deck, planting certain plants or changing your siding, it’s crucial to read through the covenants and get approval from the HOA’s Architectural or Design Review Committee (ARC or DRC) before you plan the work. HOAs do not like surprises and can fine or even lien homes that are out of compliance.
It’s common for HOAs to have color or material restrictions, and this is for the good reasons listed at the outset. If you have to stay in a specific color palette, work with a company like Nichiha who can create custom colors for their fiber cement siding to ensure you are getting a beautiful exterior that is HOA-compliant.
Most upscale HOA community covenants frown on thin fiber cement because of its common use on lower-end tract homes and apartments but they want its durability and fire-resistance. Nichiha ⅝” thick high-design, high-performance has been successfully installed in many higher-end neighborhoods whose HOAs explicitly forbid thin fiber cement.
If you’re interested in fiber cement and your HOA doesn’t accept it, reach out to our team. Nichiha fiber cement isn’t the same as most of our competitors. Its upscale design, incredible durability and fire-resistant capabilities add value and curb appeal to any neighborhood. Sometimes all it takes is a quick call to change an HOA’s opinion.