If you come across a home in a neighborhood with perfectly manicured lawns and community amenities like a pool and clubhouse, there’s a good chance it’s regulated by a homeowners association. You may wonder what an HOA does, how much it costs, and how it might affect you and your family.
Below, we’ll dive deeper into these questions to help you determine whether living under a homeowners association is right for you.
What is a homeowners association?
A homeowners association is a private organization that oversees the management of a residential community. It establishes a set of rules and regulations known as bylaws that residents must follow. Its main role is to maintain a community and ensure it functions smoothly.
They are widely seen in planned neighborhoods, townhomes, and multiunit condominiums or apartment buildings. Each resident must pay dues and follow the rules. In turn, they enjoy a well-polished, safe, and social neighborhood.
The HOA is run by a board of directors — volunteers elected by the community to uphold the rules and represent the homeowners’ best interests. With the help of bylaws and input from community members, the board supports dealing with conflicts and makes critical decisions regarding the community’s finances, projects, operations, and activities. In addition, they might plan events to foster a sense of community and give residents something to look forward to.
The pros and cons of living in an HOA
There are several benefits and drawbacks to consider, including:
- Common amenities: Homeowners associations typically come with various amenities residents can enjoy. These added perks may include playgrounds, swimming pools, walking trails, and fitness centers.
- Easy maintenance: Most of the routine upkeep, such as trash collection, snow removal, and even lawn maintenance, is handled by a team of professionals. This can significantly reduce the amount of yearly home maintenance you're responsible for taking care of. If you’re an older homeowner, you’ll be able to comfortably age in place because typical home maintenance tasks — and the physical labor required for each — will be off your plate.
- Higher property values: Imposed rules and regulations generally keep the community in tip-top shape. As a result, property values are usually higher. Not only will your home be well maintained with solid curb appeal, but it’ll also offer bonus amenities that will likely attract home buyers should you decide to sell.
- Simple conflict resolution: If you’re frustrated because your neighbor has loud parties or won’t pick up after their pet, for example, you can bring up your issue with the board of directors. They’ll work to resolve it on your behalf.
- Stronger sense of community: It’s not uncommon for residents to get to know one another and build strong friendships through communal spaces and events. The sense of community is particularly beneficial for seniors who want socialization to stay happy and fulfilled.
- Chance to join the board: If you’re passionate about maintaining a neighborhood, helping other residents, and meeting new people, you might benefit from becoming an HOA board member. While this is a volunteer position, it can be very rewarding.
- Dues: You’re required to pay monthly dues to access services and amenities. These can range from a couple of hundred dollars a year to a few thousand, depending on the community and its amenities. You may choose to pay them on a monthly or yearly basis.
- Risk of late fees, liens, and foreclosure: If you don’t pay your dues on time, you might be on the hook for a late fee. More severe consequences for consistent missed payments include a lien or even foreclosure.
- Rules and regulations to follow: When you move into a community, you agree to follow all its rules and regulations. If you break a bylaw, you can expect fines, liens, and other consequences, especially if you do so continually.
- Limitations: The established bylaws outline what you can and cannot do to your property. For example, you might have to choose certain paint colors for your siding and gutters or limit your holiday decorations. You may also require approval for certain renovations.
- Potential for poor management: A poorly managed HOA can be problematic, especially if you decide to sell in the future. It may lead to unaddressed maintenance, neighbor disputes, and issues with common areas.
Frequently asked questions
What amenities does an HOA offer?
Every HOA offers different amenities. The most common ones include maintenance, trash removal, utilities, swimming pools, clubhouses, playgrounds, and fitness centers. More luxurious planned communities might offer rooftop decks, coworking spaces, spas, and pet grooming stations in addition to the basics.
What is an HOA fee?
HOA fees are dues owed to cover the maintenance of the neighborhood's common areas and outdoor space, services, and utilities. They might also pay for social events, such as holiday parties or cookouts. According to the U.S. Census, the average dues are roughly $170 per month. The fees will depend on where you live, the number of houses in the neighborhood, amenities offered, and operating expenses.
What are HOA rules and regulations?
Rules and regulations vary from community to community. Some might request that you get approval for a home addition, restrict the number of pets you have, or even limit the plants you keep in your front yard. It’s critical to learn about the specific bylaws of a community and ensure they fit with your preferred lifestyle before purchasing a home.
Can an HOA change rules after purchase?
Yes, HOAs are ever-evolving, meaning rules can change after you buy your house and move in. Typically, bylaws outline the process and what conditions must be met before the board can enact new rules.
In most cases, a detailed notice is sent prior, informing others of the proposed change. Community members have the chance to share their thoughts and feedback in meetings. Then, the board votes on whether to adopt or amend the proposed rule. So, while regulations do change, every member can have a say in those changes.
How do you navigate conflicts with your HOA?
Knowing how to deal with HOA issues is critical. Every homeowner's association has a dispute resolution policy and rules that dictate how conflicts are handled. For example, if you're bothered by your neighbor who doesn't clean up after his pet, you can inform your HOA board through a written request, and they'll work towards a resolution.
Generally, the road to resolution always begins with mediation as a first step. This non-adversarial approach encourages open communication between the conflicting parties and is often facilitated by a neutral third party. When meditation fails, some HOAs turn to arbitration. Unlike mediation, arbitration results in a binding decision made by an impartial third party.
Issues with the organization or board can be trickier. You may find that your HOA has unenforceable HOA rules. These rules may contradict state or federal laws or be enacted without following proper approvals and procedures. Alternatively, you may feel they're enforced on an inconsistent or selective basis. If you believe your HOA has unenforceable rules, it's best to consult a legal professional.
Is membership mandatory in an HOA community?
In most cases, you must be a member, pay dues, and follow the bylines. Occasionally, joining is optional and can give you access to shared amenities and other perks. By declining membership, you lose the opportunity to enjoy the amenities or might have to pay extra to use them.
Is downsizing to an HOA-led community a good idea?
Downsizing for retirement is an all-to-common practice — and for many, the idea of joining a planned community is rather compelling. Making the move may be wise if you want to forgo home maintenance and hope to enjoy a sense of community through social activities and amenities. The downside is that fees can tie up your monthly cash flow and limit your options for aging in place renovations.
Whether the decision is a good idea depends on your unique goals and financial capabilities. If you can find a home in a location that you love, that allows you to live out your golden years how you'd enjoy, it could be worth exploring.
Living in an HOA can give you the chance to enjoy life in a well-maintained neighborhood with a variety of amenities that you may not have access to otherwise. Before you move forward with a home, however, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons to make sure it makes sense for your unique lifestyle and preferences.