The Perfect Location

Know Before You Buy: Homeowners' Associations

One of the big decisions you should make before deciding on a move is location, and often a move is prompted by a need for more security or amenities. You may find that many of the homes that meet your requirements are also located in neighborhoods governed by an association. Read on for a guide on asking the right questions before you buy into a home with a homeowner association.

What does my monthly dues get me?

What your fees gets you can vary quite widely, from just common area maintenance to almost everything else you could possible want. In most cases, you might expect some the following amenities:

  • Some utilities, such as water, basic cable television, wifi etc.
  • Trash service
  • Grounds maintenance, such as mowing, edging, blowing etc.
  • Insurance
  • Pools, spas, tennis courts, golfing, fitness centers
  • Sidewalk and road maintenance
  • Outside repainting every few years
  • Limited access gates
  • Security systems
  • Parking
  • Transportation
  • Social events

and more

What are the association's rules?

You will want to request a copy of the documentation for the association, which will include bylaws, rules, regulations, minutes of previous meetings and financial statements. Most associations have fairly stringent rules, for example:

  1. What type of vehicles can be parked at your home.
  2. What color you can paint your home.
  3. What type of flag or signs you can add to your property.
  4. Restrictions about parking of boats and recreational vehicles.
  5. Whether or not pets are allowed and if so, how many and what type.

And so on.

How many homes or units are rented out?

Many people feel that those who rent don't take as much care with keeping the property up as owners, and often lenders won't lend if there is a certain percentage of homes rented in relationship to owner occupied.

Speak to the residents directly

Show up one late afternoon or Saturday morning and try to catch a neighbor that's willing to give you the low-down on what the homeowners association is really like. If they have strong feelings against it, find out why. These associations are a lot more powerful than you may realize and can really sting homeowners with penalties and fines for disregarding rules. Some are run like mini-fiefdoms, so be sure you know what you are getting into before your interest in a particular home goes too far. That being said, homes governed by associations are often in better-kept and safer neighborhoods and can be just the thing, if you find the right one for you.

Last, but not least, speak to your real estate agent about a particular association.