Would you like to buy a piece of property and then have someone else tell you what you can and can't do with it?
As strange as it may sound, this happens in many neighborhoods. In condominiums (condo for short), it always happens.
When you purchase a condo, you're only purchasing the unit and not the land on which it sits. There are shared amenities within a condo community, like a pool and barbecue area or a community room.
It costs money to maintain those things, which the homeowners pool together. Thus, there needs to be an entity that collects the money and oversees the maintenance and function of the property and amenities.
This is the condominium homeowners association, or HOA for short. Let's look at what you should know about HOAs before joining one.
1. Repairs and Maintenance
The number one reason for and benefit of having an HOA is for repairs and maintenance. Each of the homeowners has to pay dues to the HOA.
The treasurer collects this money and earmarks it for regular maintenance and upkeep of the property. The association also keep a certain amount in reserve for unforeseen maintenance costs, such as damage to the roof from a hail storm. Many associations keep this reserve on their own but some states have a minimum reserve requirement.
The big benefit to buying a condo rather than a house is that you don't have to worry about yard work and exterior maintenance. Plus, the HOA keeps the surrounding units in beautiful shape. This is important for when you sell your condo. Ugly, unkempt units surrounding yours can drag down its value.
2. Community Rules
Most associations also lay out certain community rules you must abide by. This can be anything from how many pets you can have and a size limit, not being noisy during nighttime hours, or even what color you can paint the exterior of your unit.
The point of all this is to ensure that the community looks nice and maintains a particular look. Behavior rules like noise ordinances are also handy. With so many people living in proximity it makes it easier for everyone to get along if there are clear guidelines for how to respect their neighbors.
Don't worry, before buying a condominium you'll have a chance to review the rules and back out of the sale if you won't be able to abide by them.
3. Rules Can Change
Something to keep in mind is that rules can change. How long do you plan to live in your condo?
This doesn't mean it's a bad idea to get involved in an HOA, but it is something to keep in mind. It may be a good idea to talk with the board of directors to find out what changes they anticipate in the years to come.
4. Board of Directors
Speaking of the board of directors, who are they? The homeowners elect the board of directors from amongst themselves. Thus, if you want to be part of managing your HOA, you can — if your neighbors will vote for you.
The number of members can vary, but there must be at least a president, secretary, and treasurer. The board of directors manages the property themselves. But many times they hire this out to a property management company that reports to the board.
5. The Squeeze
What happens when you don't abide by your HOAs rules? Well, they can put “the squeeze” on you.
An HOA is a legal entity that has the power to enforce its rules. If you fall behind in making payments or break the rules, they can take action against you. They may fine you, take away on-site privileges, or if things get serious — bring a lawsuit against you.
What if you don't feel you can handle someone else telling you what you can do with your property? Or maybe there are certain rules you don't want to live by. Then living in a condo and joining its association may not be the best idea for you.
Finding the Right HOA
Not all HOAs are the same. Some are poorly run. Others have stiffer rules. Even others have unscrupulous people on the board that abuse the funds they are in charge of.
You should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of joining any HOA.
A skilled real estate agent can help you with this. They can help make sure you understand what the HOA is asking you to abide by. They can also find and eliminate properties that don't fit your needs from the start. For example, if you have two large dogs you won't want to buy a condo where the association doesn't allow large pets.
Clever Partner Agents can get you on demand showings so you can narrow your search for the perfect condo quickly. As an bonus, Clever clients are eligible for a $1,000 home buyer’s rebate on properties that sell for more than $150,000.