What to know before you buy into a homeowner's association (HOA):
Once you have an eye on a home, ask the real estate agent if it is part of a homeowner's association or whether there are any type of deed restrictions. If so, make sure you take the following steps:
- Get copies of the governing documents from the association manager or obtain a copy from your local clerk of court.
If you don't understand the rules, ask your real estate agent or lawyer for help.
- Take time to talk to people who live there about the association.
- Know how much the assessments are.
- If you are on a tight budget, find out how easy it is for the board to increase the assessment amount.
- Does the community have a cash reserve for new projects?
- Are there restrictions on renting?
- Do you feel comfortable with the architectural guidelines?
- What are the rules on pets, flags, satellite dishes, fences, patios and home businesses?
- If you are considering an age-restricted community, what is the policy on underage residents and visitors?
- Consider whether the rules fit your lifestyle and sense of community.
HOA's commonly regulate:
- Shingles and exterior paint color.
- Fences and hedges: whether you can have them at all, and if so, what type, color and how tall -- right down to the inches.
- Trees, lawns and weeds: what types of plants can be put in and even how many times a month you must water and mow your lawn.
- Pools: These are often hot-button items. Boards regulate whether owners can have pools, diving boards and how large they can be. Community pools often come with strict rules on times they can be used, supervision of youngsters and whether guests are allowed.
- Swing sets and basketball hoops: At some communities these are big no-nos. At others, they must be small and out of sight. Owners often get into trouble if they are in the front yard.
- Garages and sheds: Unauthorized sheds are another sticking point, and junky garages will get you in trouble, as will leaving your garage door up.
- Mailboxes and garbage cans: size, color and types. Also, leaving garbage cans out for more than a day can get you fined.
- Pets: size, type and breeds. Dogs off leashes are usually prohibited.
- Outdoor lights: One family got in trouble for leaving their tasteful, white decorative Christmas lights up until February. Know what types of lights and how many are allowed.