In the April 26, 2015 blog “Buyers, Agents, and HOAs” I defined HOAs and generally described the evolution that made them so common in today’s communities. In this blog, I want to step forward and look at some of the pros and cons of living in an area governed by HOAs for buyers to consider. The crucial thing I try to do for buyers, is not simply state the CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions) of the potential HOA, buy also give meaningful examples of exactly HOW these affect residents daily lives. So… I’ll do that here as well by using a few examples to give HOA CC&Rs some context.
First, let’s look at some pros, benefits, and cons, negative consequences, of building or buying a home that is part of an HOA community as they apply to the actual structure. I referenced it before, but the main pro or positive purpose of an HOA is to help an area maintain its collective property value. The biggest investment many people make is purchasing a home. They hope that the home will increase in value over time and they will therefore build more equity. If an area is allowed to fall into disrepair, it can negatively affect the value and therefore decrease the return on the owner’s investment. CC&Rs initially create certain standards of size, quality, materials, architecture style, and placement on lots so that homes have similar market values to begin with and that the community has certain symmetry of style of homes. This does not mean the homes must be identical, but…. Let’s start at the ground and work our way up. CC&Rs usually have outlined restrictions that define “set-back” lines on lots…. meaning: the structure of the home must not be built a certain number of feet from property lines. Obviously, this affects the placement of the home but it can also prevent some house plans from physically fitting on the lot, thereby narrowing choices. This can be good for the neighborhood, preventing a house from building with the front door literally stepping out to the road or the home being built on a shared property line which could make it seem overcrowded to a neighboring home… a good buffering zone. What about architectural styles? Love an area but want to be different? See yourself in the unique, ultra-modern, white block house? That may not work if there are restrictions governing exterior material (some dictate that block must be covered with another material – stone, brick, stucco….) or even a certain pitch roof (the flat roof you envision with rooftop deck won’t work if you must have a 9/12 roof pitch). Did you always want a lime green door with fuchsia trim? Better check. This may be allowed, even encouraged, if you are in a community of Victorian “Ginger Bread House” style homes, but not if it’s a neighborhood of traditional brick ranchers. Other things that may be restricted are roof colors and style of shingle, exterior window color and material, or types of exterior shutters. Garage doors may not be allowed to face the front or decks may have to be a certain size and color. Patio material may be restricted to pavers rather than concrete or vice versa. Even exterior lights may have some guidelines on wattage or brightness control, placement, and covering. This can begin to sound like a stifling list of restrictions but truthfully, most people appreciate the overall affect and there are communities with a wider versus narrower spectrum of choices. Once the homes are established, these guidelines will help create a feeling of cohesiveness that ties the homes together and unifies the community with a certain style or feel – and can make it highly desirable (remember property value…).
Now, let’s think about how HOAs affect ongoing life within their communities. Once communities are established, HOA CC&Rs can also affect how we live within them. On a good note, your dues may be used to maintain a community clubhouse which you can use or a pool that is maintained by the HOA. Many HOAs also maintain fountains in the retention ponds, entrance landscaping and lighting. Even things you don’t think about but certainly notice if they are neglected like changing the bulbs and maintaining street lights. Mulching, mowing, and caring for common areas are a great benefit to residents. Many of the CC&Rs also affect individually owned areas as well. Some prohibit residents from parking certain styles of vehicle on their property. Well, this is really good protection from your neighbor bringing several old cars to the driveway to use for parts and build another car, while leaving rusting partially disassembled, non-running cars placed up on cinderblocks that consume your view from the idyllic front porch you love and use to relax in your rocking chairs. Good show HOA! Right?.... BUT what if you are an avid boater? Summer means one thing to your family – on the water as soon as chores are finished and home at dark. Not being able to park your boat in the driveway can really affect your lifestyle. Now you must store it somewhere else, go pick it up and drop it off before coming home. Hmmm. What if you are an avid gardener? There can be dictates about what you can and can’t do with your garden (how big, what can be grown, can you use stakes to hold up tomato plants?). Many HOAs restrict free standing structures from being built. That is usually good. No one can slap up a string of rusting storage sheds in their back yards to obstruct the site lines and potentially weather poorly. BUT what if you want to buy your grandchildren a mini-replica of your home as a playhouse for the backyard that is more expensive than your first car? Still no. Fences make good neighbors, right? Well….. there are usually guidelines for what style fence you are allowed to have as well as its maintenance. Some communities prohibit fences because lawn services are used to maintain all properties. Amazing perk of your HOA dues, but it may change the way your dog is allowed to go outdoors and run your property.
It may seem that these examples are creating a strong case against the restrictive nature of HOA CC&Rs. In truth, they can really be viewed as just the opposite: a fair and clear way to ensure that neighbors care for their property and maintain it similarly to prevent someone from negatively affecting another’s property value. Buyers always have the option to buy outside of an HOA community and won’t be restrained by CC&Rs but they must remember that neither will be their neighbors! It ALWAYS goes back to education and information. I feel like that is part of my role as a real estate professional, to help people understand that a property has CC&Rs and that potential buyers factor them into their decisions. Most people just don’t like to be told “no” after the fact. As long as you empower buyers with information, they make great decisions and everyone’s happy.
Visit my webstie at www.BlakeRickels.com for more information!