Homeowners Associations Can Be Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy

*Homeowners’ associations can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Here’s how to assess if yours is a good one.*

When it comes to homeowners’ associations (HOAs), some people are completely turned off, and others live by them. HOAs are in a delicate position, after all. On one hand, no one wants to be told exactly what shade of tan they must paint their house; however, no one wants to live next to a home that looks as if it has been abandoned for 20 years (Nightmare Scenario) either. Luckily, HOAs are not out to ruin homeowners’ lives, and they’re certainly not looking to get tied up in legal battles. In fact, HOA rules were created to keep neighborhoods safe, clean, and friendly.

But how do you know if the neighborhood in which you’re about to buy a home (or the one in which you currently reside) has an upstanding HOA? Use these tips to assess if your HOA is a good one.

Do your homework

Buying a house you love is a lot like a first crush. You’re so smitten with your beloved that you could fail to see the potential negatives and, in the case of a home, a really poorly managed HOA. Don’t want to end up in a hostile takeover situation of your HOA? Do your homework on the HOA before you buy. Some states even require it.

Attend a board meeting

What better way to get a real feel for how a neighborhood's HOA works than to simply attend an HOA meeting? (Check your state’s laws, though, as not all potential buyers are permitted to attend these meetings or have access to the board’s minutes.) If there’s no homeowner representation or the meeting is conducted poorly, those are red flags that something is amiss.

Learn more about the previous owners

You don’t necessarily need to know everything about the people who once owned your home. But it does help to find out if they were up to date on their HOA fees, if there are any existing fines, and, of course, any outstanding HOA requests.

Be aware of site inspections

To keep a community safe and looking good, the HOA or its management company will often do site inspections (How to Avoid “Gotcha!” HOA Scenarios). Some require an interior inspection of a home when you move in to ensure everything is up to date, while others will randomly inspect throughout the year, looking for neglected yards and landscaping or anything out of the ordinary.

Know how to get approval

Some neighborhoods are lenient when it comes to landscaping changes, renovations, or additions to a home’s exterior. But others are … well, not. Either way, if you plan to change anything on the outside of your home, it’s best to know the approval process — and follow it. “Some neighbors had requested permission to put an asphalt shingle roof on their house because of its low pitch, even though asphalt shingles are not permitted in our community roofing standards,” says Mary Westheimer, an HOA board member in Phoenix, AZ http://www.trulia.com/az/phoenix.

Change the rules

It can be (and has been) done. “In many states, you can start a petition against a rule and get a number of unit owners or members to sign the petition,” explains Matt Jelinek, a licensed community and association manager for the Galleria Group in Oakland Park, FL http://www.trulia.com/fl/oakland_park. “Another [way] is through the formal channel of the board of directors and getting a vote. You’ll see these interesting little slips of paper in most states when your annual meeting comes around. Usually, one is a general proxy and the other is a limited proxy. If you really want to effect change, knock on your neighbors’ doors and ask if they plan to attend the annual meeting. If not, ask if you can have their general proxy. A colleague of mine in an HOA had a board president who went door-to-door with a checklist in a 140-unit HOA. They had a seven-member board and he showed up with 130 general proxies. Guess who got what he wanted?”

Submitted by Shannon Stiger