Thirty Years of Lessons learned in Home Owner Associations HOA’s
This happens to be the best neighborhood I’ve lived in, and
we’ve moved around quite a bit. For our
very first home in South Carolina, we decided to go with an HOA to protect our
investment. The developer, a large
lumber company, already owned the land and didn’t have an
upfront investment. There wasn’t a pool,
and mostly the HOA board went around looking for violations and designating a
“Yard of the Month” . Some of
the residents put their heads together , spent countless hours, and were in the
processing finding the resources to get a neighborhood pool built. There was a nearby neighborhood where the
residents frequently stole their neighbor’s yard decorations of white-washed
tires because they thought they looked cheap.
That convinced me it’s better to spell out restrictions rather than let
neighbors try to enforce their own rules.
We were relocated to Nebraska, where our homeowner’s
fees were reasonable, but we got caught with a surprise bill — a Sanitation
Improvement District (SID) fee where the costs and risks go to the homeowners,
not the developer. The economy
slowed down and in a couple years our SID
fees went from $1800 annually to $4200 on a home we bought for $107,000. Ouch!
This neighborhood didn’t even have a pool or tennis court. Eventually a bond was rewritten, and new, less
expensive houses were built and sold so our SID fees went down to a reasonable
Next, we moved to Denver and we thought we were smart
getting into a neighborhood with no SID, a swimming pool, a golf course, and
low homeowners fees. After we got moved
in, we learned we would have to buy a $10,000 membership to the pool and golf
course, and pay about $1,000 per summer to use the pool and golf course. The membership was transferrable upon sale of
the home, we just happened to buy a home without a membership, and weren’t able
to swing the $10,000 after closing. Luckily Colorado had good recreation
centers, and that is where my children went to swim. They sometimes used the neighborhood pool by
paying guest fees and going with neighbors who had the membership. Once again,
the developer had passed the costs of the development to the homeowners — this
time by requesting a large membership fee rather than forming a SID.
I once lived in a neighborhood where they dictated which
garbage service we used to limit the days that garbage cans were on the street. Guess what?
I loved it! We got really cheap
rates, because it was the whole neighborhood.
They also collected twice a week on Monday and Thursday, which was
really handy when we traveled out of town.
Conformance is not necessarily a bad thing!
One time I had just moved into a neighborhood when animal
control came knocking at my door saying a neighbor had made a complaint about
my dog barking incessantly. I replied
that it was a different neighbor’s dogs
who had barked continuously for a few days while the roofers replace their
roof. The officer asked to see my dog, and she
laughed when my sweet, old, arthritic Great Dane lumbered out, begging to be
petted. The animal control officer then
sold me a dog license for $10, and it was kind of nice to get that done from my
home. I still laugh at how silly my
neighbors were not to talk to me first
– to at least welcome me to the neighborhood before calling animal
While we lived in Denver, a neighbor’s request for a
birdbath fountain was denied. So he put
up a really ugly decoration instead.
That’s where I learned that within the structure of restrictions, there
needs to be some variation. That people
need some leeway to accommodate their tastes, but I still believe whitewashed
tires are not appropriate and I think you would all agree it would cheapen the
value of your home. Flexibility within a
structure is needed. It’s same formula I
was given to raise my children. It must
be a universal truth.
We have learned to be more careful in fully understanding
the by-laws, covenants, restrictions and fees before moving into a
neighborhood. People are amazed each
time we move how quick and profitable our home sales are. Even though I was not happy with some of the
costs or policies of the homeowner’s associations, I firmly believe they helped
appreciate the value of our houses. We
also keep our own yard well maintained.
Buyers always comment how the
mature landscaping and freshly painted
exteriors and interiors helped them make the decision. Our last three homes sold to people who knew
someone in our neighborhood who told them our home and lawn was always
well-maintained. We didn’t just fix it
up at the last minute.
When we moved to Tennessee, we were impressed the
developer carried the maintenance costs of this subdivision when it was
starting out so that folks could have a pool and tennis court. I’m in a subdivision where the developer
who risked the initial start-up costs is
relinquishing his control on the architecture review committee, and only asked
to maintain his 10 little votes. I didn’t have to pay a $4200 annual SID assessment like our neighborhood in
Nebraska, and I didn’t have to pay a $10,000 membership fee like our Denver
I only have to pay $360 per year to the homeowner’s association. That’s averages only $12 per month! Even if the future board votes for a 3%
increase in dues per year, my homeowner
fees will only go up about one dollar a month!
After learning how a nearby neighborhood was recently charged an extra
$500 assessment per household for flooding problems last spring, I have to
agree with our current policy of slowing raising homeowner fees, and having
some money on reserve to spare homeowners from surprise expenses. Based on our past experiences, living in this
neighborhood in Tennessee is a bargain!
That’s really the bottom line on a homeowner’s
association. We are pooling our
resources to share in the costs of having amenities and a well maintained
neighborhood. We all want the
neighborhood to look nice so as neighbors, we can maximize the value of our homes without
the neighborhood pulling us down when we refinance or sell.