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Benefits and Drawbacks of Homeowners Associations

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Talk to 10 different people about homeowners associations (HOAs), and you’ll likely get 10 different opinions. Some people love living in a development with an HOA, while others find it too restrictive. Depending on your lifestyle and needs, it can be a great experience or one that feels too intrusive. Today about one in five Americans live in a house with home-owner or condo fees.

HOAs began in the mid-19th century but didn’t really gain in popularity until the early 1960s, as an outgrowth of the postwar housing boom and the growth of the middle class. Typically, an HOA is incorporated by the developer during the development and sales process, and gradually control and ownership are transferred to the home purchasers upon completion of the project. The original owner/developer quits membership in the association and has nothing more to do with it. Anyone purchasing a home in an existing housing development with an HOA must become a member. There is no other option. The overall purpose of the HOA is to represent the residents. Depending on how active these associations are, they can be quite effective in providing forums for common home-owner representation and needs.

HOAs Are Like Small Towns

A homeowners association governs the development like a small town. The HOA’s powers include imposing fines, organizing activities and providing certain services. It can also levy assessments and force home owners to pay them. Many HOAs have yearly dues, and a homeowners association can legally impose monetary fines to enforce its decisions. The groups usually appoint a board of directors, which may then elect an association president and other officers. Meetings are typically monthly but can be quarterly, depending on the size of the group.

If the HOA is larger, it will likely be broken down into committees. Committees are also appointed for various activities: maintenance, membership dues and neighborhood representation. An accounting committee or, in smaller HOAs, an individual is assigned to present the annual budget and monitor expenses and funds collected. During the foreclosure crisis, some HOAs began to lose revenue as people living in homes facing foreclosure stopped paying their fees.

HOAs Can Promote Neighborhood Harmony and Uniformity

HOAs offer many benefits to the home owner. According to the bylaws of the association, it can collectively represent the group for whatever purposes assigned. For example, to maintain a certain degree of conformity, the association can stipulate which changes are permitted for the exterior of the buildings. Sometimes the HOA can determine acceptable noise levels. If there are common areas, such as gardens and pools, the members can appoint an internal management committee or elect to bring in an outside maintenance company. On snowy days, a snow-removal company may need to be called in, and this service will be paid for out of the association’s funds. For condos or groups with shared structures or parking lots, fees can go to upkeep.

HOAs Can Be Restrictive and a Financial Drain

If you want to change the color of your house or even add a new tree, you may run afoul of your local organization. Also, if your HOA decides to undertake a major capital improvement project and the governing group approves it, you may be left with no choice but to pay your share. If you fail to pay your dues or you go against the HOA rules, you could be assessed fees and late charges. If you disagree with some of the rules, it can be very hard to get them changed.

Overall, most people see an HOA as a positive. According to the Foundation for Community Association Research (FCAR), 70 percent of residents in common-interest communities say they are satisfied with their community-association experience. The FCAR’s research also found that 76 percent believe their own community-association rules “protect and enhance” property values.

By: Deidre Woollard

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