8 Things You Should Know About Living in a HOA Community

When you buy a condo, townhouse, or any other type of property in a planned development, you’re bound to the rules of the Homeowners’ Association (HOA). While you might have already known that rules existed when you bought, you likely never gave them a second thought, until there’s a problem.

It’s obviously important to know how much you have to pay in HOA fees to cover the cost of maintaining common areas of the building or community. But there’s a lot more to know about HOAs and how they work before you decide to make a purchase in one of these communities. 


1. The Unit Needs to Be in Compliance With HOA Rules

HOA rules are to be followed by every unit owner in the building or complex. If a unit is non-compliant with the current rules, the HOA will step in. You’ll basically be inheriting problems if you buy into a property that’s already raised red flags with the HOA, which can give you nothing but headaches afterward. Before you make a purchase, find out what the rules are, and if the property is compliant.

For instance, a unit may have tile flooring on the balcony or a BBQ hooked up that the HOA strictly prohibits. If the unit is not currently compliant, determine what changes will need to be made before you seal the deal. 

2. HOAs Can Dictate How Your Landscaping is Maintained

If you live in a gated community or subdivision that’s governed by an HOA, you’ll have to abide by its landscaping rules. For instance, many HOAs don’t allow the use of pesticides and fertilizers on the grass, or they’ll limit the size of vegetable gardens. You might even be prohibited from installing solar panel systems or building compost. Make sure you identify any restrictions before making any buying decisions.

3. You Need to Make Sure You Can Tolerate Stringent Rules

What is your personality like? Are you the type of person who isn’t fond of being told how you can and can’t maintain your property? If so, you may want to rethink a particular HOA complex, or forego HOAs altogether.

One of the things that homeowners love about owning a home versus renting is the freedom they have to modify their properties. But HOA rules can have a huge impact on this liberty, depending on how strict the rules are.

4. Details About the Fees Should Be Identified

Everyone knows that along with HOA community living comes fees, but it’s up to you to find out exactly what these fees cover, aside from just the amount you need to pay each month. Find out how these fees are determined, and how often increases will occur.

Identify what the fees have historically been over the last few years to get an idea of what to expect as far as potential increases in the near future. And don’t forget to ask about the reserve fund, and if it’s capable of covering any major repairs that may be on the table.

5. Under-Management Can Be a Major Problem

Property management plays a critical role in HOA communities. They’re responsible for maintaining the property, dealing with problem residents, ensuring the HOA rules are followed by all unit owners, making repairs, and resolving owner complaints.

An under-managed property will have a team that is not present very often, and doesn’t seem to really care about the well-being of the property nor the concerns of the residents. Try to find out what the property management company is like, and see what current owners have to say about how they manage the property.   

6. Does the HOA Have Catastrophe Insurance on the Building?

This is a particularly important point if you are considering buying in a building or complex that’s located in an area that’s prone to natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, fires, or earthquakes.

Of course, freak disasters can happen just about anywhere, so it’s best to find out if the HOA you’re thinking about buying into has catastrophe insurance. If it doesn’t, and the complex is damaged as a result of a natural disaster, the HOA may go after the owners to pitch in to cover for repairs.

7. How Will the HOA Affect Your Finances?

The purchase price of the unit itself is one financial factor to consider when creating a budget, but you also need to understand how the monthly fees will affect your finances. It could very well be that high HOA fees could cost you a lot more than a freehold detached home that you think doesn’t fit into your budget.

8. Conflict on the Condo Board of Directors Can Be an Issue

The condo’s board of directors is made up of owners of the HOA. Ideally, all members should have the best interest of the complex and its owners in mind, and should get along. However, many boards are made up of owners who don’t see eye to eye, and are conflicted on just about every issue brought to the table.

Sometimes board members may have an agenda aside from running the building, including hiring companies that they have direct interest in just to put some money in their pocket. Other members may be on a power trip and don’t make decisions based on the good of the building.

Speak with the current owners to get a sense of what the current board is like, or have a chat with the members themselves. You may even want to become a member yourself after buying into the community so you can be more involved in making the community a better place.

Even though laws exist that govern how HOAs behave, these associations still have a lot of power over your homeowner rights. As such, you’d be well-advised to find out as much about the HOA before buying into the complex.