There are lots of things about neighborhoods that are up for debate as matters of opinion. The quality of a neighborhood’s homeowners’ association is not one of these things. Some communities have HOAs that aren’t deeply involved and just enforce guidelines on exterior maintenance and cleanliness. Others, such as condo regimes, are stricter, more complex, and include things like maintenance, landscaping, trash collection, and in some cases water and/or electricity bills. No matter the level of involvement, an HOA should be consistent, fair, and attentive. When you’re looking to buy in a neighborhood with an HOA, there are a few things you should pay attention to.

The Neighborhood as a Whole

Don’t just focus on the property you’re thinking about buying. Take a look around and notice the condition of the rest of the neighborhood. Are there rusting or rotting fences? What condition are the signs in? What’s the condition of the roads, sidewalks, driveways, and other paved common areas? If there’s a pool, clubhouse, tennis court, or any other amenities, what share are they in? Are they clean and well cared for? Check out the lawns and exteriors of all the houses and buildings. Are they in disrepair or good order? If the community has a regime that takes care of roofs and exteriors, et cetera, pay super special attention to make sure the upkeep is good. If possible, talk to a few neighbors and ask how often maintenance is done and how satisfied they are with the HOA’s involvement.

The Reserve Study

A reserve study sets forth the HOA’s long-term funding plan and is a great tool for measuring the health of a homeowners association. Look for the funding percentage. If it’s at zero to thirty percent, there’s a high risk for a special assessment sometime soon. You should also look for the amount the reserve study recommends the HOA should save each year and how much the HOA actually saves. Find out whether they have been making capital improvements along with regular maintenance.

The Questions to Ask

Most importantly, speak with the homeowners, the HOA itself, and/or the management company to get straight answers. Have there been any recent special assessments? What were they for? Has there been any discussion about a future one? Have there been any lawsuits? How many insurance claims have there been? Are there any plans to change the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R)? Has there been any significant damage recently, and were they repaired?

It is ultimately the home buyer’s responsibility to educate themselves about the CC&Rs, policies, rules, and other aspects involving a homeowners association. Many HOAs are in a sad state due to underfunding and poor management. It’s important for homebuyers to be informed and involved when it comes to the neighborhood’s maintenance, covenants, and restrictions. Involvement of the homeowners is the only way to fix a bad homeowners association.

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