Tuesday, March 6, 2012

# 219 - Home-Owner's Associations - The Good and the Bad

Throughout our many of years of living in different houses, we've consistently lived with the normal restrictions that come with suburbia and/or city living. I've been thinking more about this topic since we're in the process of making a move to the country.

As far as those restrictions go, first, we have always lived in cities that enforce fairly rigid city ordinances, which is a good thing for the most part. Second, a few houses we've lived in have been under even more rigid drive-by inspection wardens attached to the local Home-Owner's Association (HOA). Sometimes this can be good, sometimes this can be bad.

I do think HOA's and their rules have a proper place in society; for those neighborhoods with homes built rather close together and for those who wish to share communal services that were formerly related to a broad-based country-club atmosphere, it's a good thing.

HOA's are important for those who value and desire neighborhood amenities designed only for those who "belong" and pay for the rights to enjoy them. In those terms, HOA's are beneficial and can bring a few luxuries within neighborhood boundaries. Having pools, parks, tennis courts, walking trails, beautiful entrances and other such shared amenities might be exactly what a home-owner is looking for along with their residence.

Also, knowing that neighbors cannot paint their house purple or hot pink might be a good thing to keep in check by the association "police." If you are acquainted with my youngest daughter, Stefanie, this might be a safe-guard from having the hot pink and black house across the street! Truly, as a university studied artist myself, I am all for expressing yourself artistically, but sometimes we don't want to pull into a driveway of our home with a sizable mortgage and have it situated next door to animal bones strung from the branches of a neighbor's tree. An association is sort of like a legal agreement to keep the canvas free from shocking images.

Best part about HOA's when you buy a house is that you must sign papers proving you understand they are present and that you have a copy of their by-laws. You must agree to live by their standards upon buying a house with such an association. Simultaneously, it's voluntary, yet required.

In my interpretation, I see an HOA with a role to mainly ensure the neighborhood is consistent in appearance and to reduce worry that the person next door will do something questionable to their property which would bring down overall property values. Living in close proximity to a neighbor is kind of like being in a village, everyone needs to be on the same page, well, if not on the same page, everyone will have at least read the same book (Association By-Laws) so the line of thinking is guided toward a deeper sense of community.

Many people will gladly pay their association dues to enjoy the luxury of living in a place where everyone has written expectations for their property. When you have a neighbor living twelve paces from your own house, it can be a good thing to have "agreements."

At times, I've gladly been a part of this process as a resident and have enjoyed the amenities our dues have been paid to maintain so that we adults and the kids (when younger) could savor a moment out of the confines of our front and backyard, while still being close to home.

In the Houston area, we now have neighborhoods with unbelievable HOA's that maintain their own personal water parks, airplane strips, and other extravagant amenities. If someone is willing to pay, it's probably available.

So, HOA's can mean big business. And if you don't pay your HOA, many of them have it written in their contract that they can essentially confiscate your property. It's happened here in Houston and it is shocking.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, there are impotent HOA's that are alive and kicking in name only. Just because a neighborhood has an "HOA" attached to it doesn't mean they will be concerned with your neighbor's carnival-style paint job or worried about the deteriorating "park around the corner with waist high weeds...the level of attention your association gives to your little community may directly depend on the amount of your yearly dues and on whether or not the management of the association is effective.

With funds lacking, there is essentially nothing an HOA can do, other than pay for postage to mail out the bill for yearly dues. Additionally, in my years of being in the real estate profession and seeing all of these entities first-hand, I witnessed some associations that are shockingly run by white-collar "criminals" who take money from residents and do nothing to enforce written association rules or to use the funds properly. Then, there are associations that employ subjective enforcement...good friends suddenly are afforded a lopsided perspective.

Conversely, I've seen several associations manage their resources in an expert manner to provide luxurious and incredible amenities for residents paying the required fees to live under the domain of the association.

I guess I fee that people buying houses should truly investigate the home-owner's association that is attached to the purchase of their home. Just because one is present doesn't mean it is worthwhile or in good financial standing. If they are managing resident's funds improperly, and are getting ample funds to do the job, then the neighborhood will clearly start to go into decline, especially if the neighborhood is dependent on the HOA to maintain chunks of mingled property.

I've seen gated-communities that based marketing of their homes upon the fancy iron gates that surround their neighborhood with a little gate shack and a non-commissioned guard inside to check all entries with a clipboard in hand. After an HOA starts to go downhill, the gate shack is abandoned and the rusted, bent gates are propped open, perpetually, and soon become an eyesore. After our recession, many of these associations could not get money from the residents, so they could not continue to operate on a full-steam basis. Something had to give in...usually manning the gates are the first item to disappear or reduced hours of manning the gates becomes a given.

Here, at our current home, we have a so-so HOA. We don't have any spectacular amenities other than an old neighborhood pool and a brick-framed sign with the neighborhood's name on it at the entrance, which sits on a plat of grass rarely kept manicured. Our dues are rather low, about $129. per year, not bad, so we can't expect jaw-dropping landscaping throughout the commons areas, and we can't expect the rules to be enforced with much vigor when meager incentive is involved for those who are supposed to be knowledgeable about and enforcing the rules. But, we have just a touch of rule to keep the neighborhood under some level of consistency.

For most neighborhoods with an HOA, the residents are accustomed to varying shades of Real-Estate-Blah-Beige for exterior paint color. As for us, the HOA is still working well enough to keep the Shade-Tree-Mechanic from doing business on his front lawn. Geez, this would have put my dad out of business when we were growing's a good thing that we didn't really know too much about HOA's back then.

Even though, today, we're not supposed to have chickens in our backyard...but our HOA is partially a "token" HOA. It's not been a problem.

It will be weird to sell our house in the city and to move to the country to find ourselves without a yearly bill for association dues. I'm already thinking about how we can spend that $129. per year and celebrate our newfound freedom.


LindaG said...

Either house or farm related, I expect.
Hope you're all doing well!

Charade said...

I say take those chickens out to dinner, and bring the scraps home to the dogs. said...

Linda --- the money will probably go toward feed! We're doing great. Nearly one week on the market, officially, so we are waiting for that buyer to walk through our doors!

Charade --- You crack me up. Speaking of chickens, we just got them worms to enjoy as a treat. It should be interesting.


Vickie said...

Hi Lana - Soooo... if your hubby wants to be a "shade-tree mechanic" or "shade-tree carpenter", he can do it! It is freeing to be able to do what you want. Only thing about living in the country is that your neighbors, altho distant, can also do the same thing. You just never know and can't control what's going on at the little farm next door! There's a couple of places around us that we'd like to nuke, but what can ya do...

Mike said...

This reminds me of my HOA post awhile back. We don't have fees but, little Nazis named, 'Crime Watch', who think they are in charge of when we can inhale and exhale. They have no authority at all except to select and award a homemade 'lawn of the month' sign. (which, btw, is a rigged list) Ha! How I love to rattle their cages. said...

Vickie - you make me literally laugh out loud. I am going to dig up the old photos I have of me growing up with all kinds of cars parked across the grass of our little front yard because my dad was constantly working on a couple of them simultaneously. I think I grew up as one of those neighbors that the others shuddered at living next door to. Well, that's the partial truth, the yard was always atrocious, but my parents were friends with EVERYONE. They were the kind that LIVED outside and got to know everyone and supported every neighbor in any kind of trial. I think that made the others overlook their shortcomings. However, today it wouldn't be as easy. I guess we've all had the neighbors we would like to nuke! Our latest was the crack dealer down the block who was inviting big-time drug dealers (in their puffy fur coats in 95 degree weather)to his house --- that soon went under 24-hour surveillence, then he went to prison, again, and it foreclosed. Sad part is, I actually liked the guy. He might have been dealing in some powerfully negative drugs, but he was a good neighbor, except for the bringing drug dealers past our house part. He was a good neighbor in that he kept an eye on our houses in a GOOD way. Even calling a neighbor when a storm blew out an upstairs window --- he didn't take advantage of it, on several occasions he watched out for all of us. We spent many times talking outside, until one day, Howdy decided that he didn't like the guy approaching our front yard and made it clear about he how felt. The guy held up his hands and backed away, slowly. Oh well. Maybe Howdy knew more than I did. There was an unwritten rule around here that no matter what unsavory activities you might partake in, you don't do it to your immediate neighbors. It's an awful truth and the reason people gasp extra hard when they hear that a neighbor was responsible for some kind of injustice. I think in the South, in particular, there is NO TOLERANCE for such turn-coats. We've been loyal neighbors, we're friends with everyone here and I'll truly miss that level of neighborly companionship, but not the horrendous city street traffic. I do think Deputy Dave will enjoy being shade-tree-anything. Just because we don't have much of any greenery around here in the city to cast more than a few inches of shadow! haha. Once we move, I will have enough acres to put some distance between us and our neighbors; you can hear certain things when the wind blows just right, so I guess it will be interesting. Long ago, we met most everyone around our property...the scariest one is the man behind us, on the other side of the lake...he's former FBI and he's ready to "watch our back" a little too enthusiastically. I bet he has 20 years worth of food in his basement. HeeHee :-/

Who knows, it may be better to have lived down the street from the hard-core drug dealer than the former FBI agent. ??? We shall soon see.

Mike --- You and I love this topic. I remember the photo of the neighbor across the street reminds me to always wear a bra when I check the mail. Your post did my neighbors a great service. It was a true bra-check kind of post. --- Giving you time to catch your breath from laughing --- I guess I'll have to prepare myself for the country neighbors who sit outside in their underwear. I think it gets worse. And we've never gotten a "yard of the month" sign, but I think it'll be okay. It's clear that they are usually pre-rigged anyway. Hey, we should both make our OWN "yard of the month" sign and stick it out there as a really good joke.


Dreaming said...

I had to laugh at the coincidence of your post and a conversation my hubby had at the feed store. He was looking at the chicks and explained to the clerk that when we lived in SC we had Araucauna, Polish and Silky chickens because we lived in a covenanted community where we could not have 'foul' but could have 'exotic birds'!

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Our HOA is one of the MAIN reasons we want to move to the country. I've had "tickets" for:

trash cans put to curb too many hours before pickup

trash cans left at curb too long after pickup

parking in rocks on side of my driveway

satellite dish in backyard can be seen from street (must be below block wall level, ie not seen)

oil spot on driveway (truck leaked oil until I could afford to fix leak)

parked car in street (not allowed overnight)

You name, I've had it. These nazi's are unbelievable. My favorite aspect of our HOA is that the bill is due quarterly which is pretty hard for me to keep track of. They send the bill out THREE MONTHS ahead of the annual due date. Of course I lose track over the three month period. 'Which leads me to a big, fat $50 late fee on a $125 annual dues.

Oh, great. Now I won't be able to go to sleep for hours. ;-)

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Sorry, correction, I meant the bill is due ANNUALLY.

Lana said...

Dreaming --- I love the "exotic bird" loophole. Very nicely done. Sometimes these HOA's go overboard in their desire to control a neighborhood.

The Organge Jeep Dad --- In one of our other homes, we had ridiculous letters sent to us and our neighbors, we were once cited for having DIRT on our basketball backboard. It had been up for years and just had a thin layer of dirt as most things do when outside, but they wanted it kept scrubbed clean. Our neighbor got a letter of citation to replace all of the wood in between her concrete sections in the driveway and sidewalk and a citation that she had "mold" on her brick which was at the point behind shrubbery and not even seen by the street unless you were standing in her yard and looking behind the shrubbery to the brick. I can't even say all the things we received. I remember that Deputy Dave was so FED UP that he pulled the huge BBQ pit around to the front yard and left it there for a few days, just to give them something new to write about. All the neighbors were cracking up and doing their own little rebellious thing to overwhelm the HOA Nazi who had clearly gone overboard. At least we kept them busy for a while, on purpose.

Just so you know, at one time, I had thought that living in a neighborhood with an HOA would be so nice, but I learned quickly that restrictions have a high price against your freedoms. And when the HOA's begin to over-exert their realm of power into every crevice of your life, you begin to see how some people cannot deal with having any kind of power --- it's a mini-scale lesson in government as a whole. Therefore, I've become anti-HOA. Now, I've had many clients form a volunteer neighborhood organization where each person simply agrees to mow the entrance for the month, another to plant shrubs, a few more to contribute funds here and there and it works nicely while no one imposes their rules with abandon upon another. And it's one of the nicest neighborhoods I know of. Leave it to the people. If a neighborhood is going to go downhill, an HOA can't save it anyway, they'll only add to the misery. As for me, I say...BRING ON THE COUNTRY LIFE!