When it comes to purchasing real estate, the key is to be an educated consumer. Whether an investment property or your primary residence, a condo or single-family home, when you ask the right questions and get the valid information, you won’t have buyer’s regret.
What Is an HOA?
Homeowners’ associations are private organizations. They exist to supervise and manage a neighborhood’s common areas and amenities. They also ensure that property owners and tenants abide by the governing documents. These include By-Laws, the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs), as well as the Articles of Incorporation.
There is typically a board of directors (elected by the residents) that represents the owners by executing efforts in the best interests of the community. They will often (should) work with a professional community/property management company to perform, among other things, critical fiscal tasks to preserve financial health.
Advantages and Disadvantages
The primary advantage of living under an HOA umbrella is that it affords a safeguard for your property values. The dues you pay go to maintaining landscaping, etc. of common areas and keeping other neighborhood amenities clean and in good working order. The governing documents also outline what residents can and can’t do. (Like prohibiting parking of large recreational vehicles on the street or letting a house fall into disrepair.) Keeping a watchful eye helps to keep property values intact while offering attractive curb-appeal.
Some possible disadvantages of an HOA are when they are unnecessarily restrictive. It’s understandable that some communities will prohibit (or require authorization be obtained) to execute a major construction project like adding an additional floor on a home. But some will take permission-based living to the extreme when they require approval for a front door paint color or even demanding every house on the block install the exact same mailbox. These kinds of mandates can create a culture of disharmony.
Where to Begin?
First, make a list of the rights and privileges important to you. Do you want a pet-friendly community? Do you wish to be able to rent your unit?
If renting is allowed:
- Find out if there are minimum requirements for lease duration.
- Are there limitations on how often you can rent?
- Does the potential renter need to undergo an interview by the board or licensed community association manager (LCAM)?
If you get the greenlight, ensure your tenant receives a copy of the rules and regulations so you don’t get a call or a notice of non-compliance from the board.
Next, to further your fact-finding mission, take a drive through the community. Ask prospective neighbors what they like and don’t like. Find out if they believe the HOA consistently maintains standards and keeps the community financially sound.
You’ll also want to know if residents get bombarded with consistent special assessments. These are typically one-time payments that support a major expansion or most often, major repair. Too many assessments could be a sign the board is not funding the reserves sufficiently or budgeting/managing monies appropriately.
The Huffington Post chimes in with 5 Signs a Condominium Association May Be in Trouble:
- Low Reserves – Find out if a recent reserves study was conducted to “inspect common elements and determine their useful life and estimated repair value.”
- Condo Fee Too Low or Too High – Among other things, too low a fee may be the sign of an upcoming increase; too high may mean the board is building up reserves for a major project.
- Self-Managed – Your fees may be lower, but despite the board members’ hard work, they are not professional property managers. They are volunteers who are likely novices at “filing the proper taxes, maintaining proper insurance, keeping meticulous accounting records or just keeping up to date with maintenance.”
- Limits on Rentals – If you are living in your condo full-time you may not want the transience associated with tenants. However, the ability to rent will widen your pool of buyers when you wish to sell. So, consider your priorities and future goals.
- Maintenance Items – According to Huff Puff, “Frayed hallway carpet, damaged common areas, broken elevators – they are all signs that a building or community needs some attention but find out what is really going on there. Is it lackluster management who is just slow to act, or is it because money is tight?”
We also advise you ask your real estate agent to find out the percentage of outstanding HOA fees gone unpaid by residents. That will be another great indication of the community’s cash flow. If there’s enough delinquency, property values (and your wallet!) will feel it.
What To Ask the HOA?
If you make an offer on a home, in addition to the contract’s inspection period, you will also get a chance to review what are commonly called the “condo docs” which includes the:
- Articles of Incorporation
- HOA Financials
- Demand Statement
- HOA By-Laws, Newsletters, & Meeting Minutes
- Reserve Fund Study
- Master Insurance Policy
A licensed real estate agent who specializes in the sale of condos and co-ops will be an excellent resource in helping you unpack this data to make an informed investment.
You should also check out this comprehensive list of the 75 Great Questions to Ask Every HOA Community.
Don’t let the length of the list dissuade you from condo life. These are facts to help determine how community-oriented the HOA is, its monetary health, what it cares about, and how flexible the rules.
Here are just 10 of these Great HOA Questions for your reference:
- What amenities and services do fees include?
- How often do you charge a special assessment?
- How are architectural review changes handled?
- Are there smoking policies?
- How many pets are allowed per home?
- Can I lease out my residence?
- Am I responsible for indoor and outdoor pest solutions?
- Do you offer trash pickup and recycling?
- What are policies regarding outdoor grills and firepits?
- Are rooftop satellite dishes permitted?
At the end of the day, your home is your sanctuary. It’s where the people you love, live. But only an educated consumer will sleep peacefully under that brand new roof.
In the community management business for over 25 years, Ameri-Tech has earned its outstanding reputation by employing top executives, senior staff property managers, and a host of specialized professionals. Working in association with all manner of contractors to oversee 30,000+ units in the Tampa Bay area, the organization also boasts certifications in emergency management response services. If you are interested in a no obligation presentation to learn about the Ameri-Tech difference or to have your company considered for their Preferred Vendor Program, contact Sharon Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 727-726-8000, extension 246.