HOAs—Horror or Harmony?


Homeowners associations (HOAs) are not always popular with residents, but there are upsides to the protections they offer.

Most of us have heard the HOA horror stories of residents battling neighbors over what many of us would consider insignificant issues. For example, in 2015 a Missouri family fought to keep a wooden playset in their backyard after their HOA objected to its purple stain, saying it did not meet the guidelines of a color considered “subdued” and in “harmony with other colors of the community.”

In another instance, a retired Marine Captain in Georgia was threatened with daily fines as long as he continued to fly both the U.S. and Marine Corps flags in his front yard. The community’s HOA covenant allowed only one flag to be displayed outside a home.

There’s even a Facebook page called “I Hate HOAs,” created as a space for community residents to complain about the rules in their neighborhoods.

These cases highlight the role of the HOA as a rules enforcer in the community. However, an important role of an HOA is to make policies and maintain standards for the harmony of the community as a whole. In a few notable cases, those rules are tested in a way that makes national headlines. But do these high-profile situations mean that HOAs are all bad?

Not at all, says Dale Johnson, Managing Broker at Duffey Realty.

“A Home Owners Association can work well in most areas,” Johnson said. “It gives home owners and property owners a platform to address concerns within a community and holds the owners accountable. This is a way of keeping certain standards and enforcing Covenant and Restrictions in a community.”
A well-run HOA is a benefit to homeowners, Johnson said. Often, company-managed HOAs work better than those managed by residents do.

He has seen instances when members and officers of an HOA who live in the community they manage try to enforce some rules but not others. Then when something happens they don’t like, residents who are cited with violations become very unhappy. Disputes commonly involve things such as parking along the street, yard sales, or the addition of outbuildings, fences, or play equipment, Johnson said. And they can get ugly.

In the end, however, an HOA should work for the community’s benefit because all homeowners and property owners have a stake in the neighborhood. As a rule, HOA regulations are designed to protect property values and enhance the look and security of the neighborhood. Amenities like golf courses, tennis courts, and fitness centers, as well as services such as lawn maintenance and snow removal are generally provided by an HOA. That assistance comes with a price, Johnson said.

“It does come with a cost that everyone has to contribute into,” Johnson said.

Hal M. Bundrick, a certified financial planner who writes for NerdWallet, offers a few tips to consider before purchasing a home or property in a community governed by an HOA or a POA (property owners association).

1. Make sure the HOA’s financial condition is sound. Otherwise, you could be stuck paying unexpected bills when needs like pool maintenance or new lawn care equipment arise.

2. Check the HOA’s dispute history. Does the HOA have a history of ongoing problems with residents? That might indicate trouble in the neighborhood or trouble in the leadership. You must choose if the home you are considering is worth the drama.

3. Review the restrictions policy. Are pets allowed? Can you add a playground for your children? How many cars can be parked in your driveway? The HOA’s “CC&Rs”—covenants, conditions, and restrictions—will explain everything that is allowed or not allowed in the neighborhood. Bottom line? Read the policy before you buy a home or property governed by the document. Otherwise, you may find your Christmas lights tradition must come to an end or your teenager’s car can’t be parked in the driveway. Ultimately, you must determine what you consider a minor price to pay for living in the neighborhood you like versus what might be a major ongoing inconvenience.

If you are considering a home purchase, one of Duffey Realty’s experienced REALTORs is ready to help. Our agents can help you find neighborhoods and communities that meet your specific needs and explain any questions you have about HOAs and their policies. Contact an agent today!