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How to Get Ready for Your New Home Owners Association

Category: Active adult communities

September 7, 2010 — You have moved into your dream active adult community and are enjoying retirement. Then one day a letter arrives from the Home Owners Association (HOA). But it’s not an invitation to a welcome aboard party, it’s a letter telling you that your 58 pound Australian Shepherd is a few pounds over the line…. of the community limit of 30 pounds. The letter’s bottom line: either Tonka goes, or you go.

Home Owners Associations, often called Community Associations or Condominium Associations, are one of the unanticipated features of living in an active community, development, or condo. Well run associations are indispensable to the peaceful enjoyment of your new community. They set the rules that make communal life possible. They manage the property and make sure that ongoing maintenance and daily operations are performed properly. Effective community associations look into the future and set aside money for long term maintenance projects like roadways, elevators, waterlines, sewage systems, roofs, and landscaping.

When poorly run, these associations can set unpopular rules, enforce rules capriciously or ineffectively, suffer poor management, invest in ill-advised projects, get involved in lawsuits, and fail to plan for long term maintenance. We have seen associations spend their reserve funds on cosmetic projects, only to discover that their 40 year old elevators all needed to be replaced. No one wants to get a special assessment because of poor planning – yet they happen all the time. Particularly in these days of bankruptcies, defaults, and failure to pay homeowners dues, an association that is not on top of its game can cause the downfall of a community.

Before You Move In
The strengths and weaknesses of your home owners association will be very obvious once you move in to your new community. But before you even purchase a home in a development with a home owners association, it is critically important for you to do your homework.

Our opening example is a good idea of the kind of due diligence you need to make while you are considering a home purchase. You must examine the association rules. That’s where you will find out if pets are allowed, and if so – what kind, weight, breed, and how many are permitted. There are plenty of other rules to be aware of – such as exterior decorations, boat or trailer storage, children (adult or young), parking, guests, etc. You also need to be aware of fees and other details relevant to your new community.

Proper due diligence, however, should go far beyond just examining the rules you must live by and the fees you must pay. Topics to be included in your research include the dues default situation, foreclosures, legal actions involving the HOA, financial records, the status and existence of sinking funds for major maintenance projects, etc. Examining the minutes or even attending a home owners association will provide great insight into the quality of the association management. What you want to find is a tightly run organization that has energetic, smart people participating. What you don’t want is an association controlled by small-minded, unprofessional folks who are not looking ahead to the future. Investing in a community with a poorly run HOA could prove to be a disastrous decision from both a financial and emotional standpoint.

For further reference:
Topretirements has previously published several articles about HOA’s, including the terrific 3-part series produced with the help of Joe West, CEO of the Community Associations Network:
Meet the New Boss – Your HOA
SF Gate article – “9 Things You Need to Know about Home Owner Associations
HOA’s Play Hardball with Delinquencies

What has been your experience with HOA’s? Do you have suggestions on areas for new buyers to explore, or ideas on how to run a better association. Let all of us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on September 7th, 2010


  1. I’ve been searching articles about dealing with Home Owners Association. It’s for my sister’s school paper entitled “Elderly Living Today”. The focus of her study are the adult communities in Charlotte,North Carolina.

    Thanks for sharing these essential tips!

    by Tom — September 7, 2010

  2. The fundamental problem with HOAs is that they are God and you are nobody when it comes to individual property rights and spending on the pet projects of the directors. They can literally take your home from you for even minor infractions of their interpretation of the rules, and your only recourse is to appeal… to the HOA! And if you think a lawyer is going to help, keep in mind that they can use all the funds of the HOA to pay their lawyer and you have nobody by yourself to draw from. Living in a HOA truly is an emotional and financial disaster.

    by melewis01 — September 8, 2010

  3. I have lived with what I consider a good HOA and a bad HOA. The largest difference I noticed between the two was, the good HOA had very active residents, in the community and HOA activities/meetings. The bad HOA had no involvement from the residents. The directors “GOD” squad was put in and left along to run the show. If you want a good HOA, be prepared to get involved, maybe even become a part of the “GOD” squad, you cannot just sit around and complain and gossip about what you preceive is a problem, you have to get active.

    by Bob — September 8, 2010

  4. Tom – check out this past Sunday’s paper – there was an artile on HOAs and a prime example of how they can take your home for unpaid HOA dues.

    by Genie — September 8, 2010

  5. Here was the situation: I lived in an eighteen unit condo (simular to an apt). There was a leak behind the wall of my wash machine according to the next door neighbor.The washer and dryer was located behind bifold doors. I suppose you could call it a closet. Their hired help came in, moved the washmachine, cut a 1 foot hole, did their patch job, covered the hole back up but would not paint the previous marked hole nor the wall where the hole was. The conversation went like this:
    Me. “I see you patched the hole but I need it painted.”
    Them. ” Why? its in a closet where no one sees it”.
    Me. The wall was perfect before you cut into it. I want it restored to look like it did before you came in.
    Them. Why should the association help you when you don’t help us?
    Me. ” I say WHAT? What does that mean?”
    Them. “You don’t volunteer for anything. You don’ t help vacuum halls. You don’t plant flowers. You don’t even come to the association meetings on Friday nights”.
    Me. ” I haven’t been home on a Friday night for 4 years. And I pay association dues to take care of yard work and vacuuming halls. That is why I bought here.”
    Them. ” We are all retired and we are trying to keep the association fees down by doing some of the work ourselves.”
    Me. ” If I wanted to plant flowers, I would buy a house.”
    Them. “I suggest you have a meeting with the board to discuss your issue”
    Me at the board meeting. “You are obligated to restore that closet to its orginal look. If not, I will take you to court and I will win.
    Them. One of them said, “One of the workers dropped something on my ceramic tile and cracked the tile. I just put a rug over it.”
    Me. “That’s your decision. I want my closet wall restored. Are you going to fix it?
    Them. “Bring us 3 estimates on what it costs to have it painted.
    Me. “Will do”
    I gave them their 3 estimates and they gave me a check for $100.00 to paint the closet. Six months later I bought a house and I NOW PLANT FLOWERS. Just before moving, they put out their monthly news letter welcoming the new owner that bought my place. They did not say a word about me leaving. No, “Good-bye and Good luck”. No anything. Good riddens to them. Just so you know. I am a team player and get along with people ( most people) but I wasn’t about to “work” around their when I paid association dues which at the time was $125 a month. I will never move into any development unless they have PAID outside HOA hired help.This association where I was, was a complete ALL VOLUNTEER ASSOCIATION with no paid HOA employees.Not good. ITs best to have a Paid Association that is a regular business, not volunteer officers etc. Hope this helps. Also know that usually, the bigger the development the cheaper the associations dues. This was just 18 units. I am thinking of moving to Sun City Grand in Surprise AZ. There are 10,000 homes there and the association dues are cheap…under $150 a month and its been around a long time and most people seem quite happy there.

    by Morris — September 8, 2010

  6. I agree with Bob. If you have management or building experience and you get along well with others, get involved with your HOA. Don’t blame management if you don’t do your part occasionally.

    by Admin — September 8, 2010

  7. Before any consideration of a retirement community, google “its name + lawsuits”.
    For example, Morris says he wants to move into Sun City Grand, in Surprise, AZ.
    Well: “Sun City Grand + Lawsuits” gets 144,000 results, with such interesting subject lines as “1000 homeowners taking legal action” and “Moving to Sun City Grand? (Surprise: lawyers, houses, scorpions …”.
    Seems like an aptly named city.

    by oldnassau — September 8, 2010

  8. I agree 100% with Bob…get INVOLVED. I own a townhouse in a gated community with a HOA. Their biggest problem…getting homeownsers to come to the association meetings once a month. These meetings cover the HOA budget and are designed to impart information to the homeowners on planned future projects. The dues are high, but I don’t mind paying them since they cover everything from exterior painting, gardening, roof repair, moss removal, to resurfacing the streets in the complex, etc, etc, etc. If you can’t attend the meeting, there is always an agenda sent out with the meeting invitation which allows you to appointment one on your neighbors to speak in your stead. There are 200 units in the community, but the largest meeting attendance never tops 25 people. If the HOA seems ‘god-like’, it’s because by not getting involved, a person has essentially turned all their power and their “voice” to the HOA without so much as a backward glance.

    by Yvonne — September 9, 2010

  9. […] Further Reference Meet the New Boss – Your HOA How to Get Ready for Your New HOA What You Need to Know When Your Developer Turns the Community over to the HOA Posted by Admin on […]

    by » Home Owners Associations –Friend or Foe Topretirements — October 21, 2010

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