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How People Who Live in HOAs Really Feel About Them

Category: Active adult communities

Nov. 18, 2016 — Ask a group of retirees what they think about living in an active adult or 55+ community and you will get a wide range of responses (as we did in our recent Member Survey). Most people seem to think they are OK. But a common anecdote you will hear from a certain subset of folks is that they cannot/will not to live in a community that has a Community Association (also known as Home Owner Associations – HOAs). Their attitude seems to be that HOAs are a loathsome bunch, dominated by cliques on power trips. In this article we will explore attitudes towards HOAs as reported in some actual surveys, as well as why they sometimes generate negative opinions. In this we were fortunate to receive input from Joe West, CEO of the Community Associations Network, the largest free website of information for people on HOA boards.

Actually, most residents are positive about their HOAs
By large majorities, most of the people who actually live in community associations rate their overall community experience as positive or, at worst, neutral. That was the chief finding of the 6th national survey from the Community Association Institute (CAI). Our recent Topretirements Member survey, which included many people who have not yet had the experience of living in community with an HOA, also showed favorable HOA attitudes – 68% had neutral or favorable attitudes.

These were some of the conclusions from the CAI Survey:
– They say their association board members serve the best interests of their communities

– They say their community managers provide valuable support to residents and their associations

– They support community association rules because they protect and
enhance property values.

– Using a 1 to 5 rating scale, 65% rated their overall experience living in a community association as a 4 or 5.

– 36% “absolutely” think the members of their elected governing board strive to serve the best interests of the community as a whole

– 81% say they are on friendly terms with their current community
association boar,

– 55% feel the amount of their overall assessments that they pay for the services provided by their association is just about right

Insights from Joe West, CEO of the Community Associations Network
His organization helps community associations with the challenges they face running private communities. Their website is great and full of news about what is actually going on in condo and HOA communities across the country. We are once again fortunate to get his expert knowledge and insights into these issues.


We asked Joe West why some folks have negative attitudes toward HOAs. He made the following points in his email to us:

“How Condos and HOA’s came into being – and they are here to stay. When local taxes became an abomination in the late ‘80’s, local communities started losing revenue. One easy way to help is to allow developers greater density in return for taking some of the costs off the back of the municipalities. Therefore HOA’s and similar legal entities were created to take care of roads, retention ponds, drains, trash removal, etc., all with no reduction in local taxes. Until you are ready to pay more in taxes, HOA’s will be a favorite of communities. For example, in my local city, every subdivision is responsible for its roads. If the HOA that was originally formed has gone under, the city simply forms a tax zone and assesses additional taxes for the road repairs. This has become the norm just about everywhere. We can thank the local tax reformers of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s for this”.

Potshots from The “Reformers”. These critics like to take pokes at CAI because they have become a trade association, made up mostly of managers, attorneys and vendors. But CAI is the only really organized group out there fighting for the associations, which sometimes is not always in sync with what individual owners want. This is where the “Reformers” (who might be more like “HOA Haters”) take their potshots, hammering the foreclosure problems and rule enforcement issues. They can always point to anecdotal stories, but for the most part, the associations try to be fair. CAI is still the best source for education and publications for association operations and is the only group able to even try to stand up to the developer/real estate/attorney/mortgage lender lobby, which is where the real power lies in dealing with state legislatures. Just about anything that interferes with the sale of a unit/home, either new or re-sale, or adds costs to this, rarely makes it through the legislatures.

– The critics find plenty of problems, but never say anything good about board members, volunteers or attorneys – they are always the villains.

Think of associations as microcosms of society. They elect leaders, some good, some bad; people get involved, people don’t; there are taxes (assessments) that people don’t agree with; people have problems with neighbors; there are rules you have to abide by, just like state and local laws, even if you don’t agree with them; people are getting shorter-tempered everywhere, not just in associations; local politics doesn’t stop at city hall; nobody likes the assessments (taxes); why should you expect associations to somehow be different.

Unrealistic expectations? Why do people (Reformers) expect perfection from community associations, when you’re dealing with people and being governed by untrained, unpaid volunteers who you elected”.

Bottom Line
Thanks Joe, you just gave us some good understanding of why community associations were created and why some people find fault with them. We appreciate your involvement, and are cheered by the survey results that show most people are happy with their HOAs.

Notes about the CAI:
The CAI has more than 34,000 members. You can visit it at www.caionline.org

For further reading:
Topretirements has an extensive series of articles about Community Associations which you might find useful:
Part 1: Meet Your New Boss – Your HOA
Part 2: What You Need to Know About Your New Home Owners Association
Part 3: What You Need to Know When the HOA Takes Over from the Developer
Part 4: Community Associations: Friend or Foe
The Community Associations Network

Comments? What is your actual experience with Home Associations. Have the ones you have seen done their jobs effectively and fairly? Or did you see abuses that should have been avoided. Please share your experiences in the Comments section below.




Posted by Admin on November 18th, 2016

20 Comments »

  1. I live in a condo development of 300 townhomes on 83 acres. The HOA fees have risen 10% almost every year for as long as I have been here,almost 15 years. The fees are now astronomical, out of whack with the local condos and are IN ADDITION to very high real estate taxes. We are a gated community and the town provides no service to our roads, no trash pick up, no sewer, no water. Yet, we pay fullmreal estate taxes based on assessed value of the home. The article seems to imply that HOA’s don’t usually pay full real estate taxes. What is the norm on this? I have long felt paying both high condo fees, getting no service from the town, and yet paying high real estate taxes was inequitable.

    by MaryN — November 22, 2016

  2. I live in a community in southern NV that has a modestly priced HOA which exercises a limited amount of control on residents. Very common sense approach with community protection of life quality the primary issue. They don’t get all up in people’s business. Our HOA fees have actually gone down and we usually get a 3 month rebate each year. The prople involved obviously have it right. There are good ones out there.

    by david hamilton — November 22, 2016

  3. We just started our third year living in a gated community with an HOA. We find our board to be very good on the whole. It helps that we are a very small (101 homes) and close-knit community. We have very few amenities, which we don’t really need anyway. This has kept our HOA dues very low, with no increases since we’ve been here. When something needs repair, we pitch in where we can; for example, last winter we redecked our fishing pier, which saved us thousands in labor and built good relationships. I realize our situation may not be very common.

    My advice is to be involved. Get to know the HOA board members and become friendly with them. For good or bad, we’re all in this together. If some members are not up to snuff, replace them come election time. But remember, you may have to run yourself.

    by Ray — November 22, 2016

  4. Our experience has been a horror story, Texas has finally enacted legislation regarding hoa’s, which in our experience were self serving, manipulative and for the benefit of the lawyers who took over and then bled the members in typical lawyer style. Never again will we purchase a home in an hoa.

    by Hank halle — November 22, 2016

  5. I am currently the President of the HOA for our small community of 43, soon to be 44 houses. Our HOA dues are very reasonable, but we do not have a pool or clubhouse to fund. We work very hard to be good stewards of the HOA’s funds. We try to address everyone’s concerns, although at times we are unable to appease a given situation, but fairness, as well as legal considerations, sometimes force us into a situation of not arriving at a win-win.

    Generally speaking, the neighbors stay to themselves pretty much, but will speak to each other and that kind of thing. It is made up of retirees and couples with young children. Some of our restrictions have become outdated, so this year we are going to ask the community to give the okay to modifying/eliminating some of the restrictions. With every neighborhood, you will have a few that are very difficult to satisfy and that is no exception for us either.

    I have served for two years, one year as the President of our HOA. I have already shared with the other Board members that I wll be leaving the Board at the next HOA meeting for the entire neighborhood. We have dealt with some challenging situations, brought about because the restrictions were not enforced previously, which makes it difficult when you try to enforce them equally.

    I would encourage anyone reading this to volunteer to serve on their HOA board. It will help you get to know the neighborhood, while also seeing the side of the HOA and its decision making process.

    by James — November 22, 2016

  6. Anyone who moves into a neighborhood with an HOA should know what they are getting into. The more the HOA fee is, the more (theoretically) you should expect. If there is a golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, security force, gymnasium, community center, riding stables, etc. you should expect high HOA fees. If you won’t use any or most of the amenities, perhaps you shouldn’t move there. You can’t complain about amenities that existed when you move there, because you should have found out what you’re paying for.

    My HOA community has all the amenities I mentioned and I don’t use most of them. But, I feel they add to the value of my home. One of the amenities that has been added since I moved here, the community center, is the one I use the most.

    Our HOA fees go up every year, but so does inflation. You have to expect that. I have to believe that people who get rebates from their HOAs, have to be in a small minority and are fortunate. Either that or their Board purposely over estimates so they can give back a rebate, making themselves look good 🙂

    If you don’t want to pay HOA fees, move to a well insulated house in the country with a well, wood burning stove and solar panels. No HOA fees, no water, heating or electric bills!

    by Matthew Asai — November 22, 2016

  7. This comment came in as an email:

    I read your Web Site religiously, and have found Topretirements to be the BEST resource for scouting retirement locations. I was therefore astounded with the recent article on HOAs, which was basically a whitewash for ALL HOAs … good and bad … malicious and benign. If you doubt this, you may want to read the paragraph on “HOA Haters” (which begs the question “Why would an HOA Hater buy in an HOA Development?” … but I digress.) Over the years your site has advocated that those considering buy in an HOA development to investigate the HOA thoroughly (which I suppose begs another question, “If HOAs are great, why bother to investigate?”)

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Here’s hoping that one article is an outlier.

    by Admin — November 23, 2016

  8. I echo what Matthew says – if the community you are looking at is loaded with amenities like golf and restaurant, clubhouse, tennis, etc. there are a lot of costs and need for good management to keep everything in great condition. Expect your HOA dues will need to cover these costs and they always go up not down. You should ask for specific breakdowns of costs and ask about historical fees…how much have they gone up over the years. If you don’t expect to use those amenities then you need to ask why you want to live there and pay for them. Don’t complain after you buy. Also, some communities have lower HOA fees but make up for it in assessments because they either come up short on the operational budget side or they don’t put aside enough monthly in a reserve budget for repairs/replacement, ask about assessment history. And, if the community is still under builder control, know that the builder is subsidizing some operational costs to keep HOA fees lower to attract new home buyers…sometimes 30% lower than what it would be if the builder was gone. HOA’s also have rules and CC&Rs that dictate many things that you may find too restrictive, it is your responsibility to understand the community rules before you build/buy – read them thoroughly. Finally, you do have a voice and can participate by attending BOD meetings and reviewing budgets and financial statements if you wish. We love our community, it is well managed, everything is kept maintained by the HOA and HOA costs go up yearly at a reasonable pace.

    by ljtucson — November 23, 2016

  9. Another thing–think the age of your community–mine was built in 1929 and considered a best address in Washington, DC. We are on about 12 acres with five buildings–no pool, no golf course. We do have a restaurant, dry cleaners, small convenience market, library shoe repair on premises and until a few years a ago we had our own gas pump. Our fees will go up 4.9% for 2017. We just finished repointing all the brick work, replaced all steam traps in all units, replaced windows on the lobby levels of all the buildings. We have a strong reserve and did take out a line of credit when the rates were really cheap. Now we are paying back the line of credit that was used. The average co-op fee is $1,000 for a one bedroom apartment–this includes parking and everything but the cable TV, which I do not have anyway. (Think an HD antenna that covers a 50 mile radius and gets me some great channels for free). I am hoping I will be able to stay here when I retire in a few years but I am concerned about the fees–they have never gone down since I moved in in 1996.

    by Jennifer — November 23, 2016

  10. I agree with Hank, We moved in to a community in central NC, we have a nightmare of an HOA, There are no laws governing them, no one you can appeal to, they do what they want even break the covenants because they are in power for over 5 years. They just change the name of their position and get voted in again. WE have no club house, no pool, it is a public street ,
    but the people in power it just goes to their heads and then they make you life a living hell.

    by elaine n — November 24, 2016

  11. But what do you do when you want to have socialization but No HOA

    by elaine n — November 24, 2016

  12. elainen
    My husband has absolutely NO interest in a 55+ community and we’re wary of HOAs in general. What we’re looking at is smaller towns and communities that are attractive to retirees and have activities and attractions that are of interest to us. We plan to volunteer in these areas (museums, parks, community activities) in the hope of meeting like minded seniors. Local country clubs and yacht clubs offer social memberships at sometimes reasonable prices that attract retirees. Religious affiliation, if you’re so inclined, also offers opportunity for socialization.
    Check out an area’s senior center for additional information. Some are truly amazing.

    by Staci — November 25, 2016

  13. Matthew, I am not sure what your point is, but “moving into the country with a well and a wood burning stove…” is not a viable remedy for dealing with an our of control HOA. Some people get on HOA boards for the wrong reason and become dictators. I agree with Elaine. I am dealing with a nightmare of a board who have really been destructive to our community. Many people have moved rather than deal with them. I live in a state which has no real laws which control boards and we are left to civil suits, which are too expensive for most of us to pursue. Maybe it would be a good idea for an article to examine which states have good condo laws to protect condo owners from runaway HOA Boards..

    by MaryN — November 25, 2016

  14. Good state laws on HOA: yes, I’m with MaryN. I agree We need to verify which states have good laws to protect homeowners from excessive HOA fees. Else, it’s buyer beware.
    Maryann Nov.25, 2016

    by Maryann Wood — November 25, 2016

  15. I’d like to hear more about 55+ HOAs. I live in a mixed age community of about 400 homes (haven’t counted), and I’ve seen some positives and negatives. In our case, the HOA Board is primarily housewives who appear to be thrilled at assuming power, and pat themselves on the back constantly on the neighborhood Facebook page. Positives: spending is kept to a minimum, with every expenditure or budget increase being fought over diligently. Money is definitely not wasted, and our HOA fees are very low ($65 month) especially considering the large neighborhood pool, nice entry to the neighborhood, street lamps, garbage pickup, and good maintenance of common grass areas. A Management Company monitors the neighborhood and is very quick to notify someone if their house isn’t being kept up. A neighborhood Facebook page is a great resource if you need a plumber late at night, a handyman, a cat sitter or a ride to the airport. Someone is sure to have a resource for you within minutes. Negatives: the cat-fighting and pettiness of neighbor vs. neighbor over every little thing, like the color of flowers to be planted seasonally at the entrance. The uniformity of homes, mailboxes, plants, etc. is mind-numbing. It can be frustrating to have so little control over your own home, after having lived in a non-HOA neighborhood for nearly 30 years previously.

    I’m curious about whether spending to keep up amenities becomes a problem for 55+ HOAs, as the residents age and use them less – or whether the fact that many residents are on fixed incomes affects spending? Is there resistance to spending on golf facilities, social activities etc. which may not be used by all of the residents? Do HOAs benefit from retired lawyers, accountants, property managers, etc. who are residents? Is there sufficient transparency on spending? How much of an increase in HOA fees have people seen when the developer turns over control to the residents?

    by Kate — November 26, 2016

  16. In response to your questions Kate. Definitely as aging occurs in a community, folks who don’t use amenities are less interested in upgrading amenities or adding new ones. So reserve replacement funding is important as it is “baked in” to the monthly HOA fee. We also fund a portion of HOA fee to an improvement fund for new capital…this allows us to fund new items without assessments. I am in Arizona…as aging occurs we see many move back to home state or into a different style living arrangement. We turn about 6% of homes per year which keeps the new and younger coming in. We have 1300 homes. The golf course and restaurants are the big money items and almost always require a subsidy from HOA fees…if the course is great and restaurant very good it isn’t a problem. Our community has a management staff but our very talented and career professional residents volunteer for committees such as finance, audit, budget, architectural, infrastructure, capital planning, strategic planning, etc. saving us lots of $$$$. There is total transparency on anything financial in the community and of course all meetings are open. Our 7 member BOD each serve staggered 3 year terms. We have been experiencing about $4-$6 per year increase on the monthly dues. Currently at $193 – if you are gated with private roads it does impact the need to fund reserves more aggressively. I think we went up about 15% when the builder left….there was also a loan from the builder for acquisition of their sales center which we turned into a larger fitness center. Small communities with full amenities have lots of costs to spread across less homes, so there are pros and cons to community size.

    by ljtucson — November 26, 2016

  17. ljtucson: Thank you so much!!! This detailed information is exactly what I was hoping for! I understand that every 55+ community will have some differences, but it’s great to have benchmarks when considering the HOA.

    by Kate — November 27, 2016

  18. This comment from Daryl was moved here for a better fit:
    I’m tired of hearing how many golf courses and pools a community has, the view of the mountains, etc. and am grateful for those comments pointing out details that may affect your enjoyment of daily life as part of that community—including political leanings skewed heavily towards one party or the other. (Read the book Leisureville describing that situation.) I’m happy to now know “many communities are now using professional companies to run the HOA,” and don’t recall reading that in the HOA article. I realize negative details won’t sell homes…

    Editor comment: Yes, many HOA’s have professional managers, including the one where we live. BUT, they can’t and won’t make the important decisions that need to be made affecting your community. They can help you stay in compliance, keep the books, remind you about how to run a solid HOA, and alert you to important developments that need to be addressed. Still in the end, it is the HOA board, along with resident input, that has to make the important decisions that affect the lives of all residents. Every resident has a responsibility to help nominate and elect a qualified and objective board.
    PS – Sounds like ljtucson’s HOA has exactly the kind of volunteer board that anyone would like to have!

    by Admin — January 1, 2018

  19. ljtucson, Can you tell us the name of your community. Since you have 6% houses for sale each year, maybe some of us might be interested in your community. Thanks.

    by Louise — January 2, 2018

  20. Louise, we are located just northwest of Tucson in the master plan named Dove Mountain, city of Marana. The community name is The Highlands at Dove Mountain. We opened for build in 1997 and were built out by 2007 when we took over from the builder. This year we turned 9% of homes, at 20 years old now the aging out cycle is at full steam, all good!

    by ljtucson — January 3, 2018

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