A Homeowners’ association (HOA) is a group of volunteers who manage community property and common areas of the subdivision, condominium, or group of homes. Each HOA has its own covenants, conditions, and restrictions, also known as CC&Rs. The Community Associations Institute estimates that 63 million Americans live in an area with an HOA, so it’s possible the area where you’re moving is governed by one. Before you agree to buy a home, make sure the HOA is creating a community you want to be part of.
One of the most common restrictions for a homeowners’ association is the exterior of your home. It’s great because it keeps your neighbors from painting their home neon green or hot pink; however, the CC&Rs might also limit your options if you want to update your home. HOA rules vary, but usually dictate the colors you can use on the exterior of your home, the size and style of your home, and even the style, color, and placement of your mailbox.
Landscaping & Fencing
Homeowners’ associations often have restrictions on the types of flowers and shrubs allowed as part of the landscaping. The group may also determine appropriate types of fencing materials and colors. The height of your fencing and even your hedges is often determined by HOAs as well.
“If environmentally-friendly living is important to you, be aware that some HOAs may dictate that you use fertilizers, pesticides, sprinkler systems, and whatever it takes to keep your lawn picture-perfect. They may not allow xeriscaping (an environmentally friendly form of landscaping) and may limit the size of gardens, ban compost piles and prevent you from installing solar panels,” advises Amy Fontinelle. “If these things are important to you, make sure you check the fine print first.”
HOAs commonly regulate the size of detached storage structures and the materials used to build them. Storage buildings that match HOA regulations often must be built from the same materials as the homes in the area so they aren’t perceived as an eyesore. These structures should be placed on the property in a location where they can’t be seen from the street.
HOAs also commonly require vehicles to be parked in the garage overnight. Parking in the driveway or on the street is not allowed. Also not allowed is using your garage as storage, so you might want to look for additional storage options near your neighborhood if you need more space.
Other Common HOA Regulations
- Decorations: Homeowners’ associations can limit the types of decorations you put in your yard and the amount of time those decorations can stay up.
- Noise Restrictions: Some HOAs enforce noise regulations that are stricter than city ordinances.
- Work from Home: Some associations limit the type of business you can run out of your home, and others don’t allow home-based businesses at all.
- Play Structures: Like storage structures, outdoor play sets (swing sets, basketball hoops, and trampolines) must comply with HOA regulations.
- Pet Problems: Some associations limit the type, size, and number of pets you may own.
Know Your (Future) Neighbors
Before you move into your new neighborhood, talk to the people who will soon be your neighbors. “Find out if their HOA experience has been positive or negative, and why they feel that way,” Community Association Services President & CEO John Stone recommends. “They can even give you advice on working with your HOA to improve your neighborhood and avoid any potential conflicts.”
Check Your Current Status
Buying a home that’s part of an HOA protects you and your neighbors… unless the house you’re buying is already a target of the association. “Buying into an existing problem can be a headache, so find out what the rules are and whether you would have to make changes to the home to comply,” writes Fontinelle. Talk to a current board member of the HOA to see if there are any changes you’ll need to make when you move in, or to see if there are changes that are expected soon, so you know if this HOA is a good fit for you.
Move In and Get Involved
The best way to make sure you have a good working relationship with your HOA is to be part of the organization. “Make sure you are clear on the regulations within a community you are considering moving into, and be sure you can live with those regulations,” recommends Avvo. “Once you move in, get involved with your association. That way you will know about potential changes and be able to express your opinion and shape the character of your community.”