Find Your Home
A funny thing happened to architects during the Depression. Mr. Roosevelt, through the WPA, gave them jobs designing houses at a time when most people could barely afford to eat, much less buy a new house. And what they designed gave rise to a new theory about how and where Americans should live -- theories that reverberate today in some of the neighborhoods that you'll probably be looking at as you hunt for your new home.
These designers thought it would be swell if every family could have a detached home with a little yard out back. They also liked the idea of what they called "community." (This was, of course, a precursor to what we at the Fool mean by "community" on our message boards!) Community was a concept that included things like groups of neighborhoods with their own schools and shopping areas, but which were united within a larger municipal complex. Sounds old hat, you say? That's because you probably grew up in a suburb that came out of these pretty radical ideas of the '30s and '40s.
The first town to receive prominence using this design idea was Levittown, New York. A bustling planned community equidistant from New York City and the booming defense industrial plants on Long Island, Levittown and its cookie-cutter houses were aimed at returning GIs and the baby-boom children that were about to be produced. Within two decades, the offspring of these early ideas -- the "planned unit development" or "PUD" -- became the norm for America's suburban expansion. Sometimes entire cities like Columbia, Maryland -- built by the Rouse Company (NYSE: RSE) -- and Reston, Virginia were created from the ground up.
If you purchase a home in one of these planned communities, you'll probably find attractive houses with smartly manicured yards. You'll also find a strong home owners association or development company that has the ability to do some things you may not like.
For instance, zoning regulations or restrictions in your deed may limit the colors you can paint your house. They can also require that your grass be kept below a certain height. You might not be able to have a dog, or if you do, you will have to prove to the association that he's had all of his shots. You just can't wait to go to Wal-Mart for your new lawn's pink flamingoes? Think again. While many towns have ordinances similar to these, the truth is that most municipalities look the other way unless someone complains loudly. But if you live in a planned community, expect that these restrictions will be enforced vigilantly.
Your real estate agent will be able to tell you if the house you're looking at is within a community where restrictions like this occur. Ask to see exactly what would be expected of you as a homeowner and a list of any restrictions that you will be asked to abide by. Also, are you required to join the any kind of associations? Are there fees involved? If so, how much voice will you really have in how things are run?
Expect a similar experience if you decide that instead of a detached house, you want to buy a condominium or a co-op. Particularly with these two types of homes, the idea of "community" is of paramount importance and will heavily affect how much you will enjoy your new home.