3 Things I've Learned After Buying a Home in an HOA Neighborhood

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  • Homeowners association neighborhoods are very common, and they often charge fees and impose strict rules.
  • You may not get exactly what you expect with an HOA.
  • The rules may not be enforced equally, and the terms of your HOA can change without your input. 

These issues with our HOA caught us by surprise. 

Recently, my husband and I purchased a house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association. 

We have previously not been big fans of HOA neighborhoods. But, we only plan to keep this property for a short time and we didn't have much of a choice because the market was crazy at the time. We needed to get into a home quickly, and we didn't want to take out a large mortgage so we were looking for properties within a certain price range.

Since moving into the HOA neighborhood, there are three big things that we've learned. 

1. HOAs don't always enforce the rules equally

The first thing we realized when we moved in was that the rules aren't always enforced equally. Our neighborhood has a number of restrictions including rules about leaving the garage door open and a requirement that you get permission to put out lawn decorations or flags other than the American flag. 

Some people, however, were leaving the garage doors open and had put out various flags and the HOA didn't say anything to them while other people who engaged in the same behavior reported getting warnings and even being assessed fines. 

A lot depended on where in the neighborhood you lived, which we suspect may be due to some neighbors reporting HOA violations but others ignoring them. Since we haven't violated any of the rules, this hasn't had a major impact on us -- but it's annoying to know it's the luck of the draw rather than equal enforcement for everyone. 

2. The quality of the service you get can vary

When we first moved in, our HOA was pretty responsive. They set up an initial meeting with us to go over the details of the amenities and the rules and requirements and they were very responsive to emails. 

Unfortunately, there was a change in staffing and now we've had much more trouble getting questions answered. This has created a lot of extra hassle for us, especially when there have been issues with the gate code to enter the neighborhood and when we had some questions about our monthly dues payments.

We've talked to many other people in nearby HOA neighborhoods who have also indicated they've had problems with the management companies -- including some friends who said the system at the gate used to let in visitors stopped working entirely when the management company failed to pay the bill. 

3. Terms and conditions can change without your input 

Another major issue we discovered since moving in is that things can change -- sometimes in ways that adversely affect you -- and you can't really do anything about it. 

For example, in our neighborhood, you're required to spend $75 per month at the on-site restaurant. When we moved in, this $75 included drinks, gratuity, and tax -- but now it doesn't, so we end up having to spend a lot more. 

Now, none of these were major issues -- and they may not apply in every HOA neighborhood. But before you buy a house in an association, you should be aware of some of the potential risks and downsides so you can make an informed choice about whether you can live with what having an association means for you. 

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