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Is an HOA community right for you?

When you are shopping for a new home in Southern California, you have many options, including single-family dwellings, condominiums and townhouses. Some of these may include membership in a homeowners association.

Purchasing a home in an HOA community is not a decision to take lightly. An HOA adds a dimension to your home ownership that you should fully understand before you agree to it. HOA membership is not optional, and its rules are legally binding.

HOA fees

If you plan to buy a home in a neighborhood with an HOA, your first concern should be the dues you will pay to the association. The average HOA membership is about $400 a month, but they can be substantially higher if the community offers more amenities. Your dues help to pay for those amenities, such as maintenance of common areas, repairs and improvements. However, even after you pay your dues, the HOA may require you to contribute more if its budget cannot afford major repairs or emergencies.

Affording the HOA fees is critical to your homebuying budget since the board may have the legal right to foreclose on your house if you fall behind. It is important that you read over the contract and ask questions about additional fees, raises in dues and special assessments. You will also want to know how well the board manages the money and how often they require funds above your monthly fee.

Covenants, conditions and restrictions

Another critical part of the HOA is the covenants, conditions and restrictions. Some CC&Rs are lenient, while other may micromanage more of your life than you can comfortably accept. Common elements in a CC&R include restrictions on the following:

  • The color you may paint your home
  • The height of your fence or placement of any outbuildings
  • The number and kinds of pets
  • Landscaping
  • Holiday decorations
  • Vehicle parking
  • Window coverings
  • Home offices

The purpose of these rules is to make the community comfortable and peaceful for all the residents, and violating the CC&R often results in fines. You will have to determine if the atmosphere of the neighborhood and the benefits of the HOA are worth the sacrifices you will have to make to abide by the rules.

For your protection, you may want to do some research on the HOA before agreeing to purchase in the community. Obtain a copy of minutes from recent meetings, ask to see the budget and observe whether the board is doing its part to keep the community clean and in good repair. You can always seek the advice of an attorney if a dispute should arise between you and your HOA board.

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