Navigating your HOA

Photo by Patrick Schreiber on Unsplash

If you’re anything like me, you would rather not be dealing with a HOA. I automatically think to the worst-case scenario – a nosey neighbor watching my every move, measuring the height of my grass, and reporting back to a board of other nosey neighbors that want to see everyone else suffer. Or, at least, that was what I thought it would be like…

HOA Basics

Good luck buying a home if you’re not into dealing with a HOA. It is really hard to find a property near a metropolitan area these days that is not subject to a HOA. The neighborhood I’m in now was established in the mid-1990s, so that tells you HOAs have been around longer than we would have wanted them to be. My neighborhood doesn’t have many amenities – our yearly dues are low, and they really only go to maintaining an outdated playground and some landscaping around the entrance.

Our HOA does not seem like much, but there are a ton of bylaws – regulations that govern what can be built on my property, where I can put it, how it should be landscaped, etc. Reading through the bylaws makes you feel like you’re going to be locked in your house at 9pm sharp! Then there is 10 pages about how the HOA board should be set up, who it should be composed of, and how to elect someone. Great – I still don’t care about any of this – well, I’m still wondering about all the restrictions though.

While the restrictions seem, well, restrictive – they usually are not that bad. They are just there to prevent people from doing relatively weird stuff, like building a three-story shed in their front yard!

Dealing with a HOA

My first interaction with my HOA was when I went to build my fence. They required I submit an application to the “architectural board” – this sounded super formal. I filled out the paperwork, emailed it to the email address they provided me with and waited. I waited a seemingly unnecessary 5 weeks until the “chair” of the “architectural committee” called me.

HOAs are not ALL bad

This is when everything got cool – Bob called me. Bob was not an architect, nor someone I would expect to chair a committee. He was just a dude that liked to talk.. Bob welcomed me to the neighborhood, told me his life story, and told me that he enjoys volunteering on the HOA because he wants to make sure that its fair. He doesn’t want one of “those” people, you know the nosey neighbor that wants to see the world burn type, in charge. Bob was OK in my book. He approved my fence project, we talked for an hour and a half, and that’s the last I heard from the HOA.

Now I know that my experience is not everyone’s – but here are a few takeaways that may help you navigate the dreaded world of the HOA.

The HOA Board is Composed of YOUR Neighbors

Give them the benefit of the doubt – they’re probably not as bad as your brain has led you to believe. Plus, if you do come across someone that’s terrible, run against them! You can have their uncompensated responsibilities! (That actually sounds terrible)

Plan Ahead

Before you freak out about having to ask permission to put up a fence and then wait 5 weeks for a response (like I did), just put the application in 5 weeks before you want to build (like I should have). Just like everything in our ridiculously complex lives, things at the HOA take some time (timeline may vary). Remember, they are not getting paid to be a pain in your side.

HOAs Are Not By Mistake

In my neighborhood, they exist mostly to divvy up our meager yearly budget between landscapers and the street lamp bill. Other neighborhoods have more complex amenities and the board has more functions – like spending more money on more things! Another reason they will argue, is to make sure people don’t disrespect other’s property values by building weird stuff. Depending on the HOA, the extent of their rules will vary – I’m lucky that mine is not too crazy.

HOAs became prominent in the U.S. in the 1960s as a way to control architectural quality during a time of exponential housing growth. Later on, they began providing services that were usually provided by local municipalities – water, sewer, etc. They were essentially needed and provided a source of quality control for suburban development – to prevent builders from cutting too many corners in their money-making journey. I guess we can blame capitalism for our HOA problem.

It’ll All Be OK

Just as suburban planning has evolved, so have HOAs – and they are seemingly getting less and less important – but if you want to live in a neighborhood that has any amenities at all, you will inevitably be part of a HOA. Take advice from me – a guy that lost some sleep over dealing with a HOA – and get over it.

Do you have a similar experience? Is your HOA a nightmare? Or do you serve on a HOA board? We want to hear from you!

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