Read Your Documents and Get Involved: Tips for Your First Homeowners Association – Post Bulletin
With condominiums and gated neighborhoods on the rise, more Rochester residents will eventually end up in a property with a homeowners association.
The principle is simple: landlords agree to pay fees and abide by the rules in order to maintain a cohesive atmosphere in the neighborhood. Many HOAs use membership fees to perform lawn maintenance and outdoor chores for the entire community. Some of the costs also go into a reserve fund, which can be used for larger repairs, such as roofs and siding. A council of members is elected from among the residents to make decisions about maintenance, finances, and adjudicate when other members want to make visible changes to their homes.
Newcomers to HOAs can find the legalese intimidating — so we spoke to people who start HOAs in Rochester for guidance.
Read the documents. Tom Hill of Matik Management said buyers have 10 days at a sale to review their HOA’s decision documents (statement, articles of association, and rules and regulations). These documents will let homeowners know how much their monthly fees will cost (usually hundreds of dollars), how council is elected, and how restrictive the rules are regarding their future homes (uniformity in design, color, and material).
HOA documents aren’t fun to read, but it’s important to review them and seek clarification if needed before closing the sale. Many buyers look at a property and plan to make external changes, then skip reading their HOA documents during the sale, Hill said, which causes problems down the line.
“They say, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that,’ and then they look at the HOA and realize that there are stages to go through and they may not be able to complete this change,” said he declared.
The documents will also help level expectations between owners, board members and the HOA as a whole — a crucial step, said Jo Ellen Heers-Risen, secretary/treasurer of Willow Point Townhome Association.
Expect big changes. Mike Paradise, President of Bigelow Homes, has spearheaded several new properties through the creation of an HOA.
“Living in an HOA is a different way of life,” he said.
While some homeowners might seek such a community so they can travel without worrying about snow removal and winter maintenance, many young people have also looked to planned developments to avoid chores such as lawn mowing during buying their first property, he said. .
Related: Builder: Housing Needs Community Support
That said, keep expectations reasonable. Those who enter an HOA because of the built-in outdoor care sometimes complain when their lawn isn’t mowed immediately or the snow “hasn’t cleared 10 minutes after the snow stops,” Paradise said. “Be patient. … Many of these companies that deal with snow and turf for associations have multiple clients. It may take them a while to get around.
Do not plan changes without approval. Each community’s rules and regulations are HOA-specific and property-specific, so buyers can’t assume a planned development’s guidelines will apply to every home they’re considering, Hill added. However, the “standard language” tends to be that “any change outside of a unit, or any change that would affect your neighbor, must be approved”.
That doesn’t just include painting or landscaping, Hill said. A resident who wishes to obtain cable television may need approval for a satellite dish. A fireplace would require a visible chimney.
Most HOAs have a board of directors or architectural control committee (ACC) made up of residents, who approve any requests for changes. These residents will check the change form against the rules and regulations of the community and come back with a confirmation or denial.
Maintain your home. Your average gated community has rows and rows of manicured landscapes and perfectly painted doors – but part of that responsibility lies with the residents.
“A common misconception is, ‘I buy property in an HOA, I’ll pay my dues, so it’s all taken care of,'” Hill said. “This is not entirely true.”
Communities have a built-in way of dealing with “bad neighbours” and those who don’t maintain their properties.
“If someone isn’t tracking a property … the HOA can actually have repairs done and then assess the costs to that property owner,” Hill said.
To be involved. One of the big benefits of living in an HOA is the “returning to that sense of community,” Hill said. “I’m 41, I remember growing up in the 80s and playing in my neighborhood, and we all knew each other. You don’t always find that now.
Hill, who manages more than a thousand units, generally sees a reluctance to participate in HOA leadership or attend board meetings. The board of directors and all the committees give directives to the management companies, and not the other way around. However, it certainly takes time and effort to become a leader.
Paradise said that while some residents fear “neighborhood politics,” the lack of volunteers is creating problems at HOAs. Hill recommends newcomers to HOAs start small.
“Get to know your board, get to know your neighbors,” he said. “Try to volunteer in some aspects. It’s important to know what’s going on.”
And finally – “Always remember that you are part of a community, so be part of the solution, not the problem,” Heers-Risen said.