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Housing: Are Home Owner Association Fees Worth It?

When you are out and about looking for a home to purchase, you are often going to (depending on the area in which you are looking) run into houses that require HOA's (or Home Owner Association Fees). These are costs, above and beyond what you normally pay for your house (such as mortgage and other bills) that are required just for living in the area. They can cover a wide variety of different things, such as: yard maintenance, shared resources (like gyms and rec rooms), normal management fees, upkeep of things like roads and gates, security, etc. Each area can come with its own amenities, and each of these will therefore have different costs. Some are in the hundreds of dollars per month, whereas others are a small fraction of that. Understanding these fees and how they will affect you is important, as they can end up running you out of your new home in the future.

Rules, Rules and More Rules

One of the things most people dislike about HOA areas is that they are a lot like apartments and condominiums. They can have many different rules, and if you are not following them you can be evicted from the neighborhood. While this is not usually a big problem, it really depends on what you plan to do with your home. For example, they can bar you from being able to erect a fence or add a pool to your property. On top of this, they could allow something today and vote it out tomorrow, forcing you to rid yourself of whatever it is that was changed.

This is not to say that the HOA areas will always result in things like this, but you do open yourself to the possibility. The rules are voted on by the other home owners (and yourself, should you decide to take part – which is recommended) prior to becoming a new rule. This ensures that the rules are based on what the community, as a majority, would like, rather than just an individual that decides they want to make changes for no real reason. As such, there are people that go forever without running into any problems, just because they are not really being affected in a negative way. Of course, the opposite could also be true, leading someone to be run out of the neighborhood.

Costs...

To me, this is the big negative. There are costs associated with the HOA, and they can be changed at any point. For example, someone I spoke to that bought a condo was paying under a hundred dollars a month. After a couple years, the area was hit by some bad storms, causing a bit of damage, and the fees went up by almost 500% within a few months. This ended up running people out of the condo, as they were used to certain budgets and were no longer able to adhere to them.

The other part is that even if the fees do not end up going up, they are something you will pay forever. Even after the house is paid off, and if you are using things like solar electricity, you still have to pay those monthly. While it may not seem like a lot in the beginning, when you are paying those same fees year after year, it can put a damper on your future budgets when you realize that you will not be freeing up as much money as you had hoped. Not to mention the fees do not maintain or increase the value of the home, so you really have nothing to show for it (unless you are using the neighborhood's amenities, in which you can compare the costs of using them to what you would have to spend elsewhere for the same benefits).

Conclusion

While I will not say whether you should go for HOA's or not (as each person is different and your plans with the new home will also impact your benefits), it is important to pay close attention to the costs and ensure that they are worth it in your case. Some are cheap and will cover things like maintaining your yard, whereas others are more expensive and only cover other areas (like a rec room you might not even use). Some questions you should ask prior to moving to an area with HOA's are:

  • Are they mandatory or voluntary?
  • How much are they?
  • Are they paid monthly or yearly?
  • What all do they cover?
  • How much can they increase per year, or how often are they increased?

Each of these things will help you find out whether or not the value of the HOA fees is worth it to you, but you also need to take it a step further. Being that these neighborhoods have more strict rules and you can be run off if you do not adhere to them, you need to be very careful in considering what rules there are and when votes take place. You want to be sure that you can make it to the votes, as not doing so could lead to disaster if they decide to vote on something you disagree with and you are not there to take part.

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