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6 Things You Need to Do before Joining an HOA (and 4 Things Once You’re in)

You’ve finally landed that raise, your kids are getting a little older, and you’re ready to move on up! Better than the east side, you’re headed to one of the swanky gated communities you’ve always dreamed of living in.

And then you realized it’s governed by a homeowner’s association.

You’ve seen The X-Files. You know how important it is to find a good fit with your HOA. And what’s more, you genuinely want to get along well with your new neighbors.

So what do you do?

If you’re completely new to HOAs, we recommend you start with our Beginner’s Guide to Condo and Homeowner Associations. Once you’re familiar with what an HOA is and what it does, check this list of six things you need to do before joining an HOA.

1. Learn the Rules

Every HOA is different. Make sure you understand the rules for the one you’re joining and that they’re reasonable enough for your lifestyle. In addition, learn how the HOA is organized, how often it meets, what happens when rules aren’t met, and the procedure for changing the rules. Conversely, it’s important to know what restrictions the HOA places on you as a homeowner. This information should be available online, but if you can’t find it, your real estate agent should be able to help.

2. Know the Fees

How often are fees collected? Annually? Quarterly? What do fees cover? What is the budget for your HOA, and how stable have their operating budgets and financial statements been over the last few years? Are there funds in reserve for emergencies? These answers will help you gauge how well your HOA is managed, how often you have to pay regular fees, and whether you should expect increased dues or special assessments for larger issues.

3. Know Your Coverage

What services are included in your HOA fees? Many condo associations cover much of the external maintenance of homes. For single-family home communities, your individual maintenance is likely not covered, but you may receive snow removal or other seasonal services. HOAs can also cover community buildings, clubhouses, or other communal facilities.

4. Make Sure the Home You’re Buying is in Compliance

It’s important that you understand the structure and organization of your HOA before you purchase your home so you know if it already meets compliance. Have rules recently changed that inspired the former homeowner to leave? Will you be required to make upgrades or repairs upon moving in? If so, this could add considerably to your move-in expenses.

5. Sit in on a Meeting

Your HOA could end up being more or less casual than you expect. On the one hand, casual HOAs may give you a lot of leeway in your home repairs and upgrades in years to come. On the other hand, that could also make it difficult to deal with neighbors who are out of compliance. Understand the culture and general practices of your HOA by sitting in on a meeting and seeing the committee in action. If you can’t make it to a meeting, ask for a copy of the minutes from the last meeting.

6. Assess the Environmental Practices

Did you know that your HOA can dictate what fertilizers, pesticides, and sprinkler systems you’re required to use (or not to use)? If environmental impact is important to you, or conversely if you’ll do whatever it takes to get that Stepford-green front lawn, know your HOA’s stance on lawn care and maintenance.

You’re in! Now what?

Wow! Your HOA is a great fit for you and your lifestyle. It covers everything you need it to cover, and it doesn’t overly restrict your decorative birdhouse collection. Now that you’re settled into your fabulous new home in your wonderful new neighborhood, you’re good to go, right?

Not quite.