Living in a neighborhood with a homeowner's association: 6 tips for finding the right fit

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  • When shopping for homes, decide whether you want to live in an area with a homeowner's association (HOA), an organization in charge of keeping up the neighborhood.
  • Each HOA operates differently, so find out what the association is in charge of maintaining and how much you'll pay in fees.
  • You'll pay dues if you move into a neighborhood with an HOA, and dues could change annually.
  • If you break an HOA rule, you'll probably receive a warning, then pay a fine if you continue breaking the rule.
  • Policygenius can help you compare homeowner's insurance policies to find the right coverage for you, at the right price »

A homeowner's association (HOA) is a private organization that maintains the quality of a neighborhood. Not all neighborhoods have HOAs, but if you move into an area with an association, then you will pay dues and be expected to follow HOA guidelines.

Consider whether you want to live in a neighborhood with an HOA

Moving into an area with an HOA has its pros and cons. On the plus side, an HOA often keeps the neighborhood in good condition and acts as a moderator if you have issues with a neighbor.

On the downside, you'll have to pay HOA fees and follow guidelines surrounding everything from holiday decorations, to trash pickup, to noise levels, to grass length.

Not every neighborhood has an HOA, so weigh the pros and cons before you buy a home.

Ask about fees before you buy a home

Depending on where you live, HOA dues can cost you up to a few hundred dollars per month.

Real estate websites like Zillow and Trulia list homeowners association dues on a home listing. This can be a quick way to find out if a fee is too high for your budget.

When you look at a home listing on a real-estate website, such as Zillow or Trulia, you'll see how much you'd pay in HOA fees each month. This is a quick way to compare dues for each home you're considering buying.

When you speak to the realtor, double-check the dues listed on the real estate website are correct. You may also want to check the Declaration of Covenant, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&R), the document that lays out the neighborhood HOA rules.

Find out what the fees cover

Not all HOAs are in charge of the same amenities. Some may enforce rules surrounding noise control and subletting your home, while others could limit what type of holiday decorations you can display on your home's exterior.

Maybe you want freedom over certain aspects of your home, but you'd like the association to handle other things. If you want to live in a neighborhood with an HOA, make a list of what you do and don't want the association to cover before you buy a home.

Know that fees could change

An HOA has the right to increase your dues. Before buying a home, read through the CC&R carefully. This document should specify how much the HOA can legally increase fees each year.

Think about whether you're comfortable with the potential increases, especially considering which amenities the HOA is in charge of maintaining.

Beware you may be fined for breaking the rules

Each HOA's fine structure is different. When you break an HOA rule, your association will probably issue a warning. You'll face a fine should you continue breaking that rule.

The fine amount will depend on which guideline you break and whether you've had more than one offense. You could pay as little as $25, for example, or it could be a few hundred dollars.

Get involved to make a difference

There are several advantages to joining the HOA. (Unfortunately, joining won't waive your monthly dues, though!) You can get to know your neighbors and be involved in improving the neighborhood.

If you think your HOA could benefit from your perspective, ask the association what it takes to join. 

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