Life in an HOA - Is It Really That Bad?
If you've spent any time on the internet lately then you have probably heard some fairly nasty things about Homeowner Associations. From articles about lawsuits to particularly angry Reddit forums, associations are often maligned as overzealous authoritarians... but the truth is that most American's living in these communities are happy and satisfied with their situation.
There is a reason why more than 60% of single-family homes built are within HOA neighborhoods, and why homeowners choose these homes with preference. HOAs offer value, as they were designed to, and most neighborhoods work well with and for their member-homeowners.
The 2020 HOA Satisfaction Survey
The recent Community Association Institute 2020 Study revealed that over 90% of current HOA homeowners are satisfied, confident, or unbothered by their HOA community management. 70% of HOA homeowners are pleased with their HOA neighborhood, services, and treatment. An additionally 20% have no strong feelings either way about their HOA, and fewer than 10% have a mild to serious complaint. Only 4% of all HOA homeowners feel that policies may be harmful to them or to property values.
This is a vastly different view than the one we get from reading internet news and browsing forums on personal HOA stories. If you look up HOA stories, the vast majority are negative. There are real and legitimate reasons for these complaints, but they do not effectively represent the true experience of living in an HOA for 90% of HOA member-homeowners.
The Squeaky Wheel - The Vocal Minority with Bad HOA Experiences
Before we dive into the benefits of an HOA, let's talk about the complaints. With 70-90% satisfaction, why is the internet flooded with terrible and, admittedly, fascinating HOA horror stories? Why does it seem like all the worst stories of everyday tyranny are focused on HOA and Condo Association communities?
The answer is a vocal minority, and the fact that HOA troubles hit literally close to home.
Bad-Apple Ratio in a Large Industry
In any industry, there are a few bad apples, and HOAs are no exception. While most HOAs are supportive and quietly organized, some are critically mis-managed. With so many HOA neighborhoods (and homes) in the United States, the hundreds of stories you've seen realistically represent a small minority of homeowners.
Speaking Out on Troubles Close to Home
The other issue is vocality. When an HOA goes wrong and starts exacting hefty fines or unevenly enforcing policies, issues get personal very quickly. Encroach on a person's home, freedom, and equal treatment among their neighbors and a fight can be expected and encouraged. However, the stir created by these individual calls for correction have created a disproportionate view of HOAs as a whole. Because HOAs are otherwise quiet and private places to live, these negative stories are the only ones seen in the News or internet media.
What It's Really Like to Live in an HOA
HOAs were designed to provide benefits that un-managed neighborhoods can't achieve. Things like installing a sidewalk, building a playground, or running a neighborhood pool are beyond most private homeowners on an otherwise city-managed street. Inside an HOA, however, members have the power to pool their dues to achieve things that everyone wants - like parks and sidewalks. Potholes get repaired, speed bumps keep the kids safe, and flower beds are planted in all the margins and unused spaces.
Most HOAs have reasonable annual dues and the occasional levy for community repairs or beneficial improvements - and residents benefit from these concerted efforts more than they would living on a city-managed street.
There are rules, of course, but these rules are usually mild and designed only to ensure the neighborhood stays a safe, lovely place to live with rising property values. The rules often relate to trash cans, parking spots, lawn maintenance, holiday decor, and home design. Well-written HOA rules are so reasonable that most homeowners barely notice they exist because they would rarely - if ever - cross the designated lines in day-to-day life. We have even had homeowners sent a thank-you for reminders of minor violations because the issue was an unnoticed oversight, better corrected than left to get worse.
Finding an HOA You Will Enjoy
The final thoughts we'd like to finish with are on choosing the right neighborhood. Signs of a healthy HOA include happy neighbors, regional comparable dues, and open records. As a potential home-buyer, you should have access to your future governing documents. On request, you may be able to see the HOA's financial records for spending, fees, and levies as well.
Look for a neighborhood that is not just beautiful, but also suits your personality. There are HOAs with unique homes and festive yards, that feature rock gardens instead of 100% green lawns or that favor families with children. Find a neighborhood where you would feel at home, as you can often intuit the neighborhood rules (and enforcement strategy) just by walking a few blocks and seeing how your future neighbors conduct their homes.
Talk to neighborhood members (who are not your sellers) and ask about their satisfaction with policy and enforcement. Check the news and civil cord records for any recent conflicts. If there are no signs of trouble, there is a greater than 90% chance that you, too will be a satisfied HOA homeowner if you choose to join a member-managed community.
Contact us today for more HOA insights!