You just bought your dream home in a pristine master-planned community.
Isn’t it beautiful? And it’s all yours. And because it’s all yours, you’re already wondering whether that beige garage door would “pop” better if it were painted a dashing shade of candy-apple red — and accented with lime, purple and black polka dots.
Hold on. If there’s one thing that could shanghai you from new-home nirvana, it’s remaining blissfully ignorant of how your choices impact other community residents or your local homeowner’s association (HOA).
Before your HOA comes knocking on your newly-painted garage door, do yourself a favor: Read the rules of your HOA. While you look for your copy, here are eight sure ways to get sideways with many homeowner associations — if that’s your goal:
1. Reincarnate “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” at Your House
So you went to Home Depot and had a ball in the paint aisle. You found the perfect shades of Benjamin Moore’s “Grape Ice” and “Romantic Violet,” and you’re ready to paint the exterior of your home.
Not so fast. Most HOA’s require approval before homeowners can make major changes to the outside of their home. Whenever you’re considering a renovation, paint job or any other significant cosmetic change (including solar panels), it’s best to submit a request for approval to your HOA first. Otherwise, you and your household may forever live in neighborhood infamy as the people who painted their house purple.
2. Raise Chickens in Your Backyard
Want to get into animal husbandry? There’s a conversation starter for your next cocktail party. However, if you can’t stop dreaming of farm-fresh, homegrown omelets on Sundays, you may want to live somewhere else. Keeping farm animals in your home or backyard is a great way to attract the attention of your HOA, within days or possibly hours of their installment.
3. Maintain a Politically Active Front Yard
Political yard signs long after election season do not belong in your yard — at least that’s what the HOA reckons. Put yourself in your neighbors’ shoes: Would you want to look at a sign or banner long after the election?
4. Turn Your Lawn Into a Garden of “Wildgrass”
What’s the word the HOA has for your lawn of four-foot tall wild grass, capable of hiding entire herds of buffalo? Oh, that’s right: “Weeds.”
Invest in a lawnmower.
5. Invite Everyone You Know to Stay at Your Place and Park on the Street in Front of Your Neighbors’ Homes for a Few … Months
Hospitality may be your middle name, but trust us, your HOA will notice if you’re billeting 15 of your closest friends — and parking their cars, RV’s and hovercraft for any extended period of time. See what the rules say about long-term stays and especially what the rules of the road are for on-street parking. Neither you nor your neighbor will relish a sea of vehicles owned by others lining the front of a home.
6. Leave Your Trash Bins On the Curb
It’s been a long day. You just got home from work. You’re tired. The 15-foot walk to the end of the driveway to retrieve your empty trash bin seems like a marathon. It can wait ‘till tomorrow, you think to yourself.
We’ve been there. We understand. You know who won’t, though? Your HOA.
7. Cultivate an Air of Mystery
Your new 10-foot-tall fence doesn’t make you look famous — it just makes you look like a crazy person hiding behind an impenetrable wall. Don’t be a crazy person hiding behind an impenetrable wall. Review your local HOA’s rules on fences before installing one around your home.
8. Don’t Bother to Read the CC&R
Most HOA’s have the power to impose fines, collect dues, file a lien on your property or even take you to court. That’s why it’s so important to review local HOA rules before you buy a home. Take the time to read and understand the Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions of Sale document and other HOA rules.
Most of the time, homeowner’s associations enforce rules not to be difficult, but to protect your investment in the value of your home. Don’t ignore the CC&R. If you don’t think you can live under the stated terms and conditions, don’t sign on the dotted line.
Because they’re in the position of sometimes turning down a resident’s request, homeowner’s associations sometimes get a bad rep. If you don’t like a decision of your HOA, learn what their appeal process is. Most HOA’s have such a process. Also keep in mind that that “faceless” HOA is usually composed of your fellow neighbors, unpaid volunteers, who are at times asked to make tough calls.
Keep in mind that HOA regulations are designed to protect the value of your largest investment–and to do the same for all of your neighbors. HOA’s are also designed to create a process for orderly and fair debate. We’ve all seen cities or parts of town with no zoning. While “anything goes” may briefly seem tempting, would you really want your neighbor operating an auto body paint shop in his front yard?
HOA rules often boil down to common courtesy and respect for others. HOA’s also help keep your neighborhood beautiful. Isn’t that why you fall in love with your new home and your community in the first place?
Katie McKenzie is a contributor to NewHomeSource.
In addition to her posts on NewHomeSource and the NHS blog, her work has appeared on Raleigh.com, LosAngeles.com and SanFrancisco.com. She also writes about real estate from a more local perspective as the current St. Louis Real Estate Examiner on Examiner.com.