The acronyms “HOA” and “CCRs,” although they are used daily by real estate agents, may be unfamiliar to the average person. Let’s break down these acronyms and get you up to speed on what homebuyers should know.
HOA stands for homeowner association – a nonprofit organization that is funded by all the association’s members and overseen by an elected board of directors. In some states, HOAs must be registered with the department of real estate or another state regulatory agency.
Most of the country’s HOAs are run by volunteers from within the community, with the remainder run by management companies.
The primary purpose of the HOA is to enforce the policies, procedures, regulations and restrictions agreed to by the members, thereby maintaining property values. Financial support for the HOA comes from each homeowner in the form of monthly dues and occasional assessments.
So, how does one become a member of an HOA? If you purchase a home in a managed community, you don’t have a choice about whether to become a member. It is required and automatic. For this reason, when considering the purchase of a home governed by an HOA, reading the HOA documents before you agree to purchase is of critical importance.
CC&R stands for covenants, conditions and restrictions – the governing documents for the operation of the HOA. These are the rules that homeowners, tenants and guests are obligated to follow.
Want to paint your house psychedelic pink? Check the CC&Rs first. From the number of pets allowed to parking restrictions, the CC&Rs are the laws of the community. Failure to abide by them could mean a hefty fine for the homeowner. Unpaid fines can lead to foreclosure proceedings and the loss of the home to the HOA.
Here are just a few items commonly regulated by CC&Rs, according to the authors of “Nolo’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home”:
- Roofing material.
- Exterior paint color.
- Outdoor play equipment such as swing sets and basketball hoops.
- Garages and outbuildings.
- Window coverings.
- Holiday decorations.
- Garbage and recycling containers.
- Pets (size, breed restrictions, etc.).
- Home businesses.
Purchasing a Home in an HOA-Governed Community
Immediately after your offer is accepted on a home governed by an HOA, your agent will go to work to obtain what is typically referred to as the “HOA docs.” This is a large package that contains everything you need to know about the HOA and about life in the community.
Unfortunately, the HOA docs need to be ordered, then compiled by the HOA, and typically don’t reach the buyer until late in the process. By this time the buyer has usually paid for a home inspection, not to mention the HOA doc fee, which can be quite hefty.
This is the most critical part of the process, though, and requires extreme due diligence. If you don’t understand anything in the HOA documents, ask your real estate agent or attorney to explain it. Never close escrow until you’ve read every word on every sheet of paper in the HOA documents package.
What to Look for in HOA Documents
Several documents in the HOA package require even closer scrutiny:
A HOA will levy a special assessment when there is not enough money in the reserve fund to pay for major repairs or improvements to the community resources, such as roofs and major systems.
Check the documents carefully for the number of special assessments imposed over the life of the HOA and the amount that was imposed. Excessive assessments are a bad sign.
While you’re at it, check for mention of any major projects planned and whether the HOA reserve fund can cover them. You’ll find information about the reserve fund in the HOA’s budget. There should be a minimum of 10 percent of the annual budget amount on reserve.
Your lender will find out about this, so you may as well check to see if there is any ongoing or pending litigation on behalf of or against the HOA. If the litigation is over construction defects, the lender won’t approve your loan until the litigation is complete.
The HOA holds meetings and someone is responsible for keeping track of what occurs during the meetings. Look through the minutes for homeowner complaints, especially repeated complaints. This is an indication of an unresponsive HOA – another red flag. Some associations are striking homeowner comments from their minutes. If you see no comments, ask your real estate agent to find out why.
While other documents, such as the insurance policy, are important, the ones mentioned above are those that the layperson can most easily understand. Again, if you don’t know how to read an insurance policy (and who does?) run it by your attorney.
No matter how much you love that adorable condo, it’s not worth purchasing if the CC&Rs impact your lifestyle and restrict your freedom. Read HOA docs carefully before signing an offer to purchase.