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Residential Real Estate
Mar 2, 2022

Is Community Association Living The Right Choice For You?

Sponsored Content provided by Mike Stonestreet - Founder, CAMS (Community Association Management Services)

Buying a home in a community association can be a fantastic decision – you'll often have access to some great amenities, perhaps no longer have to take care of your lawn, and get to enjoy convenient opportunities to socialize with your neighbors. But, as with most things, there can be downsides depending on your personal preferences. So here are some things you should consider before purchasing a home in a community association.

First things first – if you purchase a property located within a community association, you automatically become a member. Deed restrictions are most often attached to the land, not the home built on it, and there is no way around that. So don't get the idea that you can declare yourself and your property independent of "Happy Days Homeowners Association", it isn't going to work.

The Governing Documents
The what? You may already be off to a difficult start if your real estate agent hasn't told you about these. The governing documents encompass several documents that speak to the setup and running of the community. Though most real estate agents will (and should) make sure their clients get a copy of these documents, not all will. If yours doesn't provide a copy, ask for one, or, if you must, you can typically find them in the county's register of deeds records.

Why do you need to see the Governing Documents?

One of the most important documents to read before finalizing your home purchase is the declaration (sometimes called the CC&Rs or master deed). The declaration contains restrictions regarding your individual property. For example, the declaration might restrict the colors you can paint your house, how high your grass can grow before it has to be mowed, or disallow the parking of recreational vehicles on your property. The governing documents also define what are considered common areas within the development.

The reason for going over the governing documents carefully is twofold. First, you want to make sure these restrictions are something you can abide by without disrupting your preferred living style. And secondly, if you violate these rules, there will be fines eventually associated with the violation if you fail to fix the issue on time.

There may also be rules and regulations that are separate from the declaration. Unlike the declaration, which is related to what you can and can't do to your property, rules and regulations speak to behaviors. So, for example, no unsupervised children in the pool or all dogs must be on a leash could be in a community's rules and regulations.

Assessments (sometimes called dues or fees) refer to money which all members pay to the association to cover things like maintenance of common areas – pools, fitness centers, playgrounds, stuff like that. Assessments may also go towards the association's insurance policies and anything else the association provides for the membership. The rate of assessments will vary depending on the size of your community and the amenities it offers.

When purchasing property in a community association, you agree to pay these fees at whatever interval the association's governing documents or board of directors state. So, before you decide to buy, make sure that this is something you're willing and able to pay. And remember, assessments will likely go up over time due to inflation and increased cost of living, so keep that in mind when making your decision.

Meet the Neighbors
If you've decided that the restrictions and assessments are things you can live with, what else should you consider before signing on the dotted line?

Get a "feel" for the neighborhood. Drive around on different days and times to see how loud or quiet it is. Meet your potential neighbors and get their opinions on living in the community. Do they think the board is biased and uncompromising? Do they enjoy the community immensely and say it's the best housing decision they've ever made? Talking to people who already live there will be one of the best ways to get an insider's opinion on the day-to-day goings-on of the community.

What are some other perks of living in a community association?
Though this will heavily depend on your lifestyle and personal preferences, there are some excellent advantages to living in a community association.

  • Keeping property values high: This is in no way a guarantee, but often the restrictions that come along with living in a community association – standards of lawn care, uniform house colors, rules against junk cars in driveways, things like that – will aid in retaining your property's value over time.
  • Amenities: Say you've wanted to install a swimming pool for a long time but can't afford it. Great news – if you live in a community association with a swimming pool, you and your family have access to it included in the assessment you pay! The same goes for fitness centers, tennis courts, clubhouses, and numerous other amenities communities may offer.
  • Maintenance: Though this will vary between associations, some offer things like lawn care, pressure washing, or are responsible for things like roof repair. If your community does offer some of these things, it will surely be a weight off your shoulders.
  • Social opportunities: Making new friends as an adult is pretty tough. If you move into a community that offers social opportunities, you'll be able to get to know your neighbors by joining clubs, attending parties, and by gathering together in the common areas.
  • Dealing with bad neighbors: Though board members shouldn't (and probably won't) get involved if you can't stand Ms. Cunningham because she bullied you in high school, they can address situations that are direct violations of the community rules and regulations. So, if your community rules state "no parking in the street" and Ms. Cunningham keeps throwing wild parties every weekend with guests parking all over the street, the association can address it without you ending up labeled as the neighborhood party pooper.
Are there downsides to living in a community association?
Once again, this comes down to personal preference. If you don't like rules and regulations governing what you can and can't do on your property, then a community association may not be the place for you. Don't like the idea of paying assessments? Then it may be best to find a home outside of a community association.

Further, there can be significant consequences if you fail to pay your assessments. If you fail to pay for an extended period, the association can put a lien on your home, and if the situation continues long enough, even foreclose on it.

Ultimately, the decision to purchase a home within a community association is one that only you and your family can make. However, remember that community associations are vastly popular these days, so finding a home you like outside of a community association may be challenging. So, while you're house hunting, find some options in a few different communities and evaluate the restrictions, assessments, and amenities and think about which may work best for you.

If you'd like to learn more about association living, you can visit our website for more information.

Mike Stonestreet, CMCA, PCAM, AMS, is Founder/Co-Owner of CAMS (Community Association Management Services). CAMS began in 1991 with Stonestreet and a few employees in a small office in Wilmington but has since grown to over 300 employees serving eight regions across North and South Carolina.
His current role at CAMS focuses on mergers and acquisitions, culture alignment and high-level business relationships. Stonestreet is an active member of the NC Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and has spent time on their board of directors, serving as the chapter President in 2019.



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