Home Owner’s Associations 101

Oswego Summit
Oswego Summit
The Terraces
The Terraces

Home Owner’s Associations are extremely common. They occur in condominium developments, townhouse developments, and even neighborhoods of single family homes. Basicly they are a set of rules that are recorded with the title to the property and that transfer when the property is sold. So when you buy a property that has a Home Owners Association, you are not just buying the property, you are also buying membership in the HOA.

Being of a positive nature, I want to start with the good aspects of belong to a HOA (Home Owner’s Associaiotn).

HOAs are ideal for the person who wants someone else to do exterior yardwork and maintenance, who likes the ammenities that often come with the HOA, and also someone who likes the idea that they can close the door, lock it, and go away knowing that the property will be cared for while he or she is gone.

My Mother is a perfect example. She’s in her 80’s and can not physically maintain a house. But she’s still capable and independent, so not ready for assisted living. She lives in a condominium complex here in Lake Oswego. I like the idea that she has neighbors close by who know and care about her. The lady across the hall happens to also be a nurse and she has a key to my Mom’s front door. It is a great comfort to me to know that my Mom has help 6 feet across the hall.

Now the downside to HOAs.

When you buy a property that has an HOA, your home inspection should not just be for the physical dwelling, it should also include the fitness of the HOA. Condition your purchase on reveiw of the Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions, reading the last 2 years notes from HOA meetings, a copy of the financil status of the HOA including review of the long-term reserve studies, a copy of the rules and regualtions, and any and all pertinent information.

The normal thought process when buying into an HOA is that you want to keep the cost down and so tend to be attracted to HOAs that have low monthly fees. This may be incorrect thinking. The HOA is likely responsible for long-term maintenance of some very expensive items such as roofs, decks, and swimming pools. If they are not collecting money to build up a savings account for these expensive items, then the HOA will have to cover these expenses with a special assessment. This is all too common!

In addition, HOAs often have expenses that a single family residence does not. Think about the parking lot through a normal condominium development. It will need to be re-paved, re-striped, and get annual snow and leaf removal.

You want to belong to an HOA with solid financial management that has performed a full study that projects for these future expenses and then collects money in the monthly HOA fees to build up the necessary reserves to meet these expenses.

If a large expense arrises that the HOA does not have money to do, those famous special assessments happen. I am aware of an HOA here in Lake Oswego that had a special assessment about 15 years ago that average $10,000 per unit. That same HOA, just last week, had a meeting of the unit owners and announced that a similar special assessment will be happening this year as well.

Be aware that there are actually insurance policies you can purchase to protect you from special assessments. I have a personal friend who owns such a policy. It costs her $10 per month for coverage up to $10,000. Seems like a good investment that is pretty cheap.

The other concern with HOAs is the possibility of lawsuit. There is a condominium complex here in Lake Oswego that was a 1950’s apartment building that was converted to condos in 2006. Since the conversion the complex has experienced extensive water problems. The HOA is now suing the developer who did the condo conversion. Banks will not lend on units in the complex until the lawsuit is settled. This means that condos can only be sold on private contract or with all cash. This severely limits the pool of capable buyers and is consequently suppressing the re-sale value for those trying to sell now.

The bottom line is that you need to know what you are doing if you want to buy a property that has an HOA. It really is the reason you should be working with a good Realtor.

Have a great day!