Homeowners Association Rules to Consider When Buying a Fixer-Upper

HOA rules about remodeling

They say every cloud has a silver lining. It’s the optimist’s way of pointing out that there is always a bright side. Unfortunately the opposite is true as well: Even the best stuff usually comes at a cost. Ice cream is a great example. You know what else comes to mind? Homeowners associations!

Deed-restricted HOA communities often enjoy very stable property values and reliably short sales cycle times.

HOAs are great, sometimes. They give residents a voice, they create a venue for working together on community issues, and they usually boost property values because they keep the neighborhood looking good. Unfortunately, however, they usually don’t love “fixer-uppers.”

If you’re considering purchasing a fixer-upper in a neighborhood with deed restrictions and/or an active HOA, here are a few things to look out for.

Deed Restricted or Not?

Not all HOAs are created equal. In some deed-restricted communities, the HOA has teeth. They can fine you big money for violations and even, in extreme circumstances, go so far as to foreclose on abandoned property. Other HOAs are more of a civic organization formed by community members mostly for sharing information and giving the community a voice in governmental affairs.

Knowing which type of HOA your prospective home would be a part of is a big deal. The deed-restricted community type is just as powerful as municipal zoning inspectors and their rules must be followed to the letter. The other kind, not so much. For the purposes of this post I’m talking mostly about the kinds of things the more “controlling” type of HOA might look at as you work on your fixer-upper.

HOA-Approved House Colors

People in deed-restricted communities are often shocked to learn that all exterior paint colors have to be approved and are often restricted to specific palettes. I grew up in a neighborhood that was supposed to stick with “earth tone” colors. Eventually the people who argued that the ocean and sky are blue won over and things went sideways, but for the first 20 years of that neighborhood’s existence, every single house was some shade of brown, which wasn’t very inspiring.

Basic HOA Rules About Window Treatments

Similar to the kind of restrictions you might have experienced in apartment buildings or college dorms, HOAs often have rules about the visible portion of your interior window treatments being white. So if your plan is to hang up some awesome heavy red drapes, you better check on that!

Typical HOA Rules About Mailboxes

From where I sit near the front window of my house I can see a ultra-modern aluminum mailbox, a very basic plastic mailbox, a completely standard mailbox mailbox, a heavy duty I-dare-you-to-play-mailbox-baseball mailbox and my mailbox, which has a custom-painted little version of our cottage with a pretty sunset. My neighborhood doesn’t have mailbox rules.

That is not the case in most HOA deed-restricted communities. I’ve seen some restrictions so particular that you could only buy a new mailbox from one particular vendor. The idea, I think, is to keep it from looking like my street.

HOA Architectural Committee Guidelines

Most HOAs have a “Modifications Committee” that is empowered to approve or deny any exterior modification to your home. This includes a new roof, painting, a front door or a major remodeling project. Large projects are often required to meet strict architectural standards. The bright side is that these standards usually work in your favor by making your project look better. This can add to the cost of work though, either by requiring certain materials or just because you have to get professional plans drawn.

HOA Parking Rules

Similar to what is seen everywhere with zoning restrictions, HOA rules often dictate what can and can’t be parked in front of your house. Most communities require that boats be in the backyard or garage, RVs are prohibited, and commercial vehicles usually have to be in the garage, which can be a problem for any van or truck with a ladder rack.

There is a Silver Lining

While all of this may sound like a reason not to buy the fixer-upper you’re looking at, the truth is that deed-restricted HOA communities often enjoy very stable property values and reliably short sales cycle times. While on the one hand these persnickety regulations can be a pain while you’re dealing with them, they also protect you from a rambunctious new neighbor who wants to park a monster truck on the front lawn and install a homemade swimming pool right next to your fence.

I guess it’s a “bitter with the sweet” kind of thing.