Before You Buy, Get Educated About the Community Association

Written by Posted On Sunday, 07 August 2005 17:00

You've found the perfect property to purchase, whether it is a condo or detached house. If it falls within the guidelines of a community association make sure you educate yourself on the bylaws before buying or else you run the risk of being terribly unhappy.

Homeowners association, property owners association, cooperative, condominium association, council of homeowners and common interest development are all names that mean there exists a governing body whose fiduciary responsibility is to preserve the nature of the community and the value of the property owned by members.

However, sometimes conflicts arise and often they happen because buyers become attached to a property and decide to buy it before they fully review the governing documents, including the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs).

"Most of the conflict in community associations comes down to this: it's the delicate balance between protecting the best interest of the community as a whole against the preferences of individual residents," says Frank Rathbun, vice president of communications for Community Associations Institute.

"When you move into a neighborhood it looks a certain way, the homes look a certain way … the landscaping, the pool, the tennis courts … . When you move into a neighborhood those are your expectations. It's the board's fiduciary responsibility to try to maintain those services and amenities," says Rathbun.

He points out that these regulations are for the benefit of the whole community, "If the community starts to go down, if for whatever reason curb appeal … is diminished you're going to have a lessening of property values and that hurts everybody in the community."

According to research conducted by Gallup Organization, there are more than 54 million Americans living in properties governed by community associations. Approximately 75 percent of homeowners reported they were "very" or "extremely" satisfied with their community. Influencing factors were community appearance, safety, financial accountability, location and neighbors. Of those living in community associations, 30 percent of homeowners reported having an "extremely" positive opinion of their community that compared to 24 percent of homeowners who do not live in an association-governed community.

Those statistics may partly be responsible for community associations growing. The Community Association Institute states that close to four out of five housing starts since 2000 have been in association-governed communities, including condominiums converted from existing rental units. Additionally, those living in community associations are active in their communities; more than 1.25 million people serve on community association governing boards, with another 300,000-plus involved as committee members.

However, despite the glowing report on community associations, problems still occur. The biggest problems are issues over: architectural guidelines such as outside paint colors, screen doors, etc.; pets; parking; maintenance of yards of individual homes; and even backyard items such as sheds.

According to the Community Association Institute there are very important questions to ask before you purchase a property that's governed by a community association so that you don't get locked into rules that you can't or don't want to abide by. Here are a few of them to keep in mind:

  • How much are the assessments, and when are payments due?

  • How often can assessments increase and by how much?

  • What procedures are in place to collect delinquent assessments?

  • What is the annual budget and how does it compare to similar communities?

  • Does the community have a viable reserve to fund major, long-term maintenance and repairs?

  • Are there restrictions on renting property?

  • What are the rules with respect to pets, flags, outside antennas, satellite dishes, clotheslines, fences, patios, parking and home businesses?

  • Are board meetings open to all residents?

For more questions to ask before you buy download the free brochure on community association living at .

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Phoebe Chongchua

Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist, an author, customer service trainer/speaker, and founder of Setting the Service Standard, a customer service training and consulting program offered by Live Fit Enterprises (LFE) based in San Diego, California. She is the publisher of Live Fit Magazine, an online publication that features information on real estate/finance, physical fitness, travel, and philanthropy. Her company, LFE, specializes in media services including marketing, PR, writing, commercials, corporate videos, customer service training, and keynotes & seminars. Visit her magazine website:

Phoebe's articles, feature stories, and columns appear in various publications including The Coast News, Del Mar Village Voice, Rancho Santa Fe Review, and Today's Local News in San Diego, as well as numerous Internet sites. She holds a California real estate license. Phoebe worked for KGTV/10News in San Diego as a Newscaster, Reporter and Community Affairs Specialist for more than a decade. Phoebe's writing is also featured in Donald Trump's book: The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buying Foreclosures. She is the author of If the Trash Stinks, TAKE IT OUT! 14 Worriless Principles for Your Success.

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