Many home buyers considering attached home purchases – condos, townhomes or twin homes – often discover that HOA payments could alter monthly payments quite a bit more than anticipated, and may mean the difference between whether a purchase makes sense and if a loan will be approved.
HOA communities can often come with high monthly payments, especially in areas that are desirable such as those close to the beach, town centers, etc. Here are the things buyers should look into when deciding whether to buy a property with a high HOA:
1. What do the fees cover? Most cover exterior building maintenance and insurance, as well as the common areas (landscaping, pool and spa if they exist, gates and parking facilities). Home owners are responsible for insurance that covers the interior of the home, including all personal items. Make sure you understand exactly what is covered in the fee so you are not surprised.
2. CC&Rs. Usually a buyer cannot get copies of these until a contract has been negotiated and escrow opened. Once the documents are received make sure to read them thoroughly to understand owner responsibility and coverage. If you are thinking about making an offer and have specific questions, your agent can try to get the answers from the HOA or the listing agent/sellers. But if numbers work out for your loan and you love the home, make an offer and then you can get your hands on all the documents. You have a contingency period in which to review them so if you discover anything that concerns you, you have time to cancel the contract.
3. Assessments. The seller will be able to tell you if there are any upcoming assessments, but you will also be able to get an idea of what may pop up in the near future from the age and location of the complex. Make sure to take this into consideration – for example, if the complex is 25 years old you may surmise that in the next 5-10 years the roof will need to be replaced. Usually the HOA will assess homeowners to cover such a large expense. Payments will usually go up for a period of time until the money is collected. Some associations give a choice so the owner can break down the payments over time or pay a lump sum.
4. Dues increase. Note that HOA dues are subject to increase on an annual basis, or whenever the board feels it is needed in order to cover increased expenses. As a potential homeowner in the complex it is important to keep this in mind, especially if the price of the dues is already stretching your budget. Make sure to talk this over with your real estate and mortgage professionals.
5. HOA strength. One of the most important things to find out is just how strong the HOA reserves are – this will obviously carry it far if an unexpected expense does arise. If the reserves are low they would have to raise the dues a lot in order to cover unanticipated expenses. One great way to make sure the board is doing thing correctly is to get on the board! I have a friend with an accountant background who got on her board when she moved into the community – she found it many ways to save money and helped bring it back to a healthier place, reserve-wise.
6. Lawsuits. Check to see if there are any lawsuits against the HOA, as this could effect your purchase. Discuss with your mortgage professional.
No matter what type of home you purchase the bottom line is that you will have to be comfortable with expenses, including any that may not be forseeable. It is important to scrutinize HOA documentation so you are familiar with where the money is spent.