How can I avoid homeowner's association trouble in my new home?

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Answered by: Rebekah, An Expert in the Real Estate 101 Category
When you've found the house of your dreams, it can be so tempting to gloss over potential problem spots as you dreamily imagine life in this new paradise. Unfortunately, many of today's most gorgeous properties carry a hidden downside: the homeowner's association.

If you're asking questions about how to stay on the good side of your HOA before you land the house, you're ahead of the game. So many people blindly assume that the bylaws of their new neighborhood association will be tame, and that even if the rules are strict, that they will be toothless.

As many homeowners have found out the hard way, HOAs are anything but toothless. Many homeowners have found themselves served with a foreclosure notice — even though their home was paid for - after a missed payment to their homeowner's association.

To avoid unnecessary homeowner's association trouble, here are four steps you need to take.

1. Be a good neighbor from the first time you step on the property.

In an HOA, the alliance of a group of like-minded neighbors can be a strong defense against an aggressive, power-mad HOA board when the board wants to raise the fees or add unreasonable new regulations.

On the other hand, staying in good with the neighbors can also keep you from facing needless hassles that come from nosy neighbors tattling over the fact that you planted a couple tomato plants or that your blinds are ivory rather than bright white.

2. Carefully read the bylaws.

So many people assume that the HOA serves to protect the community from garish color schemes and noisy teenage party houses. Although that's true, it's also true there may be some huge hassles hidden in the bylaws that you may miss or shrug off as unimportant.

Although it may seem like no big deal that all window trim must be brown, just wait until you need to replace your windows and discover that brown windows are twice as expensive as white.

It's so easy to assume that there's no way that an HOA would enforce such minutiae, you could be very unpleasantly surprised.

Always assume that the homeowner's association will adhere to the letter of the law, and don't assume that you'll be given a lot of mercy. Better, look before you leap, know those bylaws, and expect them to be strictly enforced.

3. Get to know your HOA board.

In some neighborhoods, the HOA board will simply be a group of concerned citizens eager to make the neighborhood as good as it can be. In others, however, you may find that those in authority are eager to push their weight around. Either way, you need to try to show your goodwill to the board so that you won't be hindered when the time comes that you need special approval to clear the hurdles of the HOA regulations.

4. Learn to always ask permission.

The teenage mentality that "if I don't ask, they can't say no" is a recipe for homeowner's association trouble. When you fail to explain your reasons for bending the rules, such as explaining that brown windows are twice as expensive as white, the HOA board has no reason to listen to your pleas after the fact. Since the boards are usually also made up of neighborhood residents, you can expect that any common sense request that could potentially affect other members of the neighborhood will be carefully considered.

Homeowner's associations don't have to mean headaches. As long as you're as careful about choosing a neighborhood as you are about choosing a home, you should expect your relationship with your homeowner's association to be a beautiful thing.

Well, at least it can be a bearable thing.

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