With all the new construction in the Wilmington area and throughout our great state, it comes as no surprise that we are seeing increases in the number of homeowners’ associations (HOAs). HOAs are outstanding resources for residents and oftentimes a huge draw for potential homebuyers.
Statistics show that North Carolina is one of the top five states with the most HOAs, coming in behind Illinois, Texas, California and Florida. Some 2,830,000 North Carolina residents live in communities governed by HOAs, with 96,000 of those individuals volunteering with their HOA boards and committees.
From a legal perspective, there are really two types of HOAs: those for condominiums, and those for everything else that can be defined as a planned community. There are townhomes, garden homes, lifestyle communities, retirement/independent living communities - we’ve even managed a campground. Marinas are now getting into the HOA mix as well, treating boat owners like single family homeowners.
Residents in these different types of communities rely on their HOAs to manage two main functions: maintaining common areas and following the HOA governing documents (rules of the community). There are multiple benefits to this which many new homeowners may not realize. At the top of the list is keeping the community and the properties therein clean and attractive, free of clutter, garbage and things like extra vehicles or even boats. This aids considerably in maintaining the property values within a community.
Another benefit is shared costs for services like lawn maintenance, weed and insect control and landscaping. Whereas an individual homeowner who doesn’t live in an HOA community might be paying standard rates for such services, HOAs can present opportunities for group rates which can be much lower.
Communities with HOAs also have the opportunity to provide amazing amenities like pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, workout facilities, fishing ponds, clubhouses and boating access to residents that might not be available to standalone homes in non-HOA neighborhoods. Some of the communities we manage at CAMS have amenity packages in the millions of dollars.
The kinds of amenities supported by an HOA vary. Homebuyers should check with their real estate agent and closing attorney to see if the property they are looking to buy is in a community with an HOA. Every HOA is required to record their declarations of covenants in the county where the community is located; that said, not every HOA is proactive and transparent in publishing these documents (and others) on the internet.
Even with all the benefits, some potential homebuyers simply do not want to be part of a community with an HOA. Sometimes they ask if it’s possible to opt out of an HOA. In a community with an HOA, the only way to do that is not to buy in the first place.
That said, in a few HOAs there are certain elements of HOA provided services that homeowners can opt out of, like lawn maintenance. It all depends on what is available through the HOA. Some of the larger communities have “master associations” with sub-associations that can have different services for individual neighborhoods within the community.
To find out exactly what options are available, a homeowner should make an effort to request a copy of his or her HOAs declarations, bylaws, rules and regulations as well as copies of the budget and financial statement. If a homeowner has an issue with a neighbor who seems to be in violation of HOA rules, the best course of action is to report the violation, not to confront the neighbor directly. We recommend doing this in an email for the quickest response. Many times, neighbors complaining about a violation come to find out that the alleged violation isn’t actually covered by the HOA bylaws or covenants.
We recommend staying on top of HOA happenings by checking the HOA website, reading newsletters, and once in a while showing up at HOA board meetings (North Carolina law requires a portion of some HOA board meetings be open to homeowner comments). Volunteering on committees or running for the board of directors is another great way to stay abreast of issues and get to know your neighbors