If you are buying a home in Metro Atlanta, most of the neighborhoods (particularly the newer communities) are governed by a home owners association. Buying a home in a CID (common interest development) or PUD (planned urban development) will require mandatory membership. Keep in mind these covenants are recorded with the state and are legally enforceable.
Covenants, conditions and restrictions are three simple (but powerful) words which basically puts decision making rights in the hands of the home owners’ association on how your property may be used. To the extent the HOA (home owners association) has this power depends on just how restrictive the developer had them written - and, ultimately how well the home owners themselves carry out and enforce these rules once the HOA is turned over to them to manage on their own. Some associations can be quite demanding to the point of whether you can have the garage door up during the day, how long a car can park in the drive way to the color of the shutters on your house. It is not at all uncommon for mandatory associations to disallow campers or boats to be parked in the driveway and to have architectural control which will limit making an exterior color change to your house without HOA approval. The CC&R's can also dictate prior approval from the home owners association before putting on a home addition, making any landscaping changes (or improvements); or what type of fence can be erected on the property.
Single family detached neighborhoods usually have an annual fee. The fee is typically in line with how extensive the amenities compared to the number of homes within the community. In town house or cluster home communities, where the HOA maintains the yards, the fees are usually paid on a monthly basis. Fees for detached homes typically cover costs for common area, pool and tennis courts. However you may find yourself moving into a neighborhood with more extensive amenities offering club house, basketball courts or playgrounds – and sometimes even golf courses. Keep in mind, when you decide to move into a neighborhood with mandatory home owners association, you are agreeing to pay the annual (or monthly) fee. On a less severe note, the failure to pay the fee will prevent you from using any of the amenities; but most importantly the HOA can legally file a lien against your property. This lien, if not paid, can prevent you from selling your home until the lien is paid in full.
Periodically, over time, especially as a neighborhood ages, tennis courts need resurfacing and pools need maintenance. The costs hopefully have been budgeted for and can be paid from the dues already collected. However, if the HOA does not have the funds to cover these expenditures, an assessment can be called due. As a home owner, whether you use the facilities or not, you will be required to pay your portion of the assessment. And, as with the annual fees, if you do not pay the assessment you may loose privileges and can also have a lien placed against your home.
The board is made up of elected officials and they are bound by the HOA bylaws. The board is designed to enforce the CC&R’s but is also responsible for holding periodic meetings so home owners can be informed of the financial status of the HOA and have a platform where they can express concerns. Overall HOA’s can have a very positive impact on a neighborhood. Within a neighborhood with a strong HOA board and home owner participation, the association can provide extensive input AND impact when local governments want to rezone areas near you. They also can make a big difference in preventing homes within your neighborhood from being neglected to the point of affecting your property values. As part of your home buying purchase, always do your home work. Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure you have time to review the CC&R’s to make sure they will fit in with your lifestyle.