What is an HOA… Explained to the 10 year old

My husband has been the preferred contractor for over 100 Home Owners Associations around the valley for over a decade. I have also worked for several dozen, doing monthly meeting minutes, website maintenance and newsletters, for just as long. Yet, we refused to live in a neighborhood that has an HOA. Why? We have a tendency of wanting freedom to make changes to our house and yard. Some are  small and some are big, but no matter what… they are usually never planned. If you’ve watched our renovations, you probably know that we don’t really ‘plan’ anything. Planning costs money, and we prefer to save as much as possible… so we remain flexible with design and let the deals control the outcome. We have a vision of what we want, but when we find an exceptional deal on something, we grab it, and design around that.

A home owners association, or HOA as it’s called, is simply a governing body, made up of homeowners in the community that volunteer their time to manage the cleanliness and functionality of the neighborhood. Notice I said volunteer… would you volunteer to have the entire neighborhood yell at you about their neighbor, or about the playground, or streets, or walls or anything else that pisses them off that morning? If you would… walk away now, because you’re not going to like this.

I know some amazing HOA board members, and I adore the managers that my husband and I work with… so this is nothing personal, but generally, the board is made up of homeowners that either have an agenda, or they have nothing better to do than to tell you what you can and can’t do with your home.

Forget to bring your trash can in? That’s a $75 fine. Did your teenagers friend park on the street last night? $75 fine. Did it rain while you were out of town and the weeds sprouted out of nowhere? $75 fine. Is the Mesquite tree out front hanging too low? Can we see your storage shed from the street? Did a bush die out front and you haven’t replaced it? Is your paint fading? Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine.  Some HOA’s are great, and they make the neighborhood look amazing. I’ve met board members who have an honest desire to improve the community by adding park equipment, managing a landscaping firm, upgrading entrance signs etc. But I’ve also known board members who walk around with yard sticks, measuring your tree overhang and weeds. Hell… I’ve known managers that do the same.  And you never know which neighborhood is which, or when the board will change hands.

It’s for this reason and more, that I prefer to stay out of the HOA’s. Whether we’re buying for ourselves, or investing… We stay clear of them.

The boy is 10 years old, and has heard us talk about work many times, but for some reason a few nights ago was the night that he was curious about what exactly an HOA was. As we discussed how glad we were not to live in an HOA, he asked… “What is an HOA?”  We both looked at each other and had to quickly decide how to explain this to a 10 year old with a short attention span. We don’t want to brush off his question, but we both know how long that answer could get… so I jumped in and answered. “It’s a group of people that tell you what you can and can’t do with your own house.” The boys eyes opened wider than I’d ever seen, then his face curled in disgust as he said, “why would anyone want to live in an HOA?”

Our sentiments, exactly.  We did give him some examples, such as plan restrictions, and paint colors… etc. As we live in the only, white, cape code style home in the neighborhood…we felt he got the jist.

The next day, as we were working on our renovation project, the girl started in with ideas on what we should do with certain aspects of the home. I have already explained to the girl that this one is mine and we’ll do what I want to here… she can do whatever she wants with her own house, I stated again.

“Just don’t live in an HOA! Then you may not be able to do anything you want!” Says the boy. (clearly he paid attention the other night)

He’s not wrong! We’re planning on changing the face of our house. We’ve made alterations this far that would have needed board approval, and we’ve only owned the house a week. The last time we had to deal with a board… what should have taken an hour (being at the meeting with all the members), took 14 business days exactly (per their rules, they had that long to review our proposal).  Don’t count on being able to do anything you want with your own house and yard, and certainly, don’t plan on being able to do it quickly!

Not all HOA’s are bad… and some have genuine good intentions. Just don’t hold your breath on doing whatever you want.  The 10 year old gets it. 😉

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