Homey Objectives of Homeowners Associations
Lerner, Michele, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The average homeowner in the Washington area works a nine- or 10-hour day, commutes for an hour or more to get home, has dinner and helps the children with homework. The last thing he or she wants to do is attend a homeowners association board meeting.
Demands for soccer coaches, PTA leaders and church volunteers are on the rise, so homeowners associations are having difficulty recruiting volunteers.
Regardless of time constraints, however, building a sense of community and maintaining property values are important issues. Developing financial resources for infrastructure repair, locating reputable contractors, negotiating fair contracts and establishing rules and enforcement are all part of operating a community.
HOW DID THEY START?
One out of every six homeowners lives in a community with a homeowners association, and 50 percent of new housing developments include an association, says Donna Reichle, vice president of communications for the Community Association Institute (CAI).
In part, homeowners associations developed because of the decentralizing trend of local governments. "Traditional municipal services - such as trash removal, snow removal, maintenance of streets and parks - have been turned over to communities in recent years," says Ron Kirby, president and co-owner of Community Management Corp. (CMC).
"Changes in the zoning laws allowed these sorts of services to be turned over to developers in exchange for higher density," he says. "At the same time, most people feel they want to live in a community association because they miss the sense of neighborhood and community that existed in the 1940s and 1950s."
In 1975, just 2.58 percent of homeowners in the United States belonged to a homeowners association. By 1998, that number was 14.67 percent and growing, Mr. Kirby says. About 240,000 to 250,000 people live in communities with homeowners associations in the Washington area.
A community association requires automatic membership, is governed by a set of documents and requires mandatory assessments for expenses. Once a development is complete, the builder usually turns over management to a board of directors elected by the homeowners.
Despite occasional negative press about the overabundance of rules and regulations enforced by homeowners associations, most people are fairly content with their community and the way it is run, according to the Gallup Organization.
About 75 percent of homeowners are satisfied with their communities, and nearly 40 percent plan to buy their next home in a community with an association, according to a recent national survey by Gallup. Only 26 percent of those surveyed said they would not live in a community association.
The prime reasons for people's satisfaction include overall community appearance, safety, financial accountability, location and friendly neighbors. Maintaining and increasing property values are of great importance to all homeowners, and 85 percent of those surveyed said they believed their property values are rising or rising rapidly.
Most of those surveyed expressed satisfaction. Homeowners, however, need to be aware of the drawbacks.
Not only does an association have the ability to enforce rules, it also has the power to foreclose without judicial review. If you fall behind in paying assessments, a lien can be placed on your home. Foreclosure can follow if you are unable to pay not only the assessment, but all legal fees resulting from the lien.
A recent study of homeowners associations in Virginia was triggered by a resolution introduced by Delegate Michele McQuigg of Woodbridge. This study is on the agenda of the Real Estate Board's meeting this month. …