10 Surprising Reasons an HOA Is Never Worth the Fee (And 5 Reasons It Is)

LOANS - MORTGAGES
Think twice about living in an HOA-controlled neighborhood.
Updated July 31, 2023
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When looking at homes or condos, you may not think twice about looking at a property in an HOA community. 

You see an extra $200 HOA fee a month, add it to your mortgage calculation, and decide it’s worth the access to the pool and fitness center. But is it really that simple? 

Here are 10 things to consider and help you avoid wasting money on an HOA fee, and 5 reasons why it might be a good idea.

HOA fees will only go up

fizkes/Adobe An older woman looking at a bill

Rarely will an HOA fee ever go down. Typically, the HOA will raise the fee if it knows repairs or amenity projects could be upcoming, and it hopes to build its reserves in anticipation. 

While these could be unexpected, you can look at historical data from the HOA to see if it has made raising the fee a habit in the past.

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You’ll also pay special assessments

jamesteohart/Adobe A residential building

Ideally, thanks to dues, the HOA can afford any major projects that come up, whether it’s a new roof, resurfacing a community pool, or even dealing with a lawsuit. 

However, if the HOA’s reserves don't cover the unexpected or anticipated costs, you could be hit with a special assessment that must be paid.

Your dog may not be allowed

Yuri A/peopleimages.com/Adobe Woman on the sofa with her dog

One of the most unexpected rules of an HOA might be that it can restrict what type of pet you own. HOAs can even tell you you can’t have a pet at all.

Particularly in areas where you live in close quarters with your neighbors, there may be certain restrictions on larger breeds or breeds that get a bad reputation, regardless of whether it’s warranted.

You could be fined

Paolese/Adobe Woman looking at a bill stressed

Want to paint your house pink, hang a flag, host loud parties at all hours, or rent your home to a tenant? 

You can be fined for any rules or regulations you decide to break if you don't seek approval from your HOA. And, because an HOA is a legal agreement, things could escalate if you don’t comply.

A lien could be placed on your home

zimmytws/Adobe Mortgage foreclosure document

If you don’t follow the rules and the situation escalates or you choose not to pay your HOA dues, you're no longer upholding your end of the HOA agreement. 

That means a lien could be placed on your property, and if you still don’t pay, you could be forced into foreclosure.

Renovations are up to the HOA

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe Renovation of home

Whether you’re looking to add a porch to the front of your house or add an addition off the back with an extra main suite, almost all major renovations will fall under the governance of the HOA. 

You may have to make a case for why you’re tackling the renovation and submit plans for approval.

You can’t make exterior changes

parkerspics/Adobe Blue window shutters

From putting up a fence to painting your home to adding shutters, a pergola, or even a new front railing, the HOA may have restrictions on what you can and can’t do to the exterior of your home. 

In some communities, even what type of plants you choose to put outside your front door could be up for approval.

You may not be able to rent your home

Aldeca Productions/Adobe Hand giving keys

If you bought your home with the intention of renting it out, then make sure you read all the rules and regulations of the HOA before purchasing. 

There could be a limit on how many homes within the community can be rented at any one time or a ban on rentals altogether. Additionally, there may be a specific process you have to follow.

HOAs usually rely on volunteers

Clayton D/peopleimages.com/Adobe Annoyed woman

The HOA board, the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer are usually volunteer positions. 

That means you could get tapped to join or face a slow process whenever something needs to be done because everyone has other responsibilities.

There are rules for everything

stockbakers/Adobe Man writing about rules

Want to feel like you’re in a college dorm again? An HOA could replicate that experience where everything you do is regulated. 

You may have to sign in guests every time they visit. Or there may be restrictions on how many guests you have at once or how late you can stay in your yard or at the pool. 

Everything could have a rule, and you don’t always get a say in what those rules are.

But, for all the downsides, let's look at a few reasons you may choose to live in an HOA community.

HOAs often cover landscaping

Roger Sloan/Adobe Residential landscaping

If you live in a townhouse or condo community, then your landscaping may be covered by the HOA, which is great for those who don’t have a green thumb. 

From flowers in the spring to mowing the grass to shoveling snow during the winter, a landscaping crew may come through regularly.

Amenities could be included

wavebreak3/Adobe Man exercising in gym

From the community pool to a clubhouse you can rent out for parties to outdoor barbecue areas and fitness centers, living in an HOA community could come with amenities that resemble hotel living. 

Plus, the more functional amenities are often covered, like basic utilities, trash collection, recycling, and water.

Major repairs are covered by the group

Alex Lyubar/Adobe A residential fountain

Replacing a roof or plumbing can run up a hefty bill, but thankfully, when there’s an HOA, you’re not shouldering the cost alone. 

The HOA will typically cover all major repairs impacting the building or community. There is also typically an insurance policy that covers the community as a whole.

HOAs can foster a sense of community

Rawpixel.com/Adobe Diverse friends enjoying summer party

With the group funds, some HOAs will hold occasional potlucks or community get-togethers. There’s also the opportunity to meet others through volunteering on the HOA board. 

These all provide the chance to meet your neighbors and build a sense of community you might not otherwise have.

HOAs mediate conflict

pathdoc/Adobe Someone calling on a phone

If you have an issue with a neighbor whose yard is providing a safe harbor for rats or the couple next door won’t stop blasting their music at 11 p.m., typically, you wouldn’t have an outlet to handle the issue beyond going straight to the offending party. 

However, in an HOA, there is a board that can address any issues and take appropriate action.

Bottom line

baranq/Adobe Middle aged couple home owners

The most crucial factor in deciding whether you want to move into an HOA community is to know yourself and your preferences. You want to avoid throwing money away on a bad HOA situation.

Some people thrive in a close-knit community and like the reassurance of the rules and regulations that are in place. Others like to put their stake firmly in their own ground and believe no one else should tell them what to do with their property. 

Only you can decide which camp you fall into but go into the decision with self-awareness.

Author Details

Heather Bien Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.

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