The Good, Bad and Sometimes Ugly: What Seniors Should Know About HOAs

Updated on April 29, 2021

By Terry Arnold

Many of the 78 million seniors now retiring are turning to senior gated-communities or condominiums where there are amenities for every taste and neighbors who share similar interests.

Such communities can be the ultimate Shangri-La. There are hobby clubs to make things, games to play, and sports that help your mind and body. Many have luxury swimming pools and golf courses. Neighborhood friends are always welcoming and entertain with drinks and horsdoeuvres on patios and common areas. 

But, sometimes living in such communities is not what residents think it should be, or at least what was expected, especially during their final years. 

The omni-present Home Owners Association can make living in such communities enjoyable because certain standards protect home values, but it can also be the source of heartburn and unexpected losses of cash if home buyers do not understand the consequences if they fail to plan for the future.

Homeowner Associations establish the rules, like it or not

HOA’s come with rules, mostly good ones. The members of the HOA are elected, sometimes with the help of a California HOA election inspector, and they work together to set these rules. The rules dictate many trivial as well as important standards, such as how tall your grass can be, what kind of landscaping you can plant, where cars, RVs and golf carts can be parked, what lawn ornaments can be seen from the street, what flags can fly and be seen, and even where pets can be walked to do their business. Any house additions or exterior changes require approval by the board before construction can begin.

If the resident violates a rule and not corrected, the HOA can and no doubt will place a lien against the home. The owner has no recourse but to correct the violation if they ever want to sell the property.

Such rules establish uniformity so the community conforms to certain designs and appeals. Buyers should ensure they or their realtor® obtains a copy of the covenants and restrictions and read them before signing on the purchase dotted line. You may find you do not like what you read.

Unfortunately, many times the first-time new owners see these rules is at mortgage closing leaving little time to read all the numerous pages of fine print legalize. Trying to change the rules later is difficult and nearly impossible, so know first-hand whether you can abide by the rules or not.

Beware of the unsold lots

Many new senior homeowners opt to live in such communities which are still under construction with hundreds of unsold lots or condominiums remaining. Such sellouts can often take years! Under these circumstances, the developer controls the HOA Board by having one or more votes for each lot it owns. And be rest assured, the developer only votes for things in its best interest, not the homeowners. 

Adequate HOA funds are a must

What happens if the roof of the main community building is damaged by a hurricane or tornado? Or, the swimming pool springs a leak that requires its total reconstruction? Does the HOA have adequate insurance coverage and funds available for repairs? Does it have a well-funded Reserve Fund? Do you even know what a Reserve Fund is? Sad, but true, poorly operated HOA’s often do not have sufficient funds to pay for non-budgeted repairs and must assess each homeowner a percentage of sometimes exorbitant costs. If the homeowner refuses to pay, expect a daily fine and a lien until it is

Are the amenities you are paying right for you?

HOA’s require monthly dues, separate from any assessments, to carry out its normal operation. Don’t think these dues will remain the same amount all the time you live in your home. Seniors on fixed-incomes should be aware that upkeep and maintenance costs for community property constantly rises and added amenities like pickle ball courts, golf courses and gym equipment can greatly add to living costs even if the owner doesn’t use such accoutrements. 

Communities with an HOA can still be a good deal

Living in gated senior communities or condos can offer great opportunities to live comfortably and enjoyably. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives. But seniors, just be aware that your Shangri La could become your worst nightmare if you do not pay attention from the very beginning of your retirement home search. 

Terry Arnold lives in a 55-and-over HOA community. He owns and operates Reserve Communications Resource®, a veteran-owned writing development business that serves individuals, seniors, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations with affordable communications support. He is also a freelance writer on a variety of subjects that interest him.


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