HOA Management – a double-edged sword for home owners

As elaborated previously, the house we purchased in 2004 was located in Bay Farm Island in Alameda. The responsibility for the upkeep of Bay Farm, a huge community with over 3000 homes lay with two governing bodies – an HOA Management body exclusive to each subdivision, and a general HOA Management body dedicated to the common areas of the entire island. We rubbed shoulders with HOA Management on numerous occasions and below is its summary:
  1. One would think analyzing the works of replacing/extending old fencing would be the last thing the HOA would want to spend time and energy on. But, our experience proved otherwise. We submitted an application for extending the side-fence along with replacing the existing fence noting our preference for a full fence sans a lattice to provide privacy to the dining room. The application was approved without a hitch. Two weeks after completion of the work, the HOA Management notified us of a mistake in their approval. Apparently the lattice was key to maintaining the overall appeal of the community and as it was their oversight they offered to address it at their expense. Our counter argument was that there were plenty of other houses without the lattice on the side-fence. HOA agreed but concluded a review would be required regarding the other properties. Realizing this back and forth would continue with no end in sight, we let the lattice be installed and nothing happened with respect to the other properties that had installed fences without a lattice. Apparently, the original builder had installed all fences with lattices and HOA Management guideline is to enforce that look on those choosing to follow the rules.
  2. we made an unfortunate decision to replace the mulch in our front yard with lava rock HOA Management got involved again . Their threatening letter insisted on the immediate removal of the "rock garden" that had appeared in our front yard. After sparring a while, we realized even with a legitimate reason, without help from within the HOA Management body, you are up against a brick wall.
  3. The applications for the outside paint job, roof and window replacements were approved without much murmur – HOA Management did its due diligence and got us to commit to the exact material, color palettes, and window specifications beforehand. It is this professional eye for detail, we must say, that helps promote the consistent look in the community.
  4. The application to shift the common fence forward on the side of our house went predictably smooth for our neighbor sharing the fence was on the HOA Management board.
  5. When time came to sell the house, our intrepid agent, as part of his staging plan added several improvements to the front and back yard. It was amazing to see an elevated flower garden, a new lawn, etc materialize in our yard without having to bat the HOA. Later, when we received the letter from HOA Management seeking explanation, our agent calmly picked up the communication and we never heard from the HOA Management again – when the best selling agent in the area does something to a house, it is considered enhancing the value of the properties around and approvals are automatic even if the improvement stretches the limits of the "consistent look" mandate!
Below are the pros and cons of living in a large community with an active HOA Management:
  1. HOA Management can be immensely valuable, especially for larger communities where dealing with the local government, the communities and businesses within and in the vicinity is a given.
  2. The HOA Management bears the burden of keeping the appeal of the community a notch above the other public areas under the guise of “keeping the home prices up”. Overall, if done right, it is a net positive.  
  3. HOA Management is empowered to infer guidelines that are open to interpretation and to responsibly enforce them. The simplest way to do away with the pain of the remodeling approval process is to be a member of the board. It is relatively easy to land that thankless but time-consuming job. An effective strategy commonly adopted is to be committed to HOA Management Board duty for a year and in that duration get the improvements to your own house done.
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Last Updated: 03/2012. 



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