- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Once you purchase your dream home, the contract to exchange the property between you and the seller will most likely wind up in a cabinet drawer, long forgotten until you want to review it for the next sale or purchase in which you’re involved.

The multipage file (usually about an inch or so thick) has a long-term effect but not a daily influence on your life.

Homeowners’-association documents, however, rule our lives more than we may realize. The Community Associations Institute (www.caionline.org) serves some 16,000 associations of the 274,000 in existence nationwide, comprising homeowners’ associations (HOAs) and associations for owners in condominiums, co-ops and planned communities — groups often collectively referred to as HOAs. CAI is one of the premiere think tanks on property-ownership associations.

If you’re interested in keeping up with these matters, a homeowner can join CAI for $95. Community-association membership starts at $150.

HOA documents govern the residences of almost 55 million American residents, CAI says.

During the past 35 years, HOAs have evolved into governmentlike organizations that control many aspects of what you can and cannot do with your house.

Although HOA documents do not allow the community to discriminate, they can control some aspects of who can live in a development. For example, there are age-restricted communities and restrictions on pets (except for assisted-living animals) and, for some, religious affiliation, such as in a retirement home for members of a particular faith.

These regulations have become an integral part of most local real estate contracts, as well. The regional contract for the metropolitan Washington area has a couple of paragraphs that deal with the ordering, delivery and review of condo and homeowners’ association documents for the purchaser.

The laws in each state regulate when the documents must be provided to a purchaser, how much time the purchaser has to respond to them and how old the documents can be. These can cause a timing quandary for home sellers and Realtors.

Buyers must get a chance to review the HOA documents and can actually pull out of a contract if they don’t agree with what they see. HOA documents, therefore, can offer a buyer a crack in an otherwise ironclad contract.

Although they might not be able to pull out of a contract because of financing, home inspection, defects or any other problem with the transaction, some have used an issue with the HOA documents as a means of nixing the contract: “I don’t like the fact that I can’t paint my front door red,” or “I like working on my car in the driveway,” or any other part of the regulatory language they don’t like.

When the HOA documents are ordered, several things are set in motion. The association staff or your independent management company could send an inspector to your house to see if the property adheres to the rules. If not, the seller could get a laundry list of to-do items to bring the property into compliance.

The staff also checks to see if the homeowner is behind on association dues and could place a lien on the property to be paid before the transfer of the deed.

Do you know what’s in your HOA documents? Are you adhering to them? If you’ve repainted your house with different colors than when you moved in, are they the right colors? Do the colors even still exist in the paint world?

How about that fence you installed? Will the architectural review committee (ARC) approve it once you start the selling process? What? You didn’t know you had an ARC?

Get to know your association board — they’re usually your neighbors. Keep up with what the rules are and what changes are coming down the pike, and review the documents to see if something could be changed to keep up with the times.

Reach M. Anthony Carr at his Web log. (https://common senserealestate.blogspot.com).

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