Homeowners Associations in Washington

November 16, 2010 in Lynnwood, Real Estate 411, Seattle Buyer's Guide

If you’re buying a condo it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be dealing with a Homeowners Association.  (Depending on

new home in Lynnwood's Apple Grove community by Mietzner Homes

one’s attitude, that can be seen as a plus or a minus.)  It may not be quite so obvious if there is an HOA involved in your purchase of a single family home.  In this era of home building we find developments of anywhere from six to nearly a hundred homes planned and executed by a builder or developer all at one time.  These would be in one location, arranged as a “village” grouping, and with shared amenities or elements in common.  Most often all the homes are under the structure of a Homeowners Association which governs the common elements.

Sometimes clients ask me if a certain property they are looking at is governed by an HOA, and I feel surprised because it has none of the typical earmarks of those homes…newly built or in a group built by one developer.  However it’s not always such a “dumb” question because some older developments were set up this way, and even a group of six diverse homes built separately by individuals might share common elements such as a private road and easements for electric etc., which may even require a small monthly fee for upkeep and which impose a few restrictions.  Even if there is no monthly fee, the group may need to impose an assessment for repairs of a common element such as a well or gate at unexpected times. (But even as a single homeowner you run into this, so I don’t usually think of it as more costly, just as less control about when you tackle problem issues.)

Have you heard of CC & Rs?  It’s short for Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions.  Simply put, the agreements and rules all the homeowners in that group are subject to.  When you buy the property you agree to abide by the rules.  In fact, for any property that has CC & Rs, we make it part of the contract that the seller or his agent will provide the buyer with the CC & Rs, and that the buyer has a specified amount of time after receiving the CC & Rs to review them.  The buyer (according to the way we usually do the contract) can disapprove the purchase based on something in the CC & Rs which is unacceptable or won’t work for him.  Although none of these conditions and rules are negotiable, you can reject the purchase and get your earnest money back if any of them make you change your mind about wanting to live there.  A dramatic example would be if you painted every house you ever owned sky blue, and you planned to paint this new home sky blue, but you find that the CC & Rs specify only six shades of cream, brown or gray paint is acceptable in the development.  Or you own a beloved lab which you plan to breed and have puppies but you find that while dogs are allowed there is a maximum of two per household, which would not allow you to breed yours.  In that situation the buyer might choose to find a home which is not subject to CC & Rs and so can be painted blue and purple stripes if so desired, or it’s fine to have a breeding pair of dogs, or five cars in the driveway, or whatever special need the buyers know will be part of their lifestyle.

Note that whereas Homeowners Associations are required for condomeniums, they are not for all developments that have CC & Rs.  Most do have an Association to assure compliance, but it is not required.  If you purchase a home which is subject to CC & Rs but is not overseen by an Association, then compliance is not really optional, but how is it inforced?  Then it becomes neighbor vs. neighbor and you hope you are lucky enough to have good neighbors who agree with your take on life (ever heard of a “neighborhood review contingency?  ask me!).  If not, neighbors have ended up in court over disagreements about the enforcement of CC & Rs.

Please also note that each HOA is either run by a professional management company appointed by the Association, or it is run by homeowner volunteers.  Both have their advantages and Dave and I will discuss this and other factors in future blogs, so stay tuned!

Thanks to Home Marketing Inc. Brokerage for use of their photo, yes, at the time of writing this home is available in Lynnwood.