Pay Attention to the HOA Documents

09/24/2015 01:25 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2015


You're getting excited about buying a home, and you're seeing some really great properties in desirable subdivisions and neighborhoods. Driving through a neighborhood, you see well-manicured lawns, no junk in the yards, and just a general upscale appearance.

That's in large part often due to HOA, Home Owner Association, covenants and restrictions. I'm not knocking the concept, nor many of the most popular restrictions in place around the country. Maintaining everyone's home value by keeping neighborhoods looking good is important.

However, too many buyers do not take the time to actually read the sometimes really thick HOA documents presented to them during the transaction process. Few real estate agents are going to try to sit them down and make them read them either.

The fact is that a restriction on your use of your home or lot can be perfectly suitable to one owner and very onerous to another. You and your family are the ones who will live in the home and in most cases you'll be fine with what you cannot do or have according to covenants and restrictions. The key is to know before you buy.

Let's use a couple of examples that are actually pretty common. I'm not saying that they will make you want to move, but they can make life inconvenient.

Boats - Boat Trailers

In a great many areas, you cannot have a boat trailer, with or without a boat on it, sitting in your driveway. If you envisioned your double-wide driveway accommodating your second car (one in the garage) and your boat on a trailer with a cover, that won't be happening. You'll come home to find a note on your door from the HOA.

Sure, you can put both cars outside and the boat in the garage, but that $5,000 boat is enjoying the protection you had envisioned for your $50,000 SUV. The vast majority of the residents of the subdivision are fine with this, as they don't think the neighborhood looks nearly as good with boats in front yards. You on the other hand, may have looked elsewhere if you'd just read that HOA restrictions document.

Outdoor Storage Building

Maybe you did give the restrictions a quick overview, and you didn't see anything about not being able to have a storage building in the back yard. You have hobbies and must store a lot of stuff that won't work in the garage. So, you get your Home Depot 10 x 10 building and you're in business ... wrong.

What you missed was the restriction against anything in a yard that peaked above the height of the wooden privacy fences, all mandated to be no higher than six feet. Now, instead of a storage building in which you can stand erect, you're erecting something more like a big doghouse for your stuff.

No Big Deal - Unless It Is

Neither of these examples may mean anything to you, nor may any other of the sometimes hundreds of pages of covenants and restrictions. But, you won't know until you read them. Do not ignore any document presented to you as a disclosure in the transaction process, as it can be really annoying or worse later.