Don’t expect everything to be perfect once you move into a condo. The HOA can make life hell if you aren’t prepared. Read More...

If you’re buying your first home or you’re not a handy person (or you simply don’t want to be handy), buying a condo in a homeowners association (HOA) might seem ideal.

Maybe the house you want to buy is in an HOA, and it’ll take care of the garbage and snow removal for you.

Who doesn’t want to take those items off their to-do lists?

Before you get too excited, it’s important to know that as nice as HOAs are, they can be quite controlling — and costly to you as a homeowner. They can be especially costly for condominiums or multiple dwelling units in HOAs.

Here’s what you should know before buying into a homeowners association:

The HOA should have a reserve study and a reserve balance.

Just as you should have an emergency savings account, so should an HOA. This is typically called the reserve balance, and it should be cash held in an account to be used ongoing maintenance of your HOA. It also acts as a buffer should surprise accidents, like a blown boiler or a roof leak, happen.

How much money should an HOA have in reserve? There are many variables to consider, such as operating costs, maintenance expenses, the number of homes or units in the homeowners association, and the square footage (and types) of common elements.

Therefore, it’s advised that HOAs pay for reserve studies. Reserve studies are performed by professionals to assess how much it costs to maintain the HOA. The results can help the HOA figure out how much it should have in its reserve account.

Before you buy into an HOA, ask to see the financial documents, ask for the reserve balance, and ask to see a copy of the reserve study. Your review of these documents should tell you how well the HOA is being managed and how financially solvent the HOA is.

If the HOA isn’t managed well or isn’t solvent, surprise accidents could mean a large expense to directly to you.

Read the HOA’s governing documents, including its rules and regulation.

Every HOA should have its own declarations and bylaws, as well as rules and regulations. These documents spell out how the homeowners association should manage itself, who’s responsible for what, and what’s permitted (and not permitted).

The declarations and bylaws were drafted by attorneys and HOA members at the inception of the homeowners association. Making changes to the declarations and bylaws typically requires majority approval by the HOA members or homeowners. Changes to some elements may require more than 51% approval. It’s the responsibility of the HOA board to manage the HOA to the declarations and bylaws.

The rules and regulations are typically drafted and can be changed by the HOA board members. Most HOAs, however, solicit input to draft rules and regulations from a committee of HOA board members and homeowners to eliminate the appearance of being unfair.

That said, many of the day-to-day problems with homeowners or within an HOA come from a lack of understanding regarding the HOA’s rules and regulations. From knowing how to replace a lost key to whether the HOA permits animals, different processes and requirements are typically spelled out in the rules and regulations. Violators of rules and regulations are usually subject to fines by the board.

Before buying into an HOA, ask for copies of the declarations, bylaws, and rules and regulations to make sure you can live within the pre-established rules of the HOA. Some rules could have expensive financial consequences for you.

Condo insurance is special.

If you live in a condo building or multi-dwelling unit, know that everything you understand about insurance and liability insurance does not apply to your condo.

For example, you might assume that if the neighbor above has a leak in their sink that goes through their floor, your ceiling, and into your condo, they would be liable to cover your expenses. If I hit your car with my car, I’d be responsible for replacing or fixing your car. Right?

That logic doesn’t apply here. The neighbor above you who “caused the leak” is responsible for repairing the damage done to their unit. You, however, are responsible for damage done to your unit. More accurately, your homeowners insurance is responsible for making you whole again, not your neighbor’s insurance.

It may not make sense, but that’s the way condominium insurance works. Before you buy into an HOA, especially a condominium, fully understand your liability, the HOA’s liability, and your neighbors’ liability. Talk with an attorney who specializes in HOA and condominium law, and talk with your insurance agent to understand what and how you’re covered.

You have limited rights and recourse in an HOA.

HOA laws give a lot of leeway to HOAs and their boards. You have limited recourse if you feel you’ve been wronged or if you don’t like what your homeowners association is doing.

There’s no value in suing your HOA, either. HOA board members are covered by the HOA’s insurance and the HOA insurance is paid for by your HOA dues. So, in a circuitous way, suing your HOA is suing yourself. It could cost you money directly, and it could cost you the support of your fellow homeowners.

The only way to really effect change in an HOA is to join the board (usually by being elected). If you don’t have the time or the interest in being on your HOA’s board, then you’re subject to the decisions of those who do and are. Such decisions can be as minor as permitting welcome mats at front doors to implementing multimillion-dollar “improvement” projects paid for by you.

If you’re not comfortable living with the decisions of a small group of people and don’t have the time or interest in being on the HOA’s board, perhaps buying into an HOA is not the right call for you.

You still have homeowner responsibilities.

Too often, those who don’t want to spend money or donate the time to maintain HOAs move into one. Walls need to be painted and carpets need to be replaced in common areas. The grounds need to be kept. Someone must skim the pool. When a homeowner leaves trash in the elevator, someone has to clean it up.

The only way these things happen is if someone donates their time or you pay for it. If someone, including you, isn’t interested in donating your time, then be prepared to pay someone to do it.

Many people who move into HOAs assume everything will be done for them. That’s true when they pay for that service. If you don’t pay for it, don’t expect it. You’d be responsible for these expenses if you owned a single-family home. You’re still responsible for them in a condo or HOA.

These are some aspects of living with a homeowners association in a condo that many don’t know. Not knowing them makes it harder for you and your neighbors. The more aware you are, the more prepared you can be if you buy into an HOA.

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Suffering from renter’s guilt? People making you feel less adult for not buying a house? Dude… please. See why you’re probably better off. Read More...

When it comes to the game of adulting, buying a home is often seen as the final challenge. It’s easy to think that once you own a home, your peers will admire you, your parents will respect you, and the Adult Club certificate will arrive in the mail shortly after.

Maybe buying a home was the final step to becoming a true adult at one time, but things have changed. The barrier to entry is much higher, with rising home costs, stagnating salaries and a general frustration with the intense home buying process.

If you have no interest in owning a home, you’re not alone: according to a recent survey from Experian, consumers who aren’t planning to purchase a home in the next 5-10 years have increased by 8% in the last year.

The truth is, buying a house just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s why.

It’s time-intensive.

Owning a home isn’t just a financial decision. It’s also a question of how you want to spend your time. Do you want to devote your weekends to picking tile patterns, installing a new garbage disposal or fixing the broken toilet?

You might think it’s a joke that all homeowners spend their free time fixing something around the house, but those stereotypes exist for a reason.

When my pipes get clogged or the gutters get full, I don’t have to worry about taking care of them. I call my landlord, who fixes the problem himself or hires someone else to do it. I don’t have to decide if I want to replace the pipes now or wait a few years.

It limits your options.

Most financial experts say you shouldn’t buy a house unless you’re willing to stay there for at least five years, since that’s how long it takes to see a profit on your investment. That’s partly why people equate buying a home with settling down and starting a family. It’s something you only do when you’re prepared to be somewhere for the long haul.

Owning a home and having a mortgage makes it harder to take a job across the country, to start your own business, or to travel the world. Buying a house doesn’t make sense if you’re the type who’s always dreamed of living abroad or being a digital nomad.

My then-boyfriend and I considered buying a home a few years ago, but now I’m glad we didn’t. Instead, we moved to Colorado where we’ve continued to rent. If we had owned a house, it would have been harder to quit our jobs and move across the country.

It can lead to financial ruin.

Most people assume that buying a home is a decision that every real adult makes when they can afford to. If you have a good job and decent salary, you can afford to buy a house. Many people say it’s the best investment you can make, but it can also be the worst.

Becoming a homeowner ties you to a property in a way that a lease doesn’t. If you’re a renter who needs to downsize, you can get out of your lease early, rent out a spare room, or list your place on Airbnb. Most leases are only a year long, and no one can force you to live there after your lease runs out.

A house is different. Until you find a buyer, you’re stuck with the mortgage, property taxes, and insurance payments. It took my parents four years to sell their house after the Great Recession because of declining home values and high unemployment rates. In the end, they sold the house at a $20,000 loss.

Buying a home isn’t always cheaper, even when the mortgage payment is less than what you’re currently paying for rent. For example, renters insurance is about $10-$15 a month, but homeowners insurance is closer to $60-$100 a month.

Utilities can also be more expensive, especially if your landlord pays for your heating, electric and water bills. If you dive in unprepared, those extra costs could leave you struggling to make mortgage payments and headed down the road to disaster.

What to do instead.

If you don’t want to buy a house now, but anticipate being a homeowner at some point, it’s still a good idea to start saving for a down payment. A basic mortgage requires a down payment between 3.5% and 5% of the asking price, and many experts recommend putting at least 20% down to avoid extra insurance fees.

Start by making automatic transfers to a separate savings account, as much or as little as you want. I wish I had done this years before I was ready to own a house so I’d already have a nice nest egg. Instead I’m saving aggressively, forced to cut expenses, and live on a shoestring budget.

If you decide to never buy a home, you can use that money for a vacation, another deposit into your retirement account, or a new car. You can even use the money to fund your rent indefinitely. If you do want to become a homeowner, you’ll already have a down payment, so it’s a win-win.

Have you decided to opt-out of the home buying experience? We’d love to hear about it in the #Adulting Facebook community

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We think homeownership is a big part of the American Dream. But is it? REALLY? Read More...

America and the world were different in 1931 when James Truslow Adams first scrawled his vision of “the American Dream.”

Indeed, Adams’ sentiment was more idealistic than materialistic. It wasn’t until post-WWII that the American Dream of a rich life full of opportunities included a house.

To be fair, Gerald O’Hara did tell Scarlet that “land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” It’s easy to see how the beliefs of Adams and O’Hara morphed into a McMansion-bubble-bursting-cog of America’s “too big to fail” economy.

Today we travel more, marry later, have fewer kids, and most of us have 10 jobs even before we turned 40. When our phones broke free from walls, we too broke free. Homeownership peaked in 2004 and is now at its lowest point in 21 years.

If you’re wondering if homeownership is right for you right now, here are nine reasons to rent instead of buy — at least for a little longer.

1. You’re too lazy to pick up a finger to help.

If you’d rather chase Pokemon in your back yard than stop mice from entering your house, or if you’d rather watch House than maintain one, you may be too lazy to be a homeowner.

Houses aren’t reliable. If words like “broke,” “leak,” “patch,” “paint,” “fix,” and “repair” seem less like reasons to roll up your sleeves and more like reasons to kick up your feet, owning a home may not be right for you.

2. You couldn’t help even if you wanted to.

If it’s not possible for you to help because it’s not possible for you to help, homeownership will be an expensive proposition for you. When the faucet leaks and you’re not the guy, or when it’s time to winterize your house and you’re not the gal, you will have to hire someone to take care of business.

As a renter, though, you simply call your landlord to fix the home you don’t own.

3. You’re not sure which direction your life (or relationship, or career) will go.

Even if you aren’t lazy or useless, but you’re surer of who John Snow’s parents are then where you’ll be in one year (let alone five), you might want to rent instead of buy.

Buying a home is expensive. Your agent, the seller’s agent, and Uncle Sam all want their cut. There are fees for home inspection, appraisal, title changes, lender’s origination, and more.

The best means to counterbalance this tab of homeownership is time. But what you if you don’t have the time? Homeownership is a commitment, and it helps to have an idea of where you’re going before you make that commitment.

4. You’re sure as hell things won’t stay the same.

You know those friends who were so much fun and then bought an overpriced home in a cul-de-sac overrun by offspring? You know why they don’t go out anymore? It’s because they’re house poor.

Not only are houses expensive to buy, but they’re also expensive to manicure and maintain. This is why many homeowners become homebodies. If the thought of spending all your free time in your four walls makes you funny, owning a home will be more drama than comedy.

5. You’re contemplating a change in family situation.

9 Signs You Should Rent Instead of Buy

If you and your partner might become the human equivalent of Matryoshka dolls, any home purchase made today could be too small or too large tomorrow.

It’s easy to right-size for your family with rental properties. It’s not that same with purchased properties. Your changing size could mean you need more room to grow sooner than you thought. When the size of your family is firmly settled, it’s time to purchase a permanent settlement.

6. You’re ferociously independent.

If homeownership even remotely feels like living on Wisteria Lane in “little boxes made of ticky-tacky,” surrounded by Joanna Eberhart characters, then homeownership may not be right for you.

Unlike college, you can’t move away from co-dependent neighbors every semester. Even when you do escape, someone needs to take care of your house while you’re gone.

Don’t want to be tied down? Buying a home will tie you down in a way renting never could.

7. You’re too poor.

Notwithstanding the cost of maintenance, most people shouldn’t buy a house with anything less than 20% down on a fixed rate mortgage.

Sure, there are flexible loans, but they weren’t so flexible in 2008 when balloon payments contributed to problems for many homeowners. You can buy a home with less than 20% down, but with risk-based pricing your lender will likely use will charge you a higher interest rate. You will also have to pay private mortgage insurance.

Don’t forget that discussion we already had about being house poor. You don’t want your home to suck up all your disposable income. Run the numbers. It still might be better for you to rent instead of buy.

Run the numbers. It still might be better for you to rent instead of buy.Click To Tweet

8. You aren’t detail oriented.

When was the last time someone you knew bought a nest and didn’t remodel it with the conviction of a 1980s teenager BeDazzling a jacket for her first Madonna concert? The problem with home décor bought at Michael’s is that it looks like it.

Home décor not bought at Michaels increases costs too quickly for the less detail-oriented to care. HGTV-inspired remodels increase home values, but not enough to see a 100% return.

9. Finally, homes suck.

That is, the cost of a home sucks all the money out of your bank account. While homes can be good investments, for the average household they bogart most or all investment options. Investment diversification is integral to investment success.

Asset classes don’t move in tandem and 2008 proved Carlton Sheets wrong. Homes do depreciate. Consider your whole investment portfolio and don’t put your potential home purchase in an investment silo.

I’m a homeowner. But for three of the nine reasons above I wish I wasn’t. Because my husband and I perfectly timed buying our condo just before the market crashed in 2008, it’s been “amusing.”

If you’re considering buying your own home, it’s a long-term investment and, like Bon Jovi songs, not always a bed of roses.

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