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Following the Rules: Homeowner associations Evolve Beyond the Sterotypes

By Lavender August 14, 2008

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Home & Yard Blvd. Section

• Thou shall conceal your TV satellite antenna, as well as your utility meter, or blend them appropriately to match your house or garage.

• Thou shall not partake in “noxious or offensive activity,” or things that may become an annoyance.

• Thou shall shield completely any garbage can from view off the Lot.

• Thou shall not place any sign on the Lot.

• Thou shall not keep any poultry, cattle, or insects on the Lot.

These are the commandments of the “Lot,” produced, monitored, and enforced by the one they call the “Developer.”

Does it all sound like something you might see at the latest M. Night Shyamalan flick?

Well, think again, as these are just some of the actual rules homeowners across the Twin Cities and its suburbs have to follow.

Homeowners living within various homeowner association developments must follow certain—and sometimes very specific rules—that many others homeowners do not.

While the above regulations apply only to those living within the Waconia Landing development (about 30 miles southwest of Minneapolis), many of them are similar to, if not the same as, the requirements of other homeowner associations across the state.

From concealing garbage cans and TV antennas to mowing grass at a certain height, homeowner associations usually establish these guidelines to maintain a certain sense of order and well-kept appearance within a community.

But a number of bylaws and restrictions aren’t the only things that set homeowner-association houses apart from others.

Many homeowner associations (otherwise referred to as property owner associations, cooperatives, or community associations) consist of communal lands—oftentimes with pools, playgrounds, or other amenities—that they maintain and operate. Homeowners likely pay a monthly assessment fee, which helps with the costs of upkeep of those communal areas. Many homeowner associations also take care of chores such as lawn-mowing.

As residents within a homeowner association development, most have a say on a board that governs the rules and regulations within the neighborhood.

While it all may sound a bit strange to outsiders looking in, the trend seems to be catching on.

According to the Community Associations Institute, a national organization dedicated to serving and guiding associations across the country, almost 60 millions residents and more than 24 million housing units were part of an association-governed community in 2008. That’s up from 45 million residents and fewer than 20 million housing units just eight years ago.

The Foundation for Community Association Research (FCAR), an organization dedicated in part to identifying trends in community-association living, reports, “By a three-to-one margin, residents say they were more likely to move into a home because it was part of a community association.”

The rise in the number of association-type developments over the past few years may be an indication that new homeowners are looking for communal, well-maintained, and orderly places to live. But it may also be a reflection of the personal satisfaction many homeowners who already live in these developments feel about their place of living—a fact not widely disseminated, FCAR points out.

A 2007 study on resident satisfaction commissioned by FCAR and conducted by Zogby International found, “Homeownership provides countless benefits, but can also generate anxiety related to property values, costs, aesthetics, neighbors, and personal preferences, to name but a few. With so much on the line, stress is inevitable, as it is in every segment of society. But when tensions arise in community associations, headlines are often the result.”

Those headlines are often misguided.

The study showed that despite the sometimes numerous and sometimes fickle rules homeowners must live by, residents overwhelmingly were pleased with their living situations. More than 70 percent of homeowners gave positive feedback about their community associations. When it came to those notorious rules, almost 75 percent said those regulations “protected and enhanced” their property values.

As FCAR states, “The data affirm that the vast majority of community associations are governed and managed effectively.”

Personal satisfaction also may be derived from the ever-growing variety of the types of homeowner association developments available. While some developments still may be spotted from the road easily, with all the housing units inside looking the same, many are starting to branch out from that persona.

From condominiums to town homes to single-family dwellings, homeowner associations are beginning to range widely in size, type of dwelling, and affordability. Any one development now might contain anything from million-dollar homes to midrange-priced town homes to affordable single-family houses to a mixture of everything and anything in between.

As the study puts it, “The estimated real estate value of all homes in community associations approaches $4 trillion, approximately 20 percent of the value of all US residential real estate.”

Despite a slumping economy and a housing market in turmoil, homeowner-association developments still seemingly are holding their appeal. And their future? Well, we’ll just leave that in the hands of the “Developers.”

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