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Questions You Should Ask When You're Thinking about Buying a Home in a Community Association

Florida's housing market is growing again. Florida Realtors® reported that October 2014 sales of single-family homes rose 17.8% and sales of townhomes/condos rose 7.4% since last October. If you're ready to purchase a new home, it's very likely that you'll be looking at properties which are governed by an association (this includes homeowners associations, condominiums, cooperatives and other planned communities). Community Association Institute® ("CAI") and its sister organization, the Foundation for Community Association Research, estimates that there are 26.3 million homes within these communities. If you're considering purchasing a home in one of these communities, CAI recommends, that at a minimum, you should get answers to these questions before you buy a home in a community association:

  • How much are the assessments, and when are payments due?

  • What do the assessments cover?

  • What is not covered and, thus, what are your individual responsibilities as a homeowner?

  • What procedures are in place to collect delinquent assessments?

  • How often can assessments increase, and by how much?

  • What is the annual budget, and how does it compare to similar communities?

  • Does the community have a viable reserve to fund major, long-term maintenance and repairs?

  • Have special assessments been levied by the association on homeowners? If so, for how much and for what purpose?

  • Are there restrictions on renting property?

  • Do the architectural guidelines suit your preferences?

  • Is the community age restricted? If so, what is the policy on underage residents?

  • Are there simmering issues between homeowners and the elected board?

  • What are the rules with respect to pets, flags, outside antennas, satellite dishes, clotheslines, fences, patios, parking and home businesses?

  • Are board meetings open to all residents?

  • Are there are other rules or conditions that I need to be aware of?

While this is an extensive list of questions (and not every conceivable question that you can come up with), living in a community association shouldn't scare you. After all, more than 60 million Americans choose to live in these associations. These communities provide some degree of protection against neighborhood degradation and deterioration (thus protecting your property value), and services and amenities that you otherwise may not be able to afford on your own. Go in prepared. Review copies of the governing documents, including the covenants, conditions and restrictions, talk to people who live in the community and talk to the president of the association, a member of the board, or the professional who manages the community. If you are having difficulty understanding the association's governing documents, consider consulting an attorney for guidance.

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