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Own your own home. July 8, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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No, this isn’t some kind of ad or promotion. It’s a post based on a news item our friend Ben read this morning in the Yahoo! finance section called “Neighbor vs. neighbor as homeowner fights get ugly” (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/).

Admittedly, when I read the headline, our friend Ben thought it was a story about aggravated homeowners tossing dog poop into their neighbors’ yards in retaliation for the neighbors only mowing every three weeks or painting their house orange or refusing to cut down the dead tree on their side of the property line. I couldn’t imagine why it was in the finance section. Intrigued, I clicked on the title and found myself reading about homeowners’ associations.

To me, a homeowners’ association brings to mind McCarthyism and the Stepford Wives. It tells you what you can and cannot do in your own home and yard, and ruthlessly punishes any infraction. And it charges you hefty monthly fees and surcharges for the privilege of being told what you may and may not do. Our friend Ben cannot imagine why someone would choose to pay—and often pay quite a lot—to live in a place that is run, as someone in the article said, like a banana republic.

I quote: “…housing associations have gained infamy for dictating everything from the weight of your dog…to whether you can kiss in your driveway… Homeowners’ associations have served as the behavior police, banning lemonade stands, solar panels and hanging out in the garage. One ordered a war hero to take down his flag because of a ‘nonconforming’ pole. Another demanded that residents with brown spots on their lawns dye their grass green.” 

Our friend Ben had previously been aware of homeowners’ associations mostly because, as a passionate gardener, it horrified me to read repeatedly about would-be gardeners being told which, if any, landscape plants they were allowed to have (inevitably the most boring and ugly), being forbidden to grow vegetable gardens, and fined if they put up bird feeders. I don’t know about you, but as long as I’m minding my own business and not creating a disturbance or inconvenience for my neighbors, I don’t want anyone telling me what I can or cannot do on my own property. (It would be a different matter if I were renting or otherwise living on someone else’s property, obviously.) Thank God Silence Dogood and I live out in the middle of nowhere!

But I digress. The point of the article was that homeowners in these homeowners’-association-ruled enclaves can be foreclosed on by the associations even if their mortgages are completely paid off, should the association choose to levy some massive fee for an upgrade in you-name-it. The example given was about one such instance where the residents were elderly and living on fixed incomes, but were slapped with a $6,500 fee each on top of their already-high monthly association fee. Many had nothing with which to pay this, and many have as a result found themselves evicted from homes they had long legally owned outright.  

This is, of course, extremely distressing. But what makes it really horrifying is that, according to the article, one in five U.S. homeowners already live in homeowners’-association housing, and “more than 80 percent of newly constructed homes in the U.S. are in association communities.” What this means is that these people only think they own their own homes, even if they’ve paid off their mortgages. If they fall behind on their association dues or can’t pay some huge, unexpected new fee, the association can foreclose: It’s all in the fine print. These people are actually, in effect, perpetual renters who are at the mercy of what the article described as “a local government without restraints.”

Why on earth would someone voluntarily enter into such an agreement? “In exchange for adhering to the rules, homeowners got safe communities with clubhouses, pools and tennis courts,” according to the article. “But what many didn’t realize when they bought their homes was that the fine print gave the association the right to foreclose—even on a few hundred dollars in unpaid dues… Homeowners typically have no right to a hearing.” And the foreclosure procedures can take effect just 60 days after a homeowner falls behind on his or her payments.

Our friend Ben suggests that anyone interested in owning a home make sure that they actually own their home. Buying a nice piece of property and putting a mobile home—even a used one—on it until you can afford to upgrade is surely better than being perpetually at the mercy of a bunch of Stepford Nazis. And around here, at least, even the smallest communities have a community park with a pool, playground, tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields, picnic sites, and other amenities open to residents for free. No one has to put themselves or their future security in hock to swim or play. 

Don’t let those bastards get you down!!! Know what you’re getting yourself into, and make sure you’re not incurring unnecessary debt that you can’t anticipate—imposed at the will of others, such as a homeowners’ association—and that you might not be able to pay. Or, as our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin said, “Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.”



1. h.ibrahim - July 8, 2011

Too True, Too True!

2. Becca - July 8, 2011

Preach it! 🙂 When we were in the process of buying BrightHaven, someone mentioned that the neighborhood was in a HOA and I called both realtors to make sure it wasn’t true! I can’t even imagine living like that. 😮

Me either, Becca! How horrifying to assume you owned your home, since you’d paid it off, then lose it like that! Not to mention being constantly told what to do…

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