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A few thoughts on Homeowner’s Associations and Architectural Review Committees

Active architectural review a critical component of any HOA

The modern homeowner’s association has many important topics it is tasked with. Snow removal, garbage collection, parking issues, upkeep of amenities, unpaid assessments just to name a few.

One of the most important is the architectural review committee (sometimes known as ARC). It has been said that “all politics are local”. Neighbors often have disagreements about a variety of things both large and small, but one thing that everybody agrees on is the need to help maintain and increase property values. In my 25 years in real estate, I have seen  associations that are active and pay attention and those that seem lethargic and powerless. The way a community looks goes a long way in attracting or turning off potential buyers. As an aside, when I lived in Kingstowne a neighbor across the street was a junk salesman. His garage was full to the ceiling. But when he started leaving washers, dryers, and refrigerators out on the sidewalk for weeks at a time, the association took action. The activity stopped, and the owner moved shortly thereafter.

Before anyone moves into a community with an HOA, they have to be given a packet outlining the rules and regulations (among other items). They have three days to review these documents and can back out of their purchase for any reason during that time. So people know the rules. It is up to the ARC to be vigilant about compliance. Are inspections for wood rot, peeling paint, and unapproved additions and modifications done yearly? Are rules for changes made easy to understand and applied consistently? Are new materials and their applications paid attention to?

Without being overly regimented or close-minded, a need for continuity and a community “look” is a good thing. If every home is neutral,  but one is bright pink, it looks off. If there are five different kinds of fencing on five homes next to one another, it loses appeal. This isn’t to say that wood and Trex can’t both be approved materials for decks, it just means that some consistency is good. For example while every front light doesn’t have to be exact, maybe the materials or colors or styles should be complimentary.

Again, just my two cents, but I’ve always found landscaping to be huge. Communities that have neglected trees and grass, or that don’t attend immediately to graffiti on fences seem a little run down to those looking for the best places to live. If a house is vacant and has broken windows, or vehicles are parked on lawns, buyers move on. Special attention should be paid to entrances and common areas.

It’s impossible to say that if you spend X amount of dollars that values will increase by Y. It’s almost the opposite. It works that if you DON’T spend the money values don’t go up and can decline because a community starts looking shabby or old and run down. I can point to Amberleigh and Landsdowne as communities that have upgraded their “look” lately. They both look fresh in terms of their front entrances and common area. Obviously Kingstowne spends a lot and considers it extremely important to keep up the community appearance. Can I put a dollar value on how that effects each unit? No, but I know it’s there. It’s common sense that we all are willing to pay more for something that is desirable than for  something that’s not. The same is true for real estate. One area looks like they put their best suit and tie on and the other looks like they just rolled out of bed without showering. Without bashing communities by name, there are some local communities that suffer by comparison because they haven’t seen the value in continuously maintaining and upgrading when necessary their appearance.

So the idea is to get together on standards and then apply those standards evenly and often. There certainly are enough communities in our area with HOAs so that those involved can take a drive-by, and as they tour each community, note the things they like and those that need improvement. Then incorporate the best of all of them into your own ARC.