If you have ever adopted a puppy, you know that you must abide by rules from the adoption agency. Some rules have to do with making sure that you have a safe environment for your new puppy, and other rules are about fees you must pay prior to adopting the puppy.
If you are not comfortable with those rules, you might choose to find a different adoption agency with different rules.
Buying a home is similar to adopting a puppy
When buying a home that belongs to a Property Owners Association (POA); either a Condo Owners Association (COA), or a Homeowners Association (HOA); you’ll find that if you were to live in the community, you’ll have to abide by its rules. And if you are not comfortable with the rules of the association, you might want to re-consider buying that home.
Many homes in Fairfax County belong to a POA
In Fairfax County there are many subdivisions which are subject to the Property Owners’ Association Act, although you may still find older communities, usually of single family detached homes, which do not have an Owners’ Association.
Property Owner Associations vary significantly from one to another
Some POAs are large, with hundreds or even thousands of members (usually condominium unit owners), and others are much smaller with only a couple of dozen homes in the association.
Some homeowners associations manage complex common areas that include pools, parks, tot lots, sports courts, restaurants, and even golf courses. Other associations have minimal management needs and simply care for a little bit of common land, and perhaps negotiate a trash-pickup contract.
How the Property Owners’ Association Act affects you
When you are buying a home that belongs to a Condo or Homeowners Association, Virginia law requires that you receive a resale packet. The law gives homebuyers 72 hours to review the resale packet (also called the “HOA Docs” or the “Condo Docs”) and, if necessary, to cancel the contract within that period of time.
Each resale packet must include certain elements.
In the resale packet, you will find (among other documents):
- Resale Certificate
- Association Bylaws
- Architectural Guidelines
- Latest Meeting Minutes
What to do when you receive the big packet of documents
Usually, the POA docs come to you as a big, ominous packet. But it’s important for you to identify the key things that you want to look into to make sure you’re not being blindsided into buying a beautiful home with potentially expensive issues down the road.
5 Important Steps to take with the resale packet
- Make sure that the resale packet is complete per the POA Act.
- Check the 2-4 page resale certificate for violations, judgements, dues, etc.
- Look into the financials.
- Review the meeting minutes.
- Get yourself familiar with the Architectural Guidelines.
The first thing to look into is to make sure that the package is complete per the POA Act.
1. The Act requires certain elements to be in the packet
These elements are clearly outlined in the “Purchaser’s Acknowlegement of Receipt of POA Docs” form. If you don’t receive this form with the documents, your Buyer Agent can provide it to you so that you can be sure you are receiving a complete packet as required by law. Before you sign the Acknowledgment of Receipt, make sure that the packet that you received is complete.
Once you know that it’s complete, review the resale certificate, which is summary of sorts.
2. Review the resale certificate
The resale certificate is usually only 2-4 pages long and it contains some of the most important elements that you’ll want to know about the property such as the existence of violations, pending judgments, unpaid dues, etc. If you need help understanding an item, ask your Buyer Agent.
If there are violations, judgements, dues, or similar issues, ask your Buyer Agent how these will be resolved. The Purchase Contract that you signed must have a paragraph indicating how to proceed should these issues arise. But don’t worry, most of these issues are common and relatively minor, so no need to panic if you do find them.
The next thing to look into is the financials.
3. Look into the association’s financials
Even if you are not a financial wiz, you will want to make sure that the financials show that there is enough money in the bank to cover the ongoing expenses outlined in the budget, and that the association has a healthy amount of savings. You don’t want to find out that the association is broke because it will be the homeowners’ responsibility to bail it out – and that could cost you (and your neighbors) a lot of money.
The fourth thing to review are the meeting minutes.
4. Review the meeting minutes
The meeting minutes will give you an idea of what kinds of issues have been discussed in association meetings in the recent past. Most importantly, is there talk of a big assessment being imposed on the members to cover a big expense? Are there safety issues that you might want to be aware of? Is a big highway being built through the neighborhood? (Ok, this is an exaggeration, but it’s important to know what’s going on and that you are ok with it.)
Last but not least, check into the Architectural Guidelines.
5. Get yourself familiar with the Architectural Guidelines
The Architectural Guidelines are a set of rules of what you can do (or not) with your property. Some associations are very strict in terms of how you must maintain the outside of your home. Most of them restrict parking of commercial and recreational vehicles, plus there are usually requirements for obtaining permission from the association prior to modifying (adding on, or changing) the outside of the home in any way.
Buying a home is also about belonging to the community
As you can see, buying a home is not just about the home itself, but also about the community (i.e. the Homeowners Association) where it is located – similar to when you adopt a puppy where it’s not just about the puppy but also about a few other things surrounding the event).
Log in to our Fairfax County Map , where you can find homes for sale by school – in a specific subdivision (or Property Owners Association).
Photo by Ian Phillips on flickr.com/photos/ianphillips