You may encounter any number of associations as you search for a home. From homeowners and neighborhood associations to community associations and leagues, it can be tricky to decide what your rights as a homeowner will be under each umbrella.
Your real estate agent should help you understand what the rules of the association will be for any home you consider bidding on. That said, it is helpful to have general knowledge of what all those acronyms and titles mean before you’re on the ground searching.
Here’s a brief vocab list to help you search for the right homes in the right places.
More than 25 million homes are part of homeowner associations, or HOAs, in the US. An HOA is a corporation formed by a developer when it constructs a subdivision or a building with multiple units.
As each unit or lot is purchased, the new owner joins the HOA. Once a certain number of lots have been purchased, the developer no longer owns the property and it is owned by the people who live there.
Membership in an HOA is mandatory for any property or unit within the corporate boundaries. That means that if you want to buy a house in an HOA, you have to join the association.
HOAs have governing boards and bylaws to ensure that a common set of values and standards are upheld within the community. This might include rules for community amenities, such as swimming pools, gyms or tennis courts, and clubhouses.
The HOA governing board may have a small say in home sales, and it may also dictate things like whether or not pets are allowed, minimum regulations for landscaping or property care, safety regulations for driving within a subdivision, and funding for community events such as block parties or 4th of July festivities, for example.
Neighborhood associations are groups of residents who have organized an association that is not mandatory. There may be an HOA within a neighborhood association for associations that serve a greater area.
While some neighborhood associations are incorporated within their communities, others are formed through mutual association and a desire for a closer-knit community.
Neighborhood associations may have a governing body, but they do not have the same legal rules as HOAs do to enforce regulations. In general, neighborhood associations require cooperation from volunteers within the area they serve.
These associations may create events and programming, raise funds to benefit others or to carry out neighborhood programming, develop safety guidelines for the area, or even form a neighborhood watch.
Both HOAs and neighborhood associations are types of community associations. Community associations are groupings of residents or homeowners who participate, either by requirement or by voluntary cooperation, in carrying out certain tasks to benefit everyone living within the association.
Other types of community associations might include community gardens or land trusts, social clubs, and neighborhood watches.
Community leagues are organizations of residents from a certain area who come together to address a specific need, project, or issue. They might represent a neighborhood or community for issues such as education, local politics, development, or recreation.
Some examples of a community league might include groups working to produce a newsletter for residents of a specific area, people interested in building a playground or skate park for local youth, or neighbors who are concerned about car theft and finding ways to prevent it from happening. Community leagues are voluntary organizations.
A neighborhood watch, or neighborhood crime watch, is an organized group of neighbors or community members who agree to watch out for crime in their area. This includes paying attention to other properties, looking out for suspicious people or cars, and educating everyone about safety and security.
A local police force is usually involved in forming the neighborhood watch, especially when it comes to providing education. The goal is for neighborhood members to watch out for crime, and then to notify the police if they see something wrong.
Membership in a neighborhood watch is usually voluntary, and participating households often have a sticker or other sign in their windows to signify membership.
The rules for each individual association may vary, so be sure to educate yourself before you get too far into the negotiations on a home—particularly if you are interested in a building within an HOA. Ask your real estate agent to help you, and don’t be afraid to go to the association itself to acquaint yourself with its bylaws and governance.
The more you know, the better able you be to contribute productively and positively to your future association of neighbors and community members.