Let’s face it, by professional designation and Code of Ethics, as a practicing REALTOR, my job is to help consumer’s and improve their private property values.
But there is something to be said for private property rights.
This might be the most Ron-Paul-ish sounding you’ll ever hear me, but HOA’s right now are the bane of real estate. Talk about the faceless corporation screwing with other people’s business.
Now so you, the humble reader, have a good idea why I am so biased, I live in a “covenant-controlled” community called Pinecliff, where the warden, ahem, HOA parking enforcement officer, noted that in April 2010, an unidentified flying object with 9 feathered denizens had landed in my backyard. That was the end of backyard chickens for the Day Boys. After making an appeal to the HOA that sounded quite a bit like a hyper-polarized gay marriage debate (HOA member: “if we allow you to raise chickens, what’s next, a python farm”; my fowl-loving cohort in crime “we just want our children to have childhoods. You’re denying that”. Yes… we live in the first world when these are our problems), the chickens were forcibly evicted to… Briargate. We found a neighborhood with a covenant loophole (where they didn’t contain the words “chickens”, “fowl” or my personal favorite “traditional neighborhood pets”) and no HOA and at church on Sunday mornings we have these strange contraband meetings between minivans where we bring an empty egg container and they quietly slip us one loaded with multi-colored eggs rich in Omega 3′s. Sometimes this happens across a pew.
This is my personal HOA experience. My professional? Even stranger.
Associa Colorado usually is taking three weeks to produce documentation for a real estate related transaction. They have this information already recorded, they could distribute it on a website, but then, that would be avoiding a state-allowed source of revenue. When you go to their website, it is nearly impossible to find what you need, financial information for the previous six months, meeting minutes and notes, and information on special assessments. Most everything indicates that it is not providing a statement of account, and so the obvious consumer instinct is “well, I don’t want that. I do want a statement of account.” Well you can’t get a statement of account, known as a status letter, until right before closing. More on that later. All of these things sound redundant, and similar, and have express fees, and many of them have fairly shocking details like this:
Well hot damn! For $80 they’ll watermark that it is out of compliance with full Resale Disclosure as required under Colorado Law. How helpful in court!
Attorney: “Did you see this watermark?”
REALTOR: “Yes. Bold, heavily typed face documents. We see those all the time. Those are important. Like notary stamps.”
Attorney: “Did you read what that watermark said?”
REALTOR: “Something about compliance with Colorado Law”
Attorney: “Or lack thereof.”
Defense Attorney: “Objection! My client can’t possibly understand Homeowner’s Associations inconsistent use of double negatives masquerading as currency-style watermarks.”
Attorney: “Why not? The state uses double negatives at closing on the Tax Assessment agreement, the verification of Colorado Residency, etc. Just because there is no closer there to hold your client’s hand…”
Can you see the beauty of the self-perpetuating idiocy in the system?
Here are two more fun ones. These involve the Statement of Account, also more commonly known as The Status Letter:
If you have an early to mid-month closing, you could get massively screwed right now if you live in an HOA and your title company is not on the ball with your local craziness. Woodmoor is a great example: the title company orders a status letter approximately two weeks before closing. In Woodmoor, they order that from the quite affordable WIA (Woodmoor Improvement Association). To comply with the Status Letter, Woodmoor sends out the forestry service. They walk the property and only now, document which trees are in need of disposal, which are dead, and make requirements for the dead stuff to be removed prior to closing. So here you are, packing everything up, some dude in a WIA truck pulls up, and announces, “you have two aspen, a big ponderosa limb, and some scrub oak you have to get out. I flagged them all. Have a nice day” and closing is something like five to seven days away. The last two Woodmoor closings I’ve had, had their status letter clear less than four hours prior to closing. Nice little nail biter, that.
In Golden Hills, they have a requirement that was founded on “Cleaning up the neighborhood.” When the title company orders the status letter from them, they reply “please provide a copy of the Improvement Location Certificate”. The title company, if they haven’t closed in Golden Hills in the last year usually says “what improvement location certificate?” because Golden Hills didn’t notify anyone of this odd new condition of sale, didn’t record it, didn’t alert any title companies, nobody. I had one of the first properties to close under this new rule, and the good folks at Empire Title made it a new condition of future closings in Golden Hills to require an ILC on all transactions. Because it’s what the HOA does with the ILC that is the real hoot: they examine the ILC for new permanent structures that they never approved, and then if they find any, they require them to be removed. Yup. Here you are, boxes packed, ready to leave, and that shed you had on the property WHEN YOU BOUGHT IT EIGHT YEARS AGO that somebody might have/ might not have approved but never recorded in HOA minutes…. all of a sudden, your HOA won’t give you a clean status letter until it’s gone.
This is obviously a rant on the silliness of HOA’s, and while I don’t particularly like them, they do their share of good. They can organize community. My anti-chicken brigade, is pro-defensible space, and in this super arid summer, I was thrilled to have my fuel bomb of cut timber shredded today for a mere $40 (the cost of my annual voluntary membership each year). The over-riding message is this: shop informed. Find out about HOA’s, as much as possible, in advance. Do your due diligence and ask around. After all, you can change your house, but you can’t change your neighbors.