Why I joined the board of my HOA to protect my investment

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Last year, we bought our first home: it is a townhouse in a community governed by an HOA. Because I heard so many crazy stories about HOA, to protect our real-estate investment, I decided to run for open board member positions.

I got elected!

And it’s been really great so far. I’ll show your why you should also consider joining the board of your HOA.

Facts & Fiction

When I was looking for a house, several of my friends told me to avoid areas with HOA. They had heard crazy stories, like HOA prevents family whose house burned down from rebuilding on their own property and probably read articles like The Tyranny of Homeowners Associations. Or maybe they had seen that definition from Urbandictionary:

HOA
The association of home owners. They absolutely insist on having people in your neighborhood join and fine you.
Person 1: I work for the HOA.
Person 2: You bastard!
Person 1: Ah ah ah, there’s another fine!
Person 2: God dammit.

However, the truth is that reports show that most people are actually satisfied with their HOA. They prefer to buy in an HOA and believe that it protects or enhances their property values.

HOAs are small businesses

Eventually, we bought our house in an HOA controlled area because it was the first house we visited that looked like it would still be looking good in 10 years.

Maintenance was up to date, landscaping was of very high quality and the HOA was repainting our house while we were closing the mortgage. What’s not to like about this?

Our association currently has a multi-million dollar budget to manage the common areas and exteriors of over 700 homes. Amenities include pools, tennis, basket ball and volley ball courts and kids playgrounds. The HOA also provides the water, trash collection, landscaping and the exterior maintenance of the houses.

An HOA is nothing more than a normal (non-profit) business with employees, multiple contractors and a board to provide direction and represent the homeowners. But since everyone is a volunteer on the board and no particular qualification is required, sometimes board members aren’t able to fully represent their homeowners’ best interests.

This is where HOAs need more people who are financially fit, or have corporate experience.

Why you should join your HOA’s board

  1. Running for elections is an awesome experience: At first, it was downright scary. I had to find a running mate (and then another one), find supporters and go find voters. Obviously, I had no idea how to do any of this. So we printed flyers to market our team and explain what our intentions were. We went door to door to meet homeowners, listen to them and ask for their support. Our team won with an overwhelming majority. After running a half-marathon, this was the 2nd time I went completely out of my comfort zone this year and I’m very happy about it.
  2. Protect your real-estate investment: As a homeowner, I was just a bystander in the community’s decisions. As a board member I can actually take part in the decision process and make my opinion count and vote. HOA dues are just a cost, so you want to make sure you get the most value out of it.
  3. Personal finance meets business finance: Of course, as a personal finance blogger participating in the management of a multi-million dollar budget is appealing to me. We optimize our budget, we cut unnecessary costs, we started an emergency fund. It’s a way to apply some of our personal finance knowledge for the benefit of a larger community.
  4. Be part of a small business: as a board member, you see the inner workings of a small business : how the suppliers are selected, how the budget is allocated, how the infrastructure is maintained… with very limited resources. Working for a Fortune 500 company sometimes makes me forget how nimble small business have to be. Everyone has to wear multiple hats and decisions are often made on the spot with very limited financial resources. There’s no steering committee, no controller approval, no management reviews. Everything moves much, much faster.
  5. Give back to your community: I have the chance to have a very diverse work experience and being financially aware. To me, serving on the board of my HOA is my way of giving back to the community, with my time and experience. Some homeowners struggle to pay the monthly dues, I now have the ability to help them by making sure we aren’t wasting their money and that they get the most value out of it.

Conclusion

Anyone who’s managed budgets, projects or people or has dealt with customers has a lot of value to bring to an HOA board.

If you live in an HOA community and elections are coming up for board seats, I would encourage you to consider the job. Since I joined the board, we’ve made a conscious effort to improve the communication between the homeowners and the board, a pain point for several years. Today a homeowner told me he felt lucky to have such a good board this year. That made my day.

Give it a try, your HOA probably needs people just like you.

-Nick

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18 COMMENTS

  1. I’m the president of our HOA, but we have a small community and I was sort of tricked into it by a neighbor that was tired of it. So far, so good. But we recently acquired a new board member that is really trying to push outlandish ideas we’re not fans of. We’ll see how that plays out…

    • Good for you President Maggie! It’s already difficult enough to deal with crazy requests from homeowners, it must be difficult when they come from a board member. Hopefully it will play out well and the community will thank you. Good luck!

        • Maybe you can talk about it to friends you have on the board, who you know share your opinion? It’s easier to share the load when other people back you up.

  2. Interesting approach, Nick. I’ve thought about joining the HOA board in our community. I’m friends with the current president, and he’s doing a good job maintaining order and priorities, so I don’t feel it is necessary at this time. If he steps down in the future and thinks look a bit precarious, I might step up to the plate.

    • That’s great your president is doing a good job. In my case, we also had people with insane ideas running for the board. It would have cost everyone of us a special assessment of 3000$ if he had it his way, so that was another reason to get involved.
      In your case, I’m sure it’s even more interesting when times are good, you get to focus on what matters for the community.

  3. I have been the section rep for my part of the neighborhood for a few years now, but I am running for HOA Vice President in September. I don’t mind the responsibility, and I enjoy making decisions that will improve all of our property values!

    • How exciting! Stepping up to the job in the interest of others is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding things one can do.
      A well-run HOA is virtuous circle. Wishing you to get the job!

  4. I won’t entertain joining our neighborhoods current board, because it would take up too much time. However, like Maggie I was tricked into joining our last neighborhoods’ HOA board, of course this was pre-kids so there was more time available. 🙂

    It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t last long. The whole situation was a mess and run by a power hungry guy. I could see why they had trouble keeping people on. Since our fees were maybe $300/year it wasn’t even enough money at stake to warrant getting involved over.

    It’s good that you’re able to actually have influence in your neighborhood though and especially keeping down absurd, expensive assessments.

    • In our neighborhood, half of the board members are retired and they are the most active. With a full-time job, a blog and kids, attending board meetings can feel like a chore.
      For me, having influence in the neighborhood wasn’t a motivation, or only limited to not having absurd project voted on.
      I have, however, seen a few people for whom this is a fight for power. It’s sad and they clearly have no intention to help the community before themselves.

  5. Interesting perspective here Nick. I am still only in college so most of this won’t apply to me yet but I like how you spoke about protecting your real-estate investment. If a neighborhood is well maintained I can only imagine that it should help increase the price of your home if you were to ever sell.

    Should I ever come across this as I move into the working world it is something to keep in mind as some cost may have more value later on! Not to mention being involved with the community is a lot more fun that just going home and knowing nobody around you.

    • Spot on Stefan! Not only is good to make sure your property gets taken care of properly but knowing your neighbors is important too.
      Knowing how an HOA works is also a good introduction to politics and small businesses. It’s important to keep learning, even you’ll finish college!

  6. This is a great approach to a perceived “problem,” if you see something you don’t like, then do something about it. Having lived in Chicago the last 4 years, I can say all HOA’s I’ve come across have been at least fair.

    In the future, I’ll take much of this advice to heart once we buy a place.

    • You’re right, complaining doesn’t help anyone!
      I do believe that most HOAs are governed by well intentioned people. But there’s a least a couple of communities around ours that have mismanaged their cash: maintenance hasn’t been done for years and when it will be due, a special assessment will be required and everyone will be upset.
      Another approach is that it’s easier to avoid problems when you’re proactive about them. Better safe than sorry 🙂

    • That was my idea as well, thanks for confirming it. I sometimes find that being on the board takes precious personal time, how do you manage several ?

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