When shopping for a new home, buyers may notice certain associations or fees itemized on property listings. Homeowners associations (HOA), property owners associations (POA), condo owners associations (COA), residential owners associations (ROA) –– the acronyms alone are enough to make a homebuyer’s head spin!
What’s the difference between all of these associations? And what exactly do they do? To find out, we talked with Reed Pirain, a top real estate agent near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with extensive experience in owner associations.
Pirain knows that it’s important for buyers to understand the associations that their property falls under before they purchase. “I can’t stress enough how different one association could be from the next,” he says. That’s why we’ve broken down the basic functions of the most common types of associations here.
Homeowners associations and condo owners associations
What is an HOA?
A homeowners association is a residential organization that covers a specific geographic area, such as a gated community, a condo, or a subdivision. A HOA is mostly concerned with aesthetics and maintaining or increasing the collective property value of the neighborhood or building.
What is a COA?
Some condo buildings may refer to their association as a condo owners association or COA. Others use the more common HOA term. The function and goal of a COA is the same as an HOA; it’s simply a different term adopted by some condo buildings.
What does a HOA (or COA) do?
HOAs create a list of bylaws that govern homeowners to varying degrees. Because their top concern is property value, most of these bylaws dictate how a property looks on the exterior. Sometimes HOA rules will also limit owner behavior that would impact neighbors, such as elevator use, parking, or rental policies.
Very basic HOAs may only have limitations about keeping lawns cut and may collect minimal dues for things like periodic painting of the neighborhood sign. Other HOAs are more strict, with pages and pages of bylaws that monitor numbers of guests, heights of shrubbery, or exact fence materials.
Typically, homeowners within the community are voted in as board members for the HOA or COA, and that board makes decisions based on the interests of the whole neighborhood or building. They usually are in charge of things like maintaining common areas, landscaping shared spaces, setting home appearance standards, and enforcing all bylaw regulations (usually by invoking fines for noncompliance).
Joining an HOA may or may not be mandatory when you purchase a single-family home; it depends upon the particular neighborhood. Joining an HOA or COA is almost always mandatory when you purchase a condo, though, simply because of the amount of shared space and amenities that must be governed.
Dues are always a part of membership in an HOA or COA. These dues may be collected monthly, quarterly, or annually. Loosely regulated HOAs may have dues as low as $50 per year, while luxury condo buildings may have dues upwards of $1,000 per month.
The dues might pay for things like lawn care, repairs to shared facilities (for example, communal buildings in an HOA or a roof in a COA), security personnel, condo staff, and upkeep for amenities (community pool, pavilion, sports courts, trails, docks, boat ramps, clubhouse, and so on).
Pirain stresses the importance of knowing the exact HOA bylaws before purchasing. He also recommends looking at the association’s budget and asking about any upcoming assessments for large repairs.
“The buyer has a due diligence period to review documents,” he says. “Once their offer has been accepted, they get a copy of the bylaws, they get a copy of the HOA document, and they are allowed to ask for a copy of the budget to see how healthy the association is.”
An HOA or COA board can change the bylaws at any time. “An HOA is a living and breathing organization,” Pirain says. For homeowners who wish to incite changes within the neighborhood, attending forums, writing to the board, or even running for board election are great ways to get involved.
Property owners associations and residential owners associations
What is a POA?
A property owners association (POA) encompasses a mix of property types, including condos, townhomes, single-family homes, and sometimes even businesses or commercial property. In some cases, property managers who represent properties within the POA jurisdiction can also join.
The goals of a POA include overall community improvement and long-term development.
What is a ROA?
A POA may also be called a residential owners association (ROA). The functionality and goals of POAs and ROAs are fundamentally the same.
What does a POA (or ROA) do?
While they may also be interested in property values and aesthetics (like an HOA or COA), a POA or ROA goes beyond that scope to also include services, programs, and committees that would benefit the whole of the community. Paint colors and roof design may be a part of a POA’s determinations, but typically, a POA will also discuss things like clubs, community parks, events, and even business operating licenses, in some cases.
A POA might cover one neighborhood, an entire town, or multiple towns; it can also focus on one delineated area (like a historic district or a golf course). A POA or ROA might also encompass one or more HOAs or COAs.
Pirain mentions the planned community of Celebration, Florida, as an example. The Celebration ROA is made up of a collection of neighborhoods –– some single-family, some duplexes, some townhomes, some condos, and some apartment complexes. All of the neighborhoods fall under the ROA; the ROA informs and oversees the individual neighborhoods in terms of aesthetics and overall community development. This keeps the entire town cohesive in terms of atmosphere and experience.
A POA may or may not be mandatory and will usually charge additional fees over and above HOA fees. To continue with the Celebration ROA example, all owners are expected to pay a yearly flat fee to the ROA in addition to the variable monthly fee to maintain their own particular neighborhood (like an HOA).
As far as getting involved, POA boards may hold town meetings to vote on certain community aspects. However, homeowners should be aware that change is much harder to institute in a POA simply because of the premise. If you are part of a POA, you are likely part of a planned community –– one with specific standards that have been set since the formation of the POA.
So what’s the difference?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s compare HOAs and POAs side by side.
HOA (or COA)
POA (or ROA)
|Oversees a limited neighborhood or building||Oversees several neighborhoods, buildings, and possibly commercial properties|
|Membership could be mandatory or voluntary||Membership could be mandatory or voluntary|
|Property value is the main goal||Larger community planning is the main goal|
|Aesthetics often of primary concern||Aesthetics are a part of their concern|
|Dues collected yearly, quarterly, or annually||Additional dues may be collected on top of any HOA|
|May add or maintain amenities or events||May add or maintain services, amenities, clubs, events, and more|
|Board members are usually elected homeowners||Board members may be homeowners or property planners|
|Bylaws may be simple or complex||Bylaws are likely complex and specific|
|Could fine homeowners for noncompliance||Could fine homeowners for noncompliance|
Associations aren’t for everyone, so buyers should weigh the pros and cons carefully. In Pirain’s experience, “Some people say, ‘don’t tell me what I can do with my house.’” Others appreciate the visual continuity and united environment that comes with associations. Each homebuyer should research their potential home’s associations thoroughly before purchasing and think through how being a part of those associations will affect their personal lifestyle.
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