Photo: Flickr / Willy D
If you have just recently become a homeowner for the first time, or are expecting to relatively soon, you have undoubtedly scoured the internet and called as many people as you can who have gone through the experience before to gather as much information as you can possibly digest.After all, this is/was a huge step for you. No more worrying about what to do when the rental lease comes do. An end to worrying if the lease payments will increase each year.
No more packing and unpacking for yet another move. You have finally decided to set roots and make some lucky place yours. You may have been warned about the hidden costs of owning a home like insurance, maintenance, etc. which is always great to plan for beforehand, and not get slapped in the face when all of these expenses come up for the first time. But did anyone tell you that you may still have someone to answer to regarding what you do to your new property?
This may come as a complete shock to some people, especially those who have never owned a home before. It may even come as a shock to those who are seasoned homeowners as well. The thing that many people don’t realise is:
You are not in total control of what you do with your home
You’re probably thinking you yourself, “How is that possible? Are you nuts? How can anyone take you seriously when you write stuff like that? Of course I’m in control of what I do. It’s my home that I pay for, no one can tell me what I can or cannot do to it!” You are justified in your reaction if this is the case, but that doesn’t change anything. You may very well have to answer to another party when you want to make changes to certain aspects of your new (or old) place, even if you own it free and clear. So who could you possible have to answer to?
When you purchase a house that is an area that is governed by an association, you must sign a contract with the association stating that you understand and will abide by their rules. This means that you have to get approval for any change in the outward appearance of the home. If you want to paint your home, you better check with the board so you can choose from the approved colour palette. Want to put up a satellite dish, better check with the board to see where it can be placed. If you need a new roof, you have to keep the same style and colour arrangement that matches the exterior paint. The same goes for the driveway; you can’t stain or change the colours that don’t match their guidelines.
If you live in a condo, it goes even further. You cannot even change the interior structure such as re-configuring a kitchen or bathroom without first going through the board for approval. And forget about buying fancy window coverings with dual sides; you must show a solid muted colour to the outside world to conform with everyone else.
But, even if you don’t live in an area with an association, let’s not forget about…
The city you live in
This is something people rarely think of. In reality, they have a set of rules all their own independent of the associations. One such example is landscaping. Yes, landscaping. Some cities have laws that, unbeknownst to most people, lay out exactly how many and the species of tree that is required to be on a property, as well as where it needs to be placed. Ask my parents, they will tell you. A few weeks ago they got a notice from their city planning board (or whoever it was) that stated the tree they had removed needed to be replaced, as well as two that were missing from the back of the property. The letter told them what kind to buy and even gave them a list of possible places to shop. Of course, the city wouldn’t respond to their question of what other course of action they could have taken when the tree’s roots got so big, they started breaking through the sidewalk (since that is city property after all).
You also need to be careful of city policies pertaining to things like storm shutters and other protective measures. Some places have rules that outline how long you can leave up hurricane shutters after the threat has passed. Perhaps it has something to do with ugly silver things covering windows or maybe it’s the potential safety hazard they represent, but if you don’t abide by this particular rule, you face the chance of fines. You also need to hassle with permits for certain structural improvements and appliance installations which not only cost money but take time too.
Then there is my personal favourite. The city I live in, Coral Springs, has a contract with a tiny little cable provider called Advanced Cable Communications, which only serves two cities in the entire South Florida area. This deal gives Advanced Cable exclusive provider rights to the two cities, essentially eliminating the choices residents have when it comes to cable television or internet service. Even worse, for someone like me, whose condo doesn’t face the “right direction”, satellite is not an option, which completely takes away any choice when it comes to television service.
Here’s a little something extra to think about when you buy property that is in a community overseen by an association. If you ever decide to rent it out or even move, you don’t have the autonomy to do so on your own. You need to go through the association in order to do either of those things, which you will need to pay for, in addition to being at its mercy when it comes to processing time.