HOA : The Role Of Homeowners Associations In Housing Communities

Homeowners Associations (HOA)Homeowners associations (HOA) are legal corporations formed by a real estate developer to market, to manage, and to sell homes and lots in a residential subdivision.

They’re most commonly formed for condominiums and planned urban developments (PUDs), a category which includes suburban communities. 

HOA Articles of Incorporation typically grant developers privileged voting rights in governing the association during its infancy, while providing the means for the developer to exit financial and legal responsibility for the organization, transferring ownership to the homeowners of the association.

This transfer typically occurs after a predetermined number of units have been sold — often two-thirds of the available lots and/or units.

Each homeowners association enforces its own governing documents in the form of restrictive covenants, by-laws, architectural guidelines and regulations. Together, the “rules” of an HOA are meant to define the community standards for the purpose of protecting property values.

Restrictive covenants vary widely from homeowners association to homeowners association. Covenants may include guidelines on issues as varied as where parking is permissible; planned architectural improvements; and, landscaping.

HOAs often enforce these common restrictive covenants, among others :

  • •Boats, utility trailers, RVs, and commercial vehicles may not be parked in driveways and streets
  • Homes may not be painted in “loud” colors
  • Yard signage may not be political in nature, nor defamatory
  • Lawn care must be performed routinely to prevent overgrowth
  • For condos with balconies, towels and clothing may not be draped on railing

For homes governed by an HOA, membership in the homeowners association is a condition of purchase; buyer are not permitted to opt-out.

Homeowners associations make their by-laws available upon request to existing, governed homeowners and will often make by-laws available to prospective home buyers as well. Review community guidelines before buying into a building or neighborhood, and before beginning a home improvement project. It’s important to know what actions are permissible and what actions are not.

In addition, most mortgage lenders require HOA by-laws as part of the mortgage approval process.  

Simple Real Estate Definitions : Right To Cancel

Right To Cancel noticeAs part of the federal Truth-in-Lending Act, refinancing homeowners are granted a 3-day “cooling off” period post-closing during which they retain the right to rescind, or “cancel”, their recent refinance without penalty or cost.

The Right To Cancel is protection against surprises at closing and/or a change of heart. It’s also a safety valve for homeowners signing paperwork under duress. With 3 days to revisit and rethink the terms of a loan, a homeowner can maintain tighter control of his/her financial situation. 

If you ever have the wish (or need) to execute your right to rescind, be aware that the process is a formal one. The required steps must be completed on-time, and in order, or else your request will be invalid.

The process starts with a document labeled “Right To Cancel”. It’s included in your closing package and lists the terms of a rescission in straight-forward language. Among the key points :

  1. You have 3 business days during which to cancel your loan
  2. When you cancel the refinance, the entire transaction is cancelled
  3. You must submit your Right To Cancel in writing

“Business day” is defined by the government to be every day, save for Sundays and federal holidays. A loan that closes on a Monday, therefore, must be rescinded prior to Friday at 12:00 AM.

Typically, rescission requests are faxed to the settlement agent, notary, or title company assigned with the refinance. It’s good practice to ask for an acknowledgement of receipt as proof of delivery, too.

There are some refinances for which the Right to Cancel does not apply, however. This includes refinances linked to an investment property, and loans not collateralized by residential real estate. There are other conditions, too, that may supersede your right to rescind so be sure to ask your lender.

Simple Real Estate Definitions : Home Inspection

Get a home inspectionWhen you preview homes as a home buyer, you can get a good feel for the home’s visible traits — its finishes, its room counts, and its landscaping, for example. What you can’t get a feel for, though, is the home’s “bones”.

It’s for this reason that real estate professionals recommend that you have a property formally inspected immediately after going into contract for it.

A home inspection is a thorough, top-to-bottom check-up of a property’s structure and systems. It is not the same as a home appraisal, which is a valuation of the property. By contrast, home inspections are an objective report on a home’s physical condition.

Home inspections are performed by home inspectors who will typically do the following :

  • Check heating and cooling systems for leaks and efficiency
  • Check electrical systems for safety and soundness of design
  • Check plumbing systems for venting, distribution, and drainage

In addition, a home inspector will review a home’s roofing system; its doors, windows and garages; plus, any attic spaces and basements, where appropriate.

A home inspection may also uncover out-of-code electrical work that municipalities required to be fixed by law.

Meanwhile, it’s not just home buyers who can order inspections. Sellers can order them, too.

One recommended tactic is for a home seller to have the home inspected prior to listing for sale so that all required repairs can be made in advance of showing the home. This can speed up and simplify the sales process, and may help your home sell at a higher price. Buyers often prefer homes in “move-in” ready condition.

A thorough home inspection can take up to 6 hours to complete, depending on the size of the home.

Simple Real Estate Definitions : Tax And Insurance Escrow

Escrow taxes and insuranceAs a homeowner , your fiscal responsibility extends beyond just making mortgage payments. You must also pay your home’s real estate taxes as they come due, as well as your homeowners insurance policy premiums.

Failure to pay real estate taxes can result in foreclosure. Failure to insure your home is a breach of your mortgage loan terms.

There are two methods by which you can pay your real estate tax and homeowners insurance bills.

The first method is to pay your taxes and insurance as the bills come due, usually semi-annually. Depending on your home’s tax bill size and the cost to insure your home, these payments can feel quite large — especially if you’ve failed to budget for them properly.

The second method of paying your taxes and insurance is to give your lender the right to pay them on your behalf, a process known as “escrowing for taxes and insurance”.

When you escrow your real estate taxes and homeowners insurance, you pay a portion of your annual obligation to your lender each month, which your lender then holds in a special account for you, and disperses to your taxing entities and insurance company as needed. Lenders prefer that homeowners escrow taxes and insurance because, in doing so, the lender is assured that tax bills remain current and that homes stay insured.

Want a discount on your next mortgage rate? Tell your lender that you’re willing to escrow.

To help calculate your monthly escrow payment to your lender, do the following :

  1. Find your home’s annual real estate tax bill
  2. Find your home’s annual homeowners insurance premium
  3. Add the two figures and divide by 12 months in a year

The quotient is your monthly “escrow”; the extra payment you’ll make to your lender each month along with your regularly scheduled principal + interest payment. Then, when your tax bills and insurance premiums come due, your lender will make sure the payments are made on your behalf.

If you’re unsure whether escrowing is right for you, talk to your loan officer and/or financial planner. There are valid reasons to choose either path.

What Is Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?

Truth-In-Lending snapshot

More commonly called APR, Annual Percentage Rate is a government-mandated mortgage comparison tool. It measures the total cost of borrowing over the life of a loan into dollars-and-cents.

A loan’s APR is printed in the top-left corner of the Federal Truth-In-Lending Disclosure, as shown above. When quoting an interest rate, loan officers are required by law to disclose a loan’s APR, too.

APR is meant to simplify the process of choosing between two or more loans. The theory is that the loan with the lowest APR is the “best deal” for the applicant because the loan’s long-term costs are lowest. However, the loan with the lowest APR isn’t always best.

APR makes assumptions in its formula that can render it moot.

First, APR assumes you’ll pay your mortgage off at term, at never sooner. So, if your loan is a 15-year fixed rate, its APR is based on a full 15 year term. If you sell or refinance prior to Year 15, the math used to make your loan’s APR becomes instantly flawed and “wrong”.

Example: Let’s compare two identical loans — one with discount points and a lower interest rate; and one without discount points and a higher mortgage rate. The loan with discount points will have a lower APR in most cases. However, if the homeowner sells or refinances within the first few years, the loan with the higher APR would have been the better option, in hindsight.

Second, APR can be “doctored” early in the loan process.

Because the APR formula accounts for third-party costs in a mortgage transaction, and third-party costs aren’t always known at the start of a loan, a bank can inadvertently understate them. This would make the APR appear lower than what it really is, and may mislead a consumer.

And, lastly, APR is particurly unhelpful for adjustable-rate loans. Because the APR calculation makes assumptions about how a loan will adjust during its 30-year term, if two lenders use a different set of assumptions, their APRs will differ — even if the loans are identical in every other way. The lender whose adjustments are most aggressively-low will present the lowest APR.

Summarized, APR is not the metric for comparing mortgages — it’s a metric. For relevant comparison points, talk to your loan officer.