As more and more people move from the cities and suburbs to McClellanville and Awendaw to find their piece of the country, we are hearing an all too common theme that they do not want to be in a Homeowners Association or HOA. They recite stories of psychotic HOA presidents who hide in the bushes and live to make their life a daily hell, fines for trash cans not being rolled in, grass an inch too tall, or boats temporarily parked in the yard, and rules telling them what color their mailbox must be. Did I forget to mention the fees? The HOA fees in some of the neighborhoods are more than the mortgage on my first home. “BUT”, I tell them, “there’s just one problem… you see, a lot of the listings that match the criteria you gave me, such as being secluded, wooded, and no mobile homes nearby… well those listings do have HOAs”. When creating a neighborhood, whether it be just a few homes or several blocks, developers can spend an enormous amount of money to bring the roads up to county standards in order for them to be adopted as public roads or they can keep them private. If they are going to remain private an agreement should be put in place to ensure the future maintenance of the roads so that they don’t deteriorate. You may not even be so worried about the roads, but if you’re financing the purchase, you can bet that your lender will want to see a road maintenance agreement spelling out the upkeep of all common areas.
Enter what I have coined the “Pass-the-hat HOA”, at least in our area. While some may have a slightly higher accounting process, why I refer to them as such is because in most cases they literally go door to door (perhaps send a letter to land owners) telling them it’s time to pony up for the year. Because the fees only go to maintain a road, which may typically involve buying a load or two of gravel and grading it with a tractor a couple of times each year, the fees are commonly between $100-500. Make a note: that’s PER YEAR, not per month. So when one neigh-bor doesn’t pay when they are passing the hat around, everyone else just pitches in a little more and the job gets done. It’s the country, we know how to adapt and overcome and don’t often need to make a federal case over someone being down on their luck. They aren’t going to slap a lien on your property when you don’t pay your dues, but they might not invite you over for supper if you’re not paying because you’re a jerk. You’ll probably live a pain-free life until perhaps you go to sell your home and the attorney calls the HOA president to verify all fees have been paid and they tell them that you are actually 3 years behind and those dues have to get paid at closing. Being an HOA, these neighborhoods also have rules known as Conditions, Covenants and Restrictions, or CC&R for short. Because lawyers are usually involved in this part, the CC&R reads like an operator’s manual for an unwieldy piece of machinery, but they are the law of the land, so read them carefully. Unfortunately, they are often a boilerplate set of rules that the attorney copied and pasted from their big book of legal documents and you are lucky if the developer actually read them before putting them in place. They often mention architectural review boards, which are rarely ever formed, and prohibit things like satellite dishes in the front yard. No, not your DirecTV dish on the roof, they’re talking about those old-school 10 feet tall metal dishes that no one has seen for 20 years. When you read these rules, what you want to look for is whether the CC&R are really limiting your peaceful enjoyment of the area or your building plans. You should find that they don’t contain rules against parking boats in your yard, the height of your grass, or raising chickens or even horses. If they don’t, you now have to ask yourself whether you are willing to break your promise to never live in another HOA even if it is the means by which you finally find the peace and quiet of country living.