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Homeowners' Associations and Their Landscaping Rules

Property Values vs. Freedom: The Dilemma Over Homeowners' Associations

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Okay, my final two quality of life factors aren't strictly limited to a discussion of landscaping considerations, by any means. But if you've always had big dreams of creating your own backyard oasis, a retreat tailored to what you want and not governed by someone else's landscaping rules, then you ignore the potential for problems from homeowners' associations only at your own peril! Nor should you ignore the negative impact that can be exerted by bad neighbors (Page 5).

4. Homeowners' Associations

In a 2004 story on CNNMoney.com, titled, "Hate your Homeowners Association?" it is reported that the Community Association Institute estimates one in every six Americans lives in a community managed by a homeowners' association. And even more telling, "An estimated four out of five houses built since the late 1990s" are governed by homeowners' associations. The article focuses on a suit and counter-suit between a family and a homeowners' association over the former's allegedly taking too long to finish their landscaping.

NOLO, a provider of do-it-yourself legal solutions, states that homeowners' associations "will probably exercise a lot of control over how you use your property." This includes "even the type of front yard landscaping you can do." Are you laid-back about lawn care? How would you like a stranger telling you how often you need to mow your own lawn?

Now, I'm not here to claim that homeowners' associations are evil. They do help keep property values up, and obviously, that's not a bad thing -- especially if you may be selling your house at some point. But what if you're shopping for a house that you plan on living in for the rest of your life, and all you ask is to be left alone to landscape your yard as you wish? In that case, properties governed by homeowners' associations probably wouldn't be among your best options.

As in other areas of life, one of the challenges in the landscaping world is trying to reconcile conflicting goals, such as, in this case, conformity and freedom. Both have their good points, and the merits of each have to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, the conformity offered by homeowners' associations will be deemed beneficial: anarchy in the community's landscaping would bring down property values. Meanwhile, for people who cherish the freedom to experiment and inject personal creativity into their landscapes, homeowners' associations are bound to be looked upon less favorably. Only you can decide if homeowners' associations are right for you; I'm simply making you aware of potential conflicts.

But the "people problems" lurking out there for the would-be home buyer are just as likely to reside with the neighbors as with homeowners' associations, as the discussion on Page 5 suggests....

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