Home Owner's Associations are a "board of residents who help ensure that your community looks its best and functions smoothly". They can be a complete God send to the community or just as easily, be a home owner's worst nightmare. Here's what to know before you jump into that sort of extra commitment when buying a home:
They maintain the common areas: Playgrounds, pools, walk ways, basically anything that needs repairs or maintenance outside of your home is taken care of by them.
They hold the neighborhood to certain standards: They aren't going to let people go and paint their entire house lime green or have trashy yards with broken down cars or over grown grass. Each property has to remain under a level of uniformity throughout the community. Everyone must be well kempt at all times.
They are there to mediate the problems you don't want to have to deal with: Have a stubborn neighbor who just won't stop letting their dog relieve himself in your yard? Or problems with blaring music at all hours of the night? You don't have to worry about confronting them yourself if you don't want to. You can go to your HOA and fill them in on what's going on and they will take care of it for you.
All of these services come at a price: Nothing is free in life, including living in a community with a Home Owner's Association. The fees are applied either monthly or annually and have a very wide range of pricing. They can get pretty expensive depending on where you are located or the amount of work to be done around the community etc. It is definitely something that shouldn't be overlooked when deciding on a comfortable budget to purchase your home at.
There are many restrictions: HOAs can get in the way of a lot of ideas you might consider simple. It isn't unlikely that you will have to get approval on practically everything; sometimes even as minute as putting a basketball hoop in your driveway. Want to put an addition on your house? Don't even think about it before getting the committee members to allow you- which can make months and months.
They can be down right controlling sometimes: They don't give you much freedom to express your individuality outside of your home. It can sometimes be like having an overbearing parent breathing down your neck at all times. They limit what's allowed e.g. swimming pools can be added to backyards as long as they are in-ground; above ground pools are prohibited, grass can only get to be a certain length before you are required to cut it, etc.
The bottom line: They really can do a wonderful job at keeping your neighborhood beautiful, clean, and problem free. However, sometimes they are the ones that turn into the problem. If you're a cookie-cutter, always by the book, and easy going when it comes to restrictions, this might be the perfect type of community for you. If you prefer to be more free spirited, and to live less confined, this might be something you want to seriously consider before dotting your 'i's' and crossing your 't's'.