By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
All neighborhoods change over time, as old residents move out and new residents move in. But HOA and condo communities tend to struggle with change. Why?
It’s a fact of life. Over time, people get married or divorced. Adults move to new locations for career opportunities. Children grow up and move away from home. Older adults retire and some decide to sell and downsize.
Still other homes are sold at estate sales or in foreclosure.
In most U.S. neighborhoods, after 20 or 30 years, new residents will occupy most of the homes.
Change is not always easy, but it’s inevitable.
However, in my opinion, neighborhood transition tends to be more peaceful in non-HOA communities, where residents don’t share ownership in common property.
Organic transition in a non-HOA neighborhood
Take, for example, the modest middle-class neighborhood where we raised our son. It consisted of approximately 50 single family homes, completely free from HOA rule. (At the time, our family was blissfully unaware of homeowners’ associations.)
When we purchased our 1970s-era fixer-upper home in the 1990s, our son was just four years old. At the time, many of the homes were occupied by other families with school age children.
When our neighborhood children were young, they often played together. Most of them attended the same elementary school. Kids zipped around on scooters and skateboards. Basketball hoops were put up in driveways, and swing sets in back yards.
I recall one spring when at least a half-dozen kids learned to ride a bike, practicing their newly acquired skills riding up and down our extra long driveway.
Not long after we moved into our house, our next door neighbors —- a married couple with two kids off to college — sold their home to another young family.
Our new neighbors had 3 kids and one on the way. More home sales followed, mostly empty nesters down sizing or relocating to new cities to be closer to their adult children.
Around the start of the millennium, as families grew, parents carted their kids to and from sports, music lessons, and school activities.
With a desire for more space to relax or entertain family and friends, the neighbors began making home improvements.
Many added back yard fences, decks, and swimming pools. Others, like us, remodeled worn out kitchens and bathrooms. Some finished the basement, and a few others built large additions to their homes.
By the mid-2000s, about half of the children had transitioned to teen-hood and young adulthood. One by one, they graduated from high school, and some headed off to college.
Of course, that meant the number of cars driving in and out of our neighborhood increased dramatically.
At the same time, with fewer small children in the neighborhood, homeowners took down their old swing sets and basketball hoops. They purged their basements and garages of used children’s toys, books, and sports gear.
As 2010 approached, our own son graduated from high school and went off to University. We decided it was time to put our own home up for sale, and move to a different state.
But we weren’t alone. Many other homeowners had adult children who had moved on to start families of their own. They also decided to sell their too-large homes. Within a few years, older adults were replaced by young couples with infants and small children.
Today, I’d hardly know a soul in our former neighborhood. Nearly every house has been sold once or twice in the past three decades.
The last time I drove through, for the sake of nostalgia, I noticed lots of new swing sets, basketball hoops, bikes, and swimming pools. More than half of the homes had new roofs, siding, or landscaping.
And so the cycle continues.
Let’s compare to the typical association-governed (HOA) community.
Tensions in HOA-ville
After raising our son, and completely remodeling a fixer-upper over the course of 2 decades, we wanted our next home to be relatively new.
We decided on a modern 5-year-old home on a small lot in a Florida gated community of 1,600 homes. The community surrounded a privately owned golf course, and had a mandatory membership HOA.
Although it wasn’t officially a 55+ community, the vast majority of residents were homeowners, and they were retired or semi-retired.
Surprisingly, a minority of homeowners in the community were golfers, and even fewer paid for full golf memberships. Still, at the time, the golf member clique was active and influential.
As empty nesters, we were the youngest “kids” on the block. And we didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome, especially since we weren’t golfers. We quickly discovered that most of the neighbors kept to themselves, and that about one-third of the owners were seasonal residents.
Within less than three years, we came to loathe the HOA concept. It just didn’t make sense to pay those quarterly fees, with little to show for it. And we tired of Big Brother constantly scouting the neighborhood, judging the appearance of our property.
During the four years we owned a home in the community, we observed a high turnover of homes — many being purchased and resold within 3-5 years.
So, quite obviously, we weren’t the only disenchanted HOA home buyers.
The difficult transition to younger residents
Even less welcome than non golfers: at least a half-dozen families with young children who moved into our community.
Not long after families moved into the community, some of my older neighbors began to complain to the HOA about children making noise, playing basketball in the driveway, or riding their bikes in the street.
The HOA didn’t approve of tree swings or playhouses set up in front or side yards. In fact, the HOA didn’t allow pools or jungle gyms in back yards bordering the golf course, at least not without screening them from view with an approved fence and hedge.
But for many families, the additional cost required to conform to HOA standards was a budget buster.
The HOA’s lack of flexibility was a huge problem for families seeking relief from Florida’s hot and humid weather. Unless you had a screened in porch or a pool in your back yard, it was mostly unusable.
And with thousands of tightly packed houses surrounding the members-only golf course, there was a noticeable lack of usable play space in the neighborhood.
Like many planned communities, this HOA neighborhood maintained two small “pocket parks” and a “tot lot” with a couple of swings and a small slide. But for active children over the age of 6 or 7, there’s not much outdoor space to spread out, run around, ride bikes, throw a ball, or just be kids.
When parents weren’t available to drive their kids to state parks or indoor sports centers (because they had to work), the kids were mostly stuck indoors.
Several years have passed since we moved away from the community. I’ve been told that, as older homeowners die or sell their properties, more and younger families continue to move in.
Now there’s increasing friction between young parents who desire family friendly covenants and amenities, and old-timers who don’t want to change the status quo.
More examples of HOAs resisting change
Meanwhile, I continue to read about similar conflicts in association-governed communities in other parts of the U.S.
In a North Providence, Rhode Island, condo association, the conflict between young and old residents is simmering over a proposed capital improvement project.
Louisquisset board member: We’re in a time of transition
$14 million condominium siding project not definite
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
NORTH PROVIDENCE – A member of the board of directors at the Louisquisset Condo Association now concedes that residents there have some legitimate concerns about the care and management of the facility, but says he has no doubt that those issues will be resolved.
Sean Greenfield, one of five members on the volunteer board who last week downplayed concerns of residents, added that there are “always issues” with a condo community of this size.
“I would love to live in a place where there are more than 400 units and no issues,” he said.
“Times are changing” at the Louisquisset Condos, where “lots of units are going up for sale” and more young people are buying them from the “empty-nester” original owners who first began buying them when these homes were built in the 1980s, said Greenfield.
“It’s an older community being replaced with newer people,” he said.
The Breeze reported last week on an uprising of sorts at the condo association, where residents have expressed a lack of confidence in the board and concerns over the financial and operations management of the facility, including a lack of information on key decisions, substandard upgrades, and health and safety concerns, among others.
On what appears to be the single largest concern from owners at Louisquisset, a planned $14 million vinyl siding project that could help add $180 to monthly fees, Greenfield cautioned that the project “hasn’t been done” and still must got to a “capital improvement vote” of all owners. Unlike the annual budget vote, where if someone doesn’t vote to reject the spending plan they’re essentially voting to approve it, this will not be a passive vote, he said.
In a condominium association, homeowners share the cost burden of exterior maintenance. But, while younger families may be willing and able to spend an additional $180 per month on a $14 million new siding project, older homeowners don’t have the ability or the desire to spend that much money.
However, since condo homeowners don’t have independent control over when and how they improve their homes, there will be winners and losers in the battle over proposed $14 million vinyl siding project.
Maybe the new-comers will win, and the old-timers will be forced to pay an additional $180 per month in condo fees.
Or maybe the old-timers will win, and the new-comers will have to live with 30-year-old siding for a few more years. But only until their votes outnumber the old-timers.
Transition is inevitable.
And in a condo association, it’s usually not on the homeowner’s own timeline.
Battle in retirement communities
Some of the most bitter HOA transition battles happen in retirement communities.
A recent Wall Street Journal article profiled the Oakmont Village in Northern California. The decades-old 55+ community is currently in transition. Older retirees with modest fixed incomes are being replaced by younger retirees with big, fat retirement portfolios.
In the past two years, homeowners have been locked in a bitter battle over the proposed addition of pickleball courts.
Younger, wealthier homeowners want brand new amenities. Older retirees cannot or do not want to absorb the extra expense.
Last year, in a bitter HOA election, the anti-pickleball faction won. The board decided to save money by converting some existing tennis courts to pickleball courts.
But apparently, that doesn’t satisfy their opponents, who would still prefer new and improved amenities. And they’re willing to pay for them.
Someone is so bitter about the issue that they’ve sent the HOA board President a package: a paper bag holding a rat’s severed head, with the sinister message “you’re next.”
In the not-too-distant future, wealthier homeowners will outnumber their more frugal neighbors, and the transition will be complete.
A Retirement Wealth Gap Adds a New Indignity to Old Age
Many middle-class Americans are financially unprepared for retirement-and that is leading to an array of social tensions
(Wall Street Journal subscribers)