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One of the most important aspects of a homeowner association is the ability to effectively control the look and feel of the community. While this power may conflict with a particular member’s desire to customize his home or condo (looove that electric chartreuse paint color!), the concept is strongly supported by the majority and a condition agreed to by all members before they bought. Indeed, that’s an important reason many opt for HOA living.

While most subdivisions have CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) which dictate what members can do with their property, when push comes to shove, a lawsuit is the only way to deal with someone that is bound and determined to violate them. Since most neighbors have neither desire or money to sue one another, subdivision CC&Rs are pretty much like a lock on a door (only keeps your friends out).

Because of inability to control design standards, subdivision property often experiences declining market value as the original design character erodes. In HOAs, though, the Board can enact an Architectural Design Policy and a process for reviewing and approving alteration or addition requests. In fact, the Board has the duty to set clear design guidelines and be ready, willing and prepared to enforce them. The Board is the Defender of Market Values, and like the Marines, must be faithful and prepared to do the dirty work.

In the case of Architectural Design Restrictions, forewarned is forearmed. If guidelines are not clearly defined already in the governing documents, the sooner they are, the better. To keep owners mindful of the issue, it’s good to have a statement that appears in all newsletters like:

“Good curb appeal and high quality of construction are fundamental to sustaining high market values in our community. The Board is entrusted with maintaining design standards that address that very important goal. To that end, all exterior alterations or additions must be preapproved by the Board. The Architectural Design Policy is available at the HOA website and explains the approval process as well as approved standards for paint colors, roofing color/type, fences and decks. If your request conforms to approved standards, it will be “fast tracked”. If you have a request not covered by standard, it will take up to thirty days (depending on the complexity of the installation) to complete the review process. Please plan accordingly.”

An important part of the Architectural Design process is helping owners to get the job done right. There is a tendency to rely on a contractor’s salesmanship rather than his credentials. It’s the HOA’s job to ensure that the finished product lives up to it’s advertising. So, making sure that the homeowner’s contractor is licensed, bonded and insured is the first step. Clearly defining the job by specifications and materials comes next. Permits, if required, are third. By requiring each request to provide this information, the HOA is looking out after the homeowner’s best interests as well as those of all the other members.

Has past laxness allowed the design ship to meander? Whether your HOA is a single family planned community or a condominium, keeping a sharp eye on exterior design issues is critically important. It’s rarely too late to bring it back on course. Keeping design considerations under control will help harmonize the community.

For a sample Architectural Design Policy and Architectural Change Request Form “Policy Samples” and “Forms”.

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