If you are considering a move to an area where you will likely move into a Community (synonymous with Subdivision) or Plantation (generally a gated community with Golf, Tennis, Fitness…), then knowing the language of these idyllic locations is imperative. What you certainly want to avoid is moving into your Dream Home only to find out that the rules and regulations of that community are not in line with your lifestyle expectations.
Therefore, let us explore the definitions of some common phrases and acronyms indigenous to either a Community and or Plantation.
Property Owners Association (also Master Association)
v If you live in a Community or Plantation, there is a governing body that oversees and or protects the rights of residents. It also is responsible for budgets.
v It is important to know that POAs are recognized by individual states as having authority to levy fines against residents and to go as far as place liens on the property of residents
v POA board members are assigned by the developer in this first several years of it’s existence
v Eventually the residents will vote on the members of the board but this sometime can take ten years or more
v In the original community declarations/bylaws, there is usually a stipulation that indicates when the developer will turn over the leadership of the POA board to the residents
v Generally speaking, this occurs when the developer sells a set percentage of homesites and or homes. Common percentages range from 50 – 75%
v Many developers are not easily inclined to give up their power of the board till they have made their money.
v One must keep in mind that the developers need their communities to sparkle and shine so that they can successfully sell the rest of the community to new homeowners, so there is a vested interest by the developer, and this is a good thing for the residents
v The initial annual POA dues are set by the appointed POA board members
v The Board will gather the amounts incurred by the community for items such as gatehouse guards, landscaping, pool maintenance, etc. and then divide by the number of homes or homesites in the communities
v On average, POA dues run from $500 – $1,000 per year per household
v The developers are responsible for paying the POA dues on unsold homes/homesites so that the budgets can be balanced. If say 100 of the 400 available homesites are sold, the budget is divided by 400, not 100.
v Today a common concern is that developers are going bankrupt. If this occurs, then the bank that is in receivership of the remaining homesites is responsible for the annual POA dues on each remaining homesite. The POA can legally pursue satisfactory judgment from the banks
v The POA boards will often appoint residents to be on committees such as:
- The Architectural Review Board
- The Landscaping Committee
- Social Committees are generally not officially recognized by and or the responsibility of the POA however, most ever Community/Plantation will have one
v POA boards often have about 5 members, including a President, VP, Treasurer and Secretary
v POA board members have term limits. Two to three years are common
v Most POA boards, to assist with unity from one year to next, will have overlapping terms for their board members
v Board and committee positions are all volunteer positions – no salaries are paid
CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions)
v CC&Rs are recorded with the local town or county authorities when a property is subdivided
v The CC&Rs spell out the conditions on how a community is run
v Included in these are the guidelines on which the POA and HOAs are governed
v Also included are the rights of homeowners
v On occasion, some communities/plantations will vote on levying a special assessment on the property owners
v As spelled out in the CC&Rs, a specific % of voting property owners must vote Yay for approval
v Example: a community with 100 property owners could put to vote a recommendation by the POA Board to build a new outdoor whirlpool for a cost of $10,000. If 66% of the voting property owners vote Yes, then a special assessment of $100 per household will be collected
Architectural Review Boards
v There are many different variations of this name, but they all have the same goal
v When a development is new, sitting members of this board are appointed by the developer
v The members are often the developer himself, an employee or head of the golf course, a local architect/planner/designer, VP of Sales, the Project Manager, etc.
v All house plans must be submitted to the ARB for approval
v There will be documents within the POA that outline the procedures
v The goal of the ARB is to insure architectural congruity throughout the community
v The interpretations of the ARB are often quite vague and broad, as it is impossible to put on paper every building guideline of structures
v Depending upon the community and the members of the ARB, submissions may often be returned with a healthy list of suggested improvements
v ARBs have the right to reject any plan they see fit and this can become a bit of contention for some future homeowner
v Residents, along with their designer/architect/builder submit their plans for approval
v When the ARB is satisfied with the plan and it’s possible required changes, they will approve the plan which allows the homeowners builder to begin construction
v Most POAs include building timeframes, such as one year from groundbreaking
v Failure to complete said home in this time frame can lead to daily fines as the community does not want half built homes sitting vacant, as that detracts from the overall aesthetic value of a community
v A member or appointee of the ARB will make periodic visits to the home during construction to insure that the home is being built to the specifics of the approved plan
v All colors, building materials, landscaping packages along with the design must be approved by the ARB.
v All exterior home improvement projects including additions must be submitted to the ARB for approval.
v The bylaws almost always require an annual POA meeting of every community to review and approve the budget and other pertinent issues, including voting on new board members.
v Proxy votes are sent to all out of town residents so that every property owner can vote
v Most large Property Owners Associations have a website where they maintain a directory of all residents, POA covenants and post upcoming events for the community
v When a developer wants to create a new development, local/state/county authorities will more than likely require them to prepare a Planned Unit Development document
v A PUD is a position paper registered with the local zoning authorities
v In it, the PUD spells out the size of the development along with the vision of the developer
v Included in the document are the total number of units (aka homes, homesites, condos and townhomes) that the developer plans to sell
v It is common for a developer to request a higher density than they actually develop due to the difficulty in adjusting the PUD later
v When a developer creates a community/plantation with over 20 homesites and, advertises the project in other states, the developer is required to complete and submit a HUD Statement to the Department of Housing & Urban Development
v HUD began requiring developers to register their developments with them to help insure that someone doesn’t buy or sell some really nice dry land along the coast in Florida!!
v The HUD Statement is merely a GUIDELINE of when the developer believes they will complete specific infrastructure in the community such as roads and amenities
v Typically the first page of a HUD Statement reads:
- There is RISK to buying real estate
v To the knowledge of this author, you cannot sure a developer for missing completion dates listed on a HUD statement
v Once a home is built and moved into, there are certain rules that apply to the landscape of a home
v The removal of trees over 6” in diameter must be approved
v The planting of trees over 6” in diameter must be approved
v The use of plastic/rubber borders around garden beds are often not permitted
v Certain garden bed coverings such as stones may not be permitted
v If fences are permitted, a complete survey of the property and sample of the fence must be submitted for committee approval
v Vegetable and Flower gardens must be approved and some communities restrict these gardens, especially when in sight of the public. That doesn’t mean you cannot plant flowers but, it can dictate that a 10’ x 10’ rose garden in your front yard is not permitted.
v The Landscaping Committee, being a part of the POA, can impose fines for unkempt yards
v When a developer builds the roads in a development and those roads are deemed Private, then the POA is responsible for maintaining these roads
v That means every time they need sealing, potholes refilled and resurfacing, the residents of the community are responsible.
v In order to afford such expenses, usually every POA that is required to maintain their roads will establish a Road Fund.
v A specific amount of every monthly monthly/annual POA fee collected is earmarked for the Road Fund
v If you live in a Community or Plantation, everyone who owns a home, homesite, condo or townhome pays an annual POA fee. The Property Owners Association fee is your portion of the common area maintenance, gate house guards, pool/tennis court maintenance, road funds, etc.
v If you live in a home/condo/townhome where your lawn maintenance, insurance and or home maintenance is taken care of, these are governed by your Home Owners Association
v Therefore, if you live in a Community/Plantation where you have your yard and home maintenance taken care of, you will pay an annual/monthly POA and HOA fee
v The HOA is also recognized under the master plans of the community and are legal governing bodies that can levy fines and discipline residents
v The HOA board members are often responsible for collecting bids for landscapers, maintenance companies, roofers, etc. and maintaining a budget
v Like a POA, the developer appoints board members till such time as designated when they will turn the HOA over to the residents
v The HOA will have yearly elections and like POA, there are term limits and board members time served overlaps for continuity
Semi Private Golf Clubs
v Very few communities in the south are 100% private
v Just because a golf course resides inside the gates of a Plantation, does not by any means at all indicate that the golf course is private
v On the contrary, consider that the cost to run a golf course annually exceeds $1,000,000. If the Plantation only has 150 members, the burden on each resident will be far more significant than most can afford
v Therefore, these golf courses inside gated Plantations are Semi-Private. They need revenue from non residents to survive/exist
v Memberships are though often available
v Some courses charge a one-time non-refundable initiation fee
v Some courses charge an Equity fee, which means you may retain a portion or all of the fee
v Initiation Fees may run from $1,000 – $30,000. Generally, Plantations with multiple courses will have a larger initiation fee
v It is important to note that if you live in a Plantation with a golf course that is not private, almost certainly you will not be required to become a member.
v Therefore, you can live in this Plantation and simply pay for golf when you play
v The biggest difference though in becoming a member is that the courses will typically block out tee times for members throughout the week and, as a member, you will be invited to be part of the golf leagues/teams and social activities
v If you intend to play golf more than twice a week, then researching a membership could prove beneficial
v What is important to note is that being a member of a Semi-Private golf course provides limited benefits. These courses will almost certainly only exist if outside play is permitted and because outside players pay more per round, they may be given preferential consideration for tee times. This is especially true during the prime seasons of Spring and Fall
v The alternative is to move into a Plantation with a private course. However, one must consider the economic difference between Semi-Private and Private courses
v Most golf courses have a resident golf professional that offers private and sometimes group lessons for beginners or seasoned veterans who need some tweaking of their swings
v Being part of the golf associations often lead to a rewarding and robust social life, not to mention the great exercise golfing provides
There is plenty to learn about communities that cater to people looking to retire and you are off to a good start if you have read this article. Best of luck to you in your search!
Author: Doug Terhune of The Retirement Handbood