Thursday, November 13, 2008

Owners Of Homes In Vicinity Of Forced Sales Feel The Pinch

Source : The Business Times, November 13, 2008

(WASHINGTON) If you live in a neighbourhood that has a homeowners association, brace yourself. Neighbours losing their homes to foreclosure and short sales not only are dragging down your property values but also are setting you up for higher fees. There's even a threat that your entire neighbourhood could grow shabby over time, if cash runs short for upkeep.

Associations often lose six months of dues, sometimes more, from each homeowner who slides into foreclosure or short sale. Budget trouble can hit any community where homes are being lost, whether they're neighbourhoods of detached houses or townhouses, or condominium apartment buildings.

When some people don't pay, of course, the remaining neighbours must spend more to keep things running. Trash still needs to be hauled; insurance bills need to be paid; grass needs to be mowed. Soon, snow will need to be cleared.

For the time being, associations can try to trim expenses. Maybe only one snow plow will tackle your neighbourhood instead of the two trucks you've had before. Your board may look for cheaper insurance policies or management companies.

But it's almost irresistible for board members to cover some of today's budget shortfall by postponing expensive repairs and maintenance. They're also more likely to starve the reserve account that all associations are supposed to maintain to cover inevitable, big-ticket repairs.

New-home developers, who keep control of the homeowners association until the project is almost completely built out, are notorious for under-funding reserves, even in good times. It's easier to attract new buyers when the association fees are low, and builders will be gone before those big-ticket repairs have to be made.

But construction is on hold in many of these new developments, foreclosures are causing dues to go unpaid, and builders are strapped.

They're still in charge of these associations, and that doesn't bode well for amassing reserves. Eventually, when this foreclosure mess is over, and homeowners are fully in control of these associations, they're going to face big deferred maintenance bills with few reserves to handle them.

Pia Trigiani, a community association lawyer who heads Virginia's new Common Interest Community Board, said associations normally allocate about 4 per cent of their budget for unpaid dues. Now, she said, they're wise to set aside 8 to 10 per cent of their budget, especially in new communities where the builder hasn't finished the development. -- LAT-WP

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