Thursday, January 29, 2015

Understanding Single-Family Home HOAs

Before you buy a home in an HOA-governed community, make sure you review the rules thoroughly.

Most people think of homeowners associations (HOAs), legally known as Common Interest Developments, as related to attached housing structures like condominiums or town homes. But this is not always the case.

Around the 1980s, developers started building communities of single-family homes that were actually Common Interest Developments. These communities came with their own sets of rules, regulations and HOA fees.

The reason builders starting developing communities in the HOAs structure was to maintain order and the aesthetics of a community. Their rules keep home paint colors and front yards in harmony, restrict building additions that don’t fit into the neighborhood, and stop owners from parking broken-down vehicles in their driveways or front yards. Such regulations assure new and existing owners that a neighbor’s behavior and choices will not diminish property values.

But they also mean that you must follow the rules yourself, and typically contribute monthly fees to manage and run the HOA for the benefit of all owners. When residents violate these rules — which can cause stress for other owners and hurt property values– the HOA will typically step in and enforce them with violation notices, fines and possibly litigation, if the issue gets that far.

The root of the issue

Often, the problem is not the rules, it’s that people don’t read the rules and regulations before they buy into a community, and then they violate the rules. But ignorance is no excuse — those rules are recorded on the property title, and likely given to every buyer to review before they purchase a home in a standard transaction. Owners are still bound by those rules whether they received and read them or not.

If you are buying into an HOA-governed community, be sure to read the rules and regulations before you buy. Once you’ve read them, if you don’t like them, then you should avoid buying a property in that community.

What if you already own in an HOA, and don’t like the rules or how the elected HOA board of directors interprets and enforces them? Luckily, an HOA is a democracy and the owners can vote out the board of directors and change the rules!

Any member-owner can try to get elected to the board and change the regulations. They just have to get enough other community members to support their opinion and vision for the community.

Unfortunately, most community members never go to a board meeting and never get involved. They just complain about the board — who are all volunteers, by the way — and complain about HOA fees, rules, and special assessments, etc.

If you are one of those owners who doesn’t like the rules, then get involved and take the time to campaign in your community, get on the board, and change the regulations.

By – Zillow Blog

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Finding the Best Rental: Tips for Today's Market

Great apartments and rental homes can be hard to find — and tough to afford. Here are some strategies for getting a rental you’ll love.

If you’re a renter, you may be finding your budget strained as rental rates — now 15 percent higher than they were at the end of the recession in 2009 — continue to rise across the country.

You may even be feeling trapped, as saving for a down payment on a home becomes increasingly challenging. The median share of monthly income devoted to rent is at an all-time high of 30 percent, up five percentage points from the historical average. Here are some ways to minimize the pain.

Know your market
You can’t make quick, smart decisions without first knowing your market. Start your research by checking out how much homes are currently renting for in your area and how long they stay on the market. If you notice a rental one day and it is gone the next, you’ll know you need to act fast.
Save searches for rental listings and set up notifications to alert you to changes. Make sure to contact the landlord immediately if you are interested in a listing, since many landlords and property managers work on a first come, first served basis.

Share space
If you’re spending more on rent than you’d like to, one way to cut your housing costs is doubling up. A recent Zillow analysis showed that more than a third of working-age adults live in doubled-up households.
This increase coincides with rising rental prices nationwide. Large metro areas with the highest share of adults living with roommates include Los Angeles (47.9 percent), Miami (44.5 percent), New York (42.5 percent) and San Diego (39.7 percent).

Consider location
While rents are high in almost all major cities, some areas are considered affordable, like Kansas City, St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Zillow finds that in these markets, the share of income needed to afford a median-priced home is in the 20 to 25 percent range. By comparison, in Miami, rents consume an average of 43 percent of the typical household income.
And while it’s still cheaper to buy a place in most major markets today, it actually makes better financial sense to rent in San Jose, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and other areas.

Often, the best steals and deals are found through word of mouth, but they can be few and far between. Ask around and you may hear of someone with an extra room they’re not using who’d like to make a little extra cash on the side.
You won’t know if you don’t ask, and in a market that’s as tight as this one – with a current national apartment vacancy rate of less than 5 percent – you should definitely ask.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ask an Agent: 5 Questions You're Afraid to Ask Your Insurer

Nervous about letting slip information that could cause trouble with your insurer?
No problem, we asked the tough questions for you.

Ever have a burning question for your insurance company that you didn’t want to ask because you were too afraid? You may have thought, “What if I ask this question and my premium goes up? Or what if they drop my policy altogether?”
If you’ve ever had those fears, today is your lucky day.
We know the implications of approaching certain topics with your insurer, so we posed five troublesome insurance questions to Mike Pesackis — a licensed agent since 2006. Here are his insights.

I’m getting my kids a trampoline for Christmas. If I don’t tell my insurer, my home insurance premium won’t go up, right?

Correct — but if there is a claim associated with that trampoline, you might not be covered, either.
Trampolines are responsible for many injury claims every year. As a result, the presence of a trampoline is an underwriting concern.
Typically, owning a trampoline does not result in a rate increase. Some carriers will require protective netting, while others will not insure a home with a trampoline at all. This is definitely a case where disclosing to your carrier up front is a much better strategy than possibly being denied a claim.

I was in a car accident, but there was no damage to either vehicle. Should I tell my insurance provider?

This is a sticky one. If it were me, I would not tell my insurance agent because this would open up a can of worms unnecessarily.
However, if the police showed up on the scene and filed a report, your insurance carrier will definitely find out eventually. In that case, it would be in your best interest to have your carrier find out directly from you.

I adopted a dog from a local shelter. Should I tell my insurer?

Absolutely! Regardless of the breed, having a dog in your house increases risk, which means your carrier needs to know.
Many home insurance carriers cover dog bite liability; however, a claim would only be covered if your carrier actually knows you own the dog. Depending on the breed of your dog or whether the dog has a bite history, the insurance company could raise your premium, decline to renew your policy or exclude coverage for the dog altogether.
The best thing to do is call your provider ahead of time, reveal your plans and let the carrier help you through the situation. Generally, carriers only consider a few breeds — including pit bulls, Dobermans, and Akitas — automatic disqualifiers. Often, though, getting a dog is a non-event, especially if you’re getting a typically non-aggressive breed such as a Lab, beagle or poodle.

Will my auto insurance premiums go up if I file a claim for a broken windshield?

This depends on your carrier and how your policy is written. Many carriers will offer “full glass” coverage on comprehensive claims — meaning that a broken windshield would be replaced without you paying a deductible, and with no impact to your premium.
If you do not have full glass on your comprehensive coverage, your premium might go up slightly, but not nearly as much as it would for an accident. Carriers are typically pretty lenient when it comes to comprehensive claims (such as a broken windshield) because these types of issues do not have anything to do with your abilities as a driver.

I run a business out of my home. Is my home business covered under my home insurance policy?

Not typically. Home insurance carriers shy away from businesses in homes because with increased foot traffic comes increased risk of liability claims (such as a slip/fall). In some cases, your business-related equipment or inventory might not even be covered by your home insurance policy.
Your best bet would be to call your carrier to discuss your business. Depending on the scope and nature of your business, the carrier might require you to get a professional liability policy or small business insurance policy to further mitigate risk.

By Samantha Alexander