why you need a good hoa

Guest Blog by Deryl Patterson, President of Housing Design Matters, which provides residential design services for builders.

The article below originally appeared in the online newsletter by Housing Design Matters. Reprinted with permission of Deryl Patterson.

I recently talked to a friend who was looking at townhomes at the beach. One popped up on Zillow that caught their eye. It was an older, three-story unit just blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Sweet. Then they noticed there were no association fees. Did someone make a mistake in the listing? It certainly made the monthly payments less without association dues.

Then came their site visit. The unit for sale had a freshly painted exterior with interior improvements to both the kitchen and baths.

But the view from the kitchen sink was directly to another the unit across the street. Unfortunately, this unit had not been painted or maintained.

This townhome was a fee simple duplex. It was at the beginning of a cul-de-sac that had nine other buildings clustered around an open green space. Within this small community of 10 buildings were 20 different owners with many different points of view, budgets, and aesthetics. Here are the issues within this small cluster of units.


The original exterior was coquina stucco with wood accent panels. Coquina is stucco with small seashells embedded in the finish. It was thought to be a very beachy look. But over time, the finish began to discolor. As shells fell away, small indentations appeared – perfect for growing mold and mildew. Pressuring washing this finish meant risking blowing off more shells and creating more issues. Eventually, this finish needs to be painted. In this small cluster, less than half of the buildings have had their stucco painted. The majority of the buildings look tired and dated.


The wood accent panels also needed to be painted, especially in this harsh beach environment. Some homeowners recognized this need to paint the wood – but not all. Additionally, not everyone painted their wood a cohesive color with their surrounding buildings. Some of the units have chosen a completely different paint color from the adjacent unit in the same building.


Of course, over time the garage doors needed replacing. In this instance, each homeowner would select their own personal favorite and in their own budget. So, not only were there different garage doors on each building – some had different garage doors within the same building. Some were solid and some had glass panels. Some glass panels were arched to match – uh – nothing?


These ten buildings are clustered around a small green space. At some point, you might have generously called it a pocket park – an inviting outdoor place to gather.

But with no one to maintain or regulate this area, it has become weed filled (probably has snakes too) and only a few palm trees remain. It has become the home of the oversized trash and recycling receptacle which litter the streets seven days of the week. What was once an asset has become an eyesore liability.


Our dependence on the automobile is abundantly clear in this community, as there are cars parked everywhere – except perhaps in the garage. Enforcing parking is a never-ending and impossible task, as many households need to park more cars than their residence was designed for. One community prohibits cars to parked in the street overnight. Sounds like a reasonable policy – except who wants to ride around the neighborhood at night ratting out their neighbors? And what happens when the grown “kids” come home from college? Do you really want to be “that guy”?


Let’s face it – no one likes to be told what to do or what not to do with their own home. Who wants to pay monthly dues? Worse, no one likes a fine for not mowing, weeding, painting, pressure washing, or maintaining their home. And no one wants to be on the homeowner’s association board. It is a thankless but necessary job. How about the architectural “expert” who gets to tell future residents their dream home is ugly and disallowed? Yes – I have been in that role, and it was not fun. Ironically, the same residents who were flabbergasted over their denial became the neighborhood maintenance vigilantes once they moved in. Perhaps there is some correlation there…


Builders and developers know the value of a functioning homeowner’s association since they have lots and houses to sell. They often are willing to pay for experts like architects and landscape architects to be on their boards. They recognize the worth of a board and how it helps preserve the value of the neighborhood. But when the developer turns it over to the homeowners – suddenly everyone is an architect. Hopefully, there is a robust rules and regulations in place that can be followed, enforced, and not left to interpretation.


Suffice to say, this community could do with a functioning HOA to save it from itself. For all the time, trouble, and expense, it turns out homeowner associations are a necessary evil. It is evil to be told what to do and evil to be the teller. But in the absence of leadership – all hell breaks out.


Deryl Patterson captures here what we at APR have spent decades preemptively addressing.  Architectural control is what helps make a community continue to look and feel great long after the first lot is staked.  APR’s unique palette of services takes the headache out of architectural control.  We act as author, reviewer, inspector and enforcer, saving developers and builders from those necessary evil confrontations.  What’s more, we add long term value to your communities by preserving the vision and quality intended. 

— A’Lisa Ozment, Founder & CEO, Architectural Plan Review

About Deryl Patterson: With over 40 years of experience specializing in residential architecture, Deryl Patterson is an award-winning architect that has a unique ability to energize a room and drive innovation through design. Deryl draws from everyday life to channel thoughtful design that improves the way we live. She has served on various NAHB committees, including design, education and the 55+ council. She is a graduate of the university of Cincinnati with a bachelor of architecture and is a registered architect in multiple states.

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