Maintenance Free Living! Really?
When a member asked me to address the belief of homeowners – that HOA living is maintenance free living – the zippy Green Acres theme song came to mind immediately. "Green Acres is the place for me, farm livin’ is the life for me…” It continues on, "The Chores... The Stores... Fresh Air… Town Square…”
I mean, the whole premise of the show was about Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor moving from a complicated city life to their own piece of "the promised land” to enjoy nirvana. Nearly all the comedy revolved around the Douglas’s interactions with "real” people and misconceptions about a simple lifestyle they thought they would enjoy.
This isn’t much different than the belief that moving from a single family home to an HOA would make life carefree. Well, without the comedy and Arnold Ziffle, the pig.
Where does the thinking come from?
In general, many developers sell units implying the Association repairs everything and pays for everything, via dues. They don’t explain that some items, like a leaky or clogged kitchen sink or a low battery in a smoke detector is the homeowner’s responsibility. They also don’t understand the concept of a benefit assessment – i.e. a certain element is used exclusively by one homeowner so the association assesses the cost of repair back to the unit owner who benefits from said element – like a waste pipe or a fence or whatever.
In addition, some people think they live in an apartment – or assisted living. People call the property manager complaining about smoke detectors beeping because of a low battery or burned out light bulbs in their living rooms and are aghast when I tell them I’m happy to send someone over there, but they’ll get charged for it. One woman called a manager three days in row to keep the manager updated on her fight with a spider web in her garage.
If you think that homeowners are entirely responsible for this thinking, you’d be wrong. In a quick search of one local real estate’s company, using the term "maintenance free,” there were over 1,200 homes for sale! There were even 4 farms listed as maintenance free. Now, that’s funny.
Senior communities tout the maintenance free benefits and for good reason. Many of the seniors have health problems that keep them from doing a lot of maintenance. Townhome living is meant to be easy.
Think about the term "maintenance free” during the winter. I’m sorry to say, snow season is expected to make another surprise entrance in about 90 days. Yuck. One of the biggest benefits of living in an association is that the lawn care is done, the driveway is plowed and the sidewalks are shoveled. Is there some maintenance required by the homeowner if the downspout is spilling water that freezes onto a sidewalk? It’s certainly not in the governing docs, but some common sense is in order here. What would a good neighbor do? What if you had a pregnant daughter coming to visit? Do you say well, it’s not my responsibility so c’est la vie, or do you get out there and do something about it? At the very least, call and let someone know about the dangerous situation or make sure the outside lights are working.
It amazes me that during a snowfall at an HOA, there are always a handful of people who shovel their driveway and sidewalk off, even before the snow has stopped and while our trucks are working down the street. I often wonder what drives these people to do something they don’t have to do. I just assume they care about their association and neighbors. Maybe they’re doing their neighbors sidewalk, maybe they’re trying to help us? If we all thought and acted like these neighbors, I don’t think worrying about light bulbs would even come up.
Association living isn’t responsibility free either. A homeowner who just sits back and waits for the board to decide everything to their satisfaction is not going to work out for that homeowner or anyone else in the association who might be experiencing the same thing. Boards and property managers really need more (quality) inputs from the homeowners so they can do their job. Contribute your time and ideas to make your association a better place to live for everyone.
Don’t believe everything the developer and salesperson said about maintenance free living. What’s wrong with doing your part and maybe just a bit more to realize the feeling at the end of the theme song… "You are my wife... Goodbye city life, Green Acres we are there!”