When looking for a new home, many shoppers gravitate toward free-standing, single-family residences while others look for residences within condominium associations or planned unit developments (PUDs). Those that gravitate toward homeowner association (HOA) sub-divisions do so for the advantages they offer. In the same vein, those that avoid such neighborhoods are wary of the restrictions they impose. Obviously, it becomes a matter of weighing the pros and the cons of a decision to locate in a condo or PUD jurisdiction. There are several to offer on both sides and it benefits home seekers to look carefully at each reality.

Providing Conveniences and Services

HOAs afford amenities that serve their members. Though offerings vary from place to place, they might include a pool, tennis court, playground and community center. Having such conveniences in close proximity to the residence is attractive to people who would rather not battle traffic to recreate and enjoy some fun. In addition, the HOA takes responsibility for much of the landscaping, snow removal and external maintenance of the residential units, thus helping to support home value and market competitiveness. These services save time, effort and worry for the unit owners living in the development.

Making Rules and Collecting Dues

For all these blessings conveyed by membership in an HOA, there are demands that balance the advantages. The facilities and services must be paid for, after all. Painters, landscapers and snow removers do not work for free. This is why HOA members -- i.e. all of the unit owners -- pay dues to the association. Yet other outlays may be necessary. Sometimes annual assessments are made to replenish reserve funds. Sometimes, the HOA can foreclose if those fees go unpaid. Just as often, fines are imposed when HOA policies are flouted or violated. This brings us to the issue of rules and restrictions.

In order to preserve home value and salability of its units, an HOA -- to some degree -- governs the stewardship of each unit. It does so through the passage of rules, akin to municipal ordinances, that maintain order, external uniformity and attractive appearances. These strictures can include prohibitions against renting out the unit; having a certain size of pet; parking in certain places; excessive holiday decorations; and high noise levels. Many residents embrace such directives as enhancing livability. Others, though, resent them as oppressive and smothering encroachments on property rights.

Influencing HOA Policies

Even if you tend toward a negative view of HOA power over residents, remember that each owner is a shareholder and each has some capacity to influence the HOA. Needless to say, the more active a resident -- the more robust the participation -- the greater the opportunity to affect HOA policies. Attendance at meetings and sessions of the HOA are eschewed by many. For sure, those that are pleased with the way things are have little reason to make their voices heard. Yet others who might chafe under given regulations do indeed have an opportunity to create change.

Most often, the HOA's articles of incorporation and by-laws provide for the procedures by which a member can attain a position on the association's governing board. While the particulars may differ, election by a majority of homeowners is almost always the method of entry. This is the surest way to make change with regard to how the HOA does business. Becoming a board officer -- President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer -- can further enhance a unit owner's impact on the affairs of the HOA. So, drawbacks of HOA residency can sometimes be mitigated.