HOA Coverage

Low HOAs Fees Can Be Fool's Gold

Isn't it better to pay less? It depends...

For years many HOA and condo homeowners have believed that HOA boards of directors should prioritize keeping fees as low as possible. This strategy yielded two golden outcomes: Less money owed today means more money in an owner’s bank account, and low fees mean lower carrying costs that can support higher property values.  While possibly true in the near term, those arguments might both be false in the long run.

Low fees can be great if a community's maintenance requirements are also correspondingly low. Otherwise the "savings" usually comes from inadequate investments in association reserve funds, leaving fewer dollars on hand to pay for inevitable maintenance needs in the future. Good for current owners, but less good for future owners who haven't benefited from past "savings".

Association reserve funds are built over time. Many communities choose to minimize reserve contributions to keep today's fees low. Investing in the future can just feel unnecessary when boards of directors have to deal with rising maintenance costs, insurance costs, labor costs, and addressing every other pressing priority. But not doing so inevitably means that there won't be enough saved to pay for things that need attention later.

When is later? Who knows, but new buyers should be especially wary of what is lurking.

Low fees today can also lead to even greater HOA needs and spending tomorrow. As the saying goes, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Proper building maintenance and investment does cost money, but issues compound and it is usually more expensive to fix things that fail completely.  

There is no free lunch in association living

Lower fees can support property values but, again, only if maintenance needs are actually low. If associations don’t save enough today for inevitably rainy days in the future , then future owners will be on the hook when large special assessments or loans are required to fund necessary maintenance and repairs.  

That utopian scenario of low fees benefiting everyone can work for a while, but with communities and buildings it's not a question of whether they will need maintenance, it is of when they need maintenance.