Buying in a Planned Community? 5 Things You Should Do First

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If you’re looking to buy a home that’s located in a community filled with all the amenities that will make life in your new neighborhood an enjoyable one, then a planned community might be a viable option.

A planned community is carefully mapped out and designed by planners well before construction starts. It’s a type of residential plan that often includes a variety of amenities that you won’t find in the average residential subdivision, and can include parks, water bodies, swimming pools, golf courses, jogging trails, fitness centers, and so forth.

Planned communities are typically built with a specific purpose in mind to meet the needs of the future residents that they are designed for, such as retirees.

Considering the large size of these communities and the amount of work required to maintain them, planned communities are almost always governed by a homeowner’s association or another type of management company.

So, what are some things you should do before buying into a planned community?

1. Scope Out the HOA Documents

The purpose of an HOA is to manage a community and ensure that all homeowners are doing their part to keep it in pristine condition. It also oversees its own responsibilities in maintaining the community so that the area and all properties within it uphold their value.

But while the HOA might be protecting your own investment, it can limit your enjoyment of your home and surrounding community. HOAs have rules about what homeowners can and can’t do to their own properties, which can restrict your freedom to decorate your home as you please. For instance, the color you might have in mind to paint your garage door may not be permitted within the HOA regulations.

It’s important to go through the HOA documents in detail to identify what the rules of the association are and how they may affect how much you enjoy living in your home and the surrounding community.

2. Find Out What the HOA Fees Are

Perhaps one of the first things you should find out about before buying into a planned community is how much you’ll be responsible for paying each month towards community association dues. This amount will have a huge impact on the affordability of the home and your overall budget. These fees help cover area amenities such as a swimming pool, fitness center, park, tennis court, walking and biking trails, clubs, and many others.

Depending on how many amenities are in the planned community you are considering buying into, this regular fee usually runs in the hundreds of dollars per month, and will vary significantly from one planned community to the next.

For instance, a community with just a gym and a park will come with fees that are much lower compared to those with a golf course, ballroom, and other high-end amenities. You will want to factor in all the fees associated with a specific community to see if it’s a good fit for your budget.

3. Check Out the Amenities

The amenities that you will be paying for will vary from one community to the next. Working within your budget, you’ll want to ensure that the features that are offered fit your lifestyle. For instance, if you’re an avid swimmer or enjoy lifting weights on a regular basis, then a pool and weight room may be amenities that you don’t want to compromise on.

If, on the other hand, all you really need is a fitness room, then you may not necessarily want to have to pay for a variety of other luxury features, such as a tennis court, putting green and banquet hall that you have no use for. The higher the maintenance fee, the more amenities are usually available and the better quality they’ll be. Scope out the community and check out the amenities before considering an offer so you know just what you’re getting.

4. Chat Up the Neighbors

Perhaps the best way to gauge what a particular planned community is like to live in is to ask the people who already reside there. When checking out different planned communities, make it a point of chatting with the current residents to get their take on what life is like there.

5. Identify if the Development is Complete

If you’re considering buying into a planned community that has not yet been fully developed, find out what stage of completion it’s at. Developers have a lot of pull over what will or will not be completed, despite what is in the original plans.

For instance, the developer might decide not to go through with the completion of a playground or a second tennis court after all, even if these features were part of the initial planning stages. Even if certain features will be completed, the date of completion can get pushed out. That said, an unfinished planned community can be a great time to buy at a lower price and have more options to choose from.

The Bottom Line

The amenities and level of maintenance and management that come with a planned community can provide you with everything you need to live a resort-like lifestyle while having your investment protected. However, it’s in your best interests to dive deep into the sort of community you’re buying into and the type of management that will oversee the entire complex.