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It would be naive and inaccurate to suggest that you can 100 percent bulletproof your HOA experience from these sorts of potential potholes, but there are a number of rights you can exercise to minimize their likelihood of happening.
First, exercise the right -- really, the responsibility -- to spot red flags of impending HOA dramas before you even close escrow, by truly reading all the HOA disclosures you receive, no matter how mind-numbingly long and boring they might seem. If you see that many homeowners are behind on their dues or that the HOA's budgets don't seem to include plans for reroofing buildings, replacing windows or making similar repairs to the common areas over time, be concerned.
And don't forget the seemingly fluffy newsletters or the seemingly boilerplate board meeting minutes: That's often where talk of neighbor disputes and proposed dues hikes and special assessments pop up first.
Once you're part of the HOA, you have even more of a duty-slash-power to participate in it, if you want to do your part to avoid problems. Attending board meetings or even becoming a member of the board is not overkill if you want to have a hand in choosing the accountants, building managers and contractors who will have such a huge impact on your experience as a member of an HOA.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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