John lives in Gold River, CA, a meticulously planned community where the high-value houses adhere to strict architectural guidelines set by the community associations. John says:
“My family and I have lived in Gold River for years, and we love how the community association here protects the value of our home by setting construction and building rules to keep houses from looking outlandish or neglected. But we recently decided to fix up our windows and learned we have to submit an application first. As a regular guy without construction or legal experience, I don’t know where to start. What advice can you give me? At what point do I need to get a windows contractor involved? How can I upgrade to energy efficient windows while meeting my HOA guidelines?”
As you seem to be finding out, John, homeowners and community associations, HOAs, have quite a bit of say over your property. The good news is that any worthwhile window contractor will have plenty of experience navigating their guidelines. Last I checked, the Community Associations Institute estimated that 62 million Americans were living in 309,600 neighborhoods with HOAs. Your question is a common one, and I have some tips I can readily offer.
Read the Rules—and Follow Them
The first thing John needs to do is take out his reading glasses and set aside time to pore over Gold River’s architectural rules or bylaws. Once he has an understanding of what is and isn’t permitted, he needs to obey. Over years in the business, I’ve seen many jobs that inadvertently violate a clause and must be redone—I can’t recall a single instance of a broken construction rule that an association just let slide.
Let’s say that John, for example, decides to install bay windows, and changing the structural dimensions of his home’s exterior isn’t allowed. It won’t be a matter of the community association deciding whether the house looks okay; it will be a clear violation and, depending on how he reacts, the association could sue him.
There are some questions you can ask yourself, too. I advise anyone living within an association to consider the following:
- Are you replacing all of your windows? There is a strong chance any changes you make must be uniform. Don’t expect to replace windows on a side of your house that is heavily battered by wind or leaves without also replacing the ones on the other sides.
- When the work is done, will your home look drastically different? The answer to this should, quite frankly, be no. I’ve talked in the past about using new windows as a chance to enhance curb appeal. But, in a place like Gold River, the association requires the upkeep on your home to be superb. So your motive for replacing your windows should be more practical, like increasing energy efficiency, or dampening noise. Major aesthetic changes will probably trigger a violation.
- When were the windows last replaced? California is at the forefront of environmental measures, and the state is frequently offering new rebates for residents who buy energy efficient windows. You very well might qualify to save money. Just be aware that not all HOA bylaws have been modified to allow environmentally-friendly windows.
It’s Important to Communicate
Once John knows the rules surrounding window replacement in his Gold River community, it’s time for him to begin a dialogue. One of the questions he asked was when to involve the contractor. I’d say now. Open communication with both the association and the contractor. See if the association minds speaking directly with the contractor. There are many times I find a homeowner acting as a go-between, and it’s frustrating.
If you have time, I’d also advise you to attend the association’s meetings. Do a little mingling with your neighbors, and learn from their experiences. The legal rules about what you can and cannot do in terms of new windows can sometimes be murky, and hearing what your neighbors have gone through can be invaluable. Knowing your neighbors can also help during the construction phase, making them less likely to call the association to complain about potential violations.
I don’t blame John for wanting some guidance. Homeowners and community associations can do great things for property value, and Gold River is a perfect example of that. There are multiple associations there that work hard to foster distinctive styles and creative design concepts. The way they do this is by having strict requirements all the folks who live there must respect and adhere to. Windows, as the eyes of a house, are some of the most prominent exterior features, and I don’t think I’ve encountered a single association without very specific language that addresses how they have to be replaced.
That may seem a bit daunting, but a final tip I want to give to John is: relax. Good window contractors are prepared to make sure you don’t incur costly violations. In fact, I know we’ve often dealt with Gold River in the past with ease, and I’d suspect most other contractors have done the same. Read your rules, and then get an experienced window replacement outfit involved. The process will end up being as breezy as the gusts you’ll enjoy when you open your new windows.
Don’t be daunted by the pages of homeowner’s association rules about window replacement. Call the professionals at Bell Brothers today to get help with your project!