You want to make an educated decision about the home or condo you are buying, and the financial commitment involved. So understand that by signing a purchasing agreement, you may be agreeing to pay a homeowners association (HOA) fee or a condo fee.

You want to make an educated decision about the home or condo you are buying, and the financial commitment involved. So understand that by signing a purchasing agreement, you may be agreeing to pay a homeowners association (HOA) fee or a condo fee.

A homeowners association (HOA) is a group of neighbors who take care of issues in the neighborhood. Some of which include:

Keeping up landscaping and recreation areas in the neighborhood. Arranging events such as neighborhood garage sales and block parties. Setting and collecting fees. Holding regular meetings. Sending out periodic newsletters on neighborhood issues and concerns. Enforcing deed restrictions. Setting covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) for the neighborhood.

Homeowners fees are not included in your mortgage payment, and can range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars a year. While this might seem like a lot, homeowners believe the association protects the value of their home and property. Homeowners also spend much less on fees than if they were to pay for the service themselves.

Homeowners association fees are set by a governing board, and can not be changed unless 100 percent of owners in the neighborhood or condo complex agree. This means that many times the homeowners with the biggest properties and the best lots or views pay the same fee as everyone else.

While many agree on the benefits of homeowners associations, it's important to understand they are legal entities -- capable of enforcing private deed restrictions. This means if you fail to pay the fees, you could be charged late fees, or a lien can be filed against your house. Homeowners associations can even foreclose, leaving you with fines, legal costs, and no place to live.

Homeowners associations set and enforce covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs), which can include anything from what colors you can paint your mailbox to the amount of space you can use for gardening on your property. CC&Rs can't usually be changed or negotiated. If you fail to abide by these restrictions, it could have the same consequences as not paying the association fee.

Condominiums usually require a monthly fee. This fee includes liability insurance for common areas and maintenance costs for:

Parking lots. Snow removal. Lighting. Landscaping. Roofing.

Amenities such as pools, tennis courts or party houses.

Homeowners associations as well as condo associations can provide added benefits for property owners. They can save money, time and increase the value of your property. It is important to understand the fees and CC&Rs involved if you decide to purchase a house or condo. Ask your Real Living agent which neighborhoods offer homeowners associations, and how much your homeowner fee or condo fee will cost.