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Last week Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 771 into law, a bill that prevents home buyers in a common interest development (CID), such as a condominium or townhome, from being charged excess document fees. 

Homeowner associations (HOAs) are required to provide specific documents to prospective purchasers of homes in a CID — a form of real estate ownership in which each homeowner has an exclusive interest in a unit and a shared interest in the common area property. In addition to the standard residential property disclosures, purchasers of a unit within a CID must receive basic information about the structure, operation and management of the HOA that operates the CID.

Current law requires that this information come from the HOA and prohibits it from charging fees in excess of what is “reasonable,” not to exceed the actual cost of processing and producing these documents. HOAs generally have provided the documents for approximately $75 to $250. Increasingly, HOAs have been delegating document preparations to third party vendors or contractors who, under a 2007 court decision, are exempt from this fee limitation. This delegation of responsibility by HOAs sometimes resulted in home purchasers being forced to pay additional fees, as much as $1,000, for other documents which were “bundled” with the required documents.

Assembly Bill 771 (Betsy Butler, D-Torrance) addresses this situation by specifying that only fees for the required documents may be charged when such documents are provided, effectively prohibiting any “bundling” of fees for other documents with these fees. The bill also creates a new form detailing which documents are required, and requires the provider to disclose the fees that will be charged for the documents before they are provided. The seller of a CID must complete this form and transmit it to the prospective purchaser along with the required documents. This will eliminate any uncertainty for the prospective purchaser as to exactly which documents are being provided and the precise fees being charged for those documents.

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More than 130 members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® attended SILVAR’s Los Gatos/Saratoga District tour meeting a few weeks ago and listened as Jacquie Berry, owner of Community Association Data Source, emphasized the greatest mistake any seller can make is an incomplete disclosure.

When dealing with homeowner associations (HOAs), it gets especially complicated because the law requires more disclosures from common interest developments (CIDs), in addition to the normal disclosures required in the sale of single-family homes. Common interest developments are condominiums and planned developments that are governed by a homeowner association which administers the property and is responsible for repairing, replacing, or maintaining the common areas. The homeowner association places restrictions on the use of the property and the common areas.

Berry shared the following statistics: There are over 48,000 homeowner associations in California; CIDs make up a quarter of all housing in the state of California; 49 percent of CIDs are self-managed and less than 25 percent are 100 percent funded in their reserves.

Berry said lenders are asking more questions about the financial health of HOAs so buyers won’t be caught by surprise by undisclosed defects in the common areas and underfunded reserve accounts, which result in special assessments. Agents and prospective buyers should review state laws, documents that HOAs are required to provide, and ask questions. She noted forms change, and homeowner associations rarely provide a complete or updated set of disclosure documents.

Also, HOAs may state they have adequate reserves to maintain deferred maintenance, but they do not specify a timeline for which these reserves are adequate. HOAs must prepare a reserves budget every year, providing a current estimate of the costs of repairing and replacing major common area components over the long-term. Ideally, reserve funds should be able to cover all major repair and replacement costs when needed.

“The value of the property is directly related to reserves,” stressed Berry.

Berry said it’s very important that these disclosures be obtained and reviewed by the appropriate professional so the buyer can make an intelligent decision as to whether or not to purchase the property.

“It’s all about disclosure,” Berry said. “It’s not about anything else but disclosure.”

November 2018
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