Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American housing?‏


It is very interesting to hear you are planning on moving to the United
States.  I look forward to hearing about your experiences in your usual
detailed and informative manner.

My question is what kind of housing do you think you will wind up in?
You have talked about architecture and things like the advantages of
solid brick construction over sticks frame and features like a courtyard.
(BTW, my parents had a private courtyard where we lived when I was young
and it was really helpful.)  I also assume anyplace with a HOA would be
right out.  However, life is always full of compromises.  What do you
think you get from your must have and nice to have lists?

Thank you for the blog,


Hi M, as you well say life is always full of compromises. I’ve heard of people losing their homes to evil HOA, but some also think it brings a minimum level of agreement to a neighborhood. I’ve learned that you cant count on people doing the most reasonable thing, lets alone the smartest. A neighbor who always lets his dogs run wild would be more than a problem, he would actually be putting small kids like the one I have in danger. A strong argument for HOA is that it stops a neighbor from collecting garbage in the front lawn, bringing prices and the quality of the neighborhood in general down. And then there’s actual freedom to be considered: Its your home, how far can they go regarding what you’re allowed to do or not? At the very least, I’d check 10 times before signing any HOA agreement. 

The freedom loving individual will raise hell at even the mention of a HOA, but at the same time we have to accept that we live in society. It may be your land, but does the neighborhood belong to you as well? Again, a rat infested neighbor, someone who’s carelessness may affect me, that’s something I’d like to avoid. Even if you look before buying, what’s stopping a slob or idiot from moving next door next year. An agreement that, after reading careful, I believe it to be a sane balance between restrictions to my liberty and benefits, that’s something I can live with.
Just an example of why this may be important in the long run. We don’t have HOA here, and when the time came to hire security, no one had a right to force you to pay if you didn’t want to, and that’s just how it should be right?
Well, it soon became pretty obvious that having security was a priority. Neighborhoods that didn’t have it were going down, more petty robberies, more home invasions, more scumbags looking for easy victims, kids and older peopl. Most of us agreed we had to get security. But what about those that didn’t? What happened was that we got it in the end, most of us paying for it, but a few lowlifes in the neighborhood aren’t paying, but do benefit from it. And its not a moral argument about freedom. These people new it would make a difference to have security in the neighborhood, but they knew that there were still enough of us that would pay so as to have the security in the end, even if they didn’t pay for it. So basically they get a free ride. So again, I’m not entirely against a home owners association, I’d go along with one that makes sense to me, that has a minimum amount of like minded people, and I’d take the time to be involved and be part of the community. 

About the home, there’s a difference between what we want and what we can get. Most homes in USA are wood frame or metal frame, over here they are much more solid brick and mortar, with poured reinforced concrete independent structure. It’s mostly because that’s traditionally how we make houses here, but it is obviously much more resistant than wood frame ones. That’s what I’d like to go for. My ideal house wouldn’t be too big, but it would have a basement and two floors. The kitchen would be centrally located (as much in the center as possible) , with a wood burning cooking stove in place besides the typical gas or electric one. In a small enough, WELL DESINGED home, a cook stove can do most of the heating. Maybe not fuel hog type warm, but cozy enough in the kitchen and warm enough to sleep ok with enough blankets in the bedrooms. Its all a matter of how well designed the house is. While water heating can be done too, it can be dangerous if done improperly. The courtyard would be ideal. I like the idea of enclosed open space which you have better control of.



Anonymous said...

I wonder how many American's really are against concepts like HOA's and are wiling to put thier quality of life at risk for the sake of an imaginary 'freedom'. In the UK we have security camera's everywhere, its like a police state I suppose, but criminals get caught when they commit serious crimes. Its a trade-off the vast majority are happy with, wishy-washy onbessions with 'freedom' are meaningless if you keep getting robbed and live in fear of crime.

Woodburning stoves are nice from many aspects, but they do become a bit timeconsuming. A big family to keep it fed with wood would be a asset.

Anonymous said...

Anyone willing to sacrifice liberty for safety is worthy of neither. Career criminals should be dealt with.
Heating and eating with wood is a wonderful way to stretch a dollar, but it can be a lot of work, and some municipalities are starting to ban wood burning, citing air quality issues, so that's something to keep in mind. We save a ton of money, but best to make sure the family buys in to the idea of cooking with wood, also, remember there's a learning curve.

sth_txs said...

Home owners associations are just another form of voluntary tyranny. I've met individuals who actually get off to HOA rule stupidity.

Find a decent older neighborhood where it looks like most of the neighbors keep their lawn neat and don't have any junk in the yard.

I don't feel like my property value will go down because there is an oil spot on the driveway or someone leaves their garbage can out in the street over the weekend.

russell1200 said...

If you are moving to the southern part of the United States, cost of air conditioning may be a bigger $ factor.

Moving to an older neighborhood where the trees have grown out will help tremendously with the heat. Some of the neighborhoods built in the 1960s to 1970s with the little (by todays standards) ranch homes fit the bill perfectly. It is even better if the trees are deciduous (drop their leaves) so that the sun can heat up the house in the winter.

On older houses avoid houses with aluminum wiring on the branch circuits. It was common in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not work out very well.

FerFAL said...

sth_txs said...

Home owners associations are just another form of voluntary tyranny. I've met individuals who actually get off to HOA rule stupidity.

Find a decent older neighborhood where it looks like most of the neighbors keep their lawn neat and don't have any junk in the yard.

August 10, 2010 2:25 PM

That would be ideal. Dont get me wrong, I'm not a HOA sponsor or anything, seems that many are down right evil. My point is, I'd read the contract carefully adn make sure I know well what I'm getting into. And also that in some occasions, it might stop some people from taking advatange from the rest like in the case I mentioned above.


Anonymous said...

> Its your home, how far can they
> go regarding what you’re allowed
> to do or not?

Be sure to look into city zoning ordinances and building codes (many cities have restrictions on what you can do in terms of building codes and "lifestyle behavior").

One city I'm familiar with specifies how many garage sales you can have (i.e., no more than two per year and they must be at least six months apart).

If you live in an area zoned for residential, good luck in getting permission to run a business out of your home if it involves foot traffic, signs, or hazardous materials.

If you want to cut down a tree on your property, you have to get permission from this city if it's more than 18 inches in diameter (and be prepared to justify why you need to cut down the tree).

If you own a house that's been designated as a historic landmark, good luck in getting a building permit if you want to change the general character of the building.

The bottom line is that private government (i.e., homeowner associations) and public government (i.e., building codes and city ordinances) are equally restrictive on your freedoms to do what you want with your property.

Of course, this also means your neighbors can't do just anything they feel like doing with their properties either, so maybe it all balances out by screwing everyone equally.

Anonymous said...

The problem with HOA contracts is often that you can't really find a "golden mean" with them. They can be too specific or not specific enough. If too specific, you can't repaint, put up a deck, add solar, do routine maintenance in the driveway, and so on. If too vague ("a potential eyesore" or "the standards of the community") they invite dispute and wasted time.

I think you're hitting the nail on the head with your post: HOAs are stand-ins for the lost social contract or community policing that used to keep you from being a dirtbag but no longer functions in suburbia. IMO, a person needs to find a small town that he's willing to be part of (even if it's only his kids that really end up being part of the town).


Anonymous said...

hoa - with the foreclosures and all, the balance might tip & you might wind up paying more than your agreed upon share. Lots of bad hoa stories abound.

I've lived without a hoa for twenty peaceful years, but I'm not in Texas.

Do they build houses with basements in Texas? I've only been there briefly, but I didn't see any or hear of one.

Are you familiar with fire ants, killer bees, giant centipedes, and swimming rabbits?
Rabbits don't attack unless you're a politician, but those other things are damn nasty, especially for children.

Joseph said...


No chance of having a home built to your specifications? Might be a little expensive, but it's a buyer's market in most places.

sethmcdonald said...

Just so you know, you'll probably have to purchase & install the wood stove yourself. They just aren't all that common here.

Anonymous said...

The HOA is only as good (or bad) as the people running it. They can take a lenient attitude for minor items and enforce the major rules, or they can be total nitpickers. The more people are active in the HOA, and the administrators know what they think, the better the organization is. They do not have to be anti-liberty, but many do seem to wind up that way.

Jack said...

I've never seen a HOA that would allow you to put bars on the windows. Most won't allow you to put a concrete wall anywhere on your property for a front or rear court yard, usually they'll just allow a wood fence and sometimes only a see through metal fence no higher than 3-4 feet. Most have lists of approved plants and won't let you plant 'defensive' type plants. Most modern HOA communities have smaller lots (1/8 acre) vs. older communities with 1/4 or 1/2 acre lots. Most HOA's won't allow any form of livestock (chickens, rabbits, etc.) and some will give you a fine if you don't take in your trashcan by 12:00 noon on trash days. I've lived in HOA communities for the past 10 years to make my wife happy, but we've both agreed that we'll never live in one again. We still have crime, the 'gates' are always being broken or locked open for workers. You can by-pass the gate easily by following another car into the community or walking through the walk-thru gate. The communities pools are nice and the landscaping is pretty, but HOA's are set up and controlled by salesmen from the developer for at least the first 5 years - it's about sales, not your comfort after you've moved in. Even in a 'gated community' we have renters, section 8 renters, college kids renting and partying, etc. HOA's are about sales and developer profit. Recommend a small town outside the city, in a older home with a big lot.

Anonymous said...


I would say make sure that you are near a ready source of timber. Otherwise you are going to have to spend a lot of time and money to go get it somewhere else. I imagine if the SHTF in a real way you won't find as many pallets and other sources of wood in a suburban or urban environment.

FerFAL said...

Man, some stories. No perfect solution. I suppose the best thing is getting to know the laws well enough, the HOA is you go for that, but most of all, know the neighbros well enough so as to know what to expect form them.


Anonymous said...

I read somewhere the UK is bringing those CCTV cameras down and with it the illusion of security it provides. I hope it happens here soon too.

CCTV camera spied upon cities remind me of the old film Westworld.

It's not popular, trendy, and your social status might suffer, but I like the idea of owning a mobile home park, knowing your neighbors and being able to have some expectations of their behavior might be a bit easier, as would the ability to expand and grow.

As the economy gets worse some people in the upper classes might find themselves seeking cheaper housing, combine that with the poor trying to climb up the economic ladder and you have a good customer base.

Jedi said...

"Do they build houses with basements in Texas? I've only been there briefly, but I didn't see any or hear of one."

There are a few, but they're pretty rare. Most houses don't have them. I wish they were more common.

Idahoser said...

I have a hard time picturing an HOA in any place I'd choose to live. Also, your ham tower would violate any of them; and brick structures don't survive earthquakes.

Bill in NC said...

I think Ferfal would be happier with ICF (insulated concrete form) construction than a stick-built house!

Anonymous said...

I have never lived in a neighborhood with an HOA (they are not at all common in my area) and we do not have garbage strewn yards, rat infestation, or junk sitting in driveways. My experience has been that if you choose a nice neighborhood (and I've lived in all price ranges from working class to executive McMansion-land) it is simply NOT a problem. People here (at least where I live) generally take pride in their homes, and in maintaining them. Plus, most communities have sufficient zoning and nuisance laws to prevent any abuse or infringement on their neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who knows me has heard me rant about my pesky HOA. I’ve gotten citations for the dog barking, for the grass being 2 milliliters too long in the winter time, and a few more things I don’t remember. I have disputed and won most every citation that has come to my mail and made the HOA feel like insignificant little parasites. They are used to it, and I think they enjoy it a bit. But when January 2nd turns around, they are the first ones to get my HOA dues in full. The HOA is not as bad as people make it to be. The prevent my neighbor from having a dilapidated boat on the street or a car on 4 blocks. They keep the greens and the swimming pools clean and organize activities for the community to know each other. They pretty much protect my home investment sometimes even against my will. The HOA is like a little pesky toothless tyrant. Sure they can out a lean against your house if you don’t pay dues. But hey! You knew that when you signed on the dotted line.

Ferfal, if you end-up moving to North Dallas there are a few empty lots left in my subdivision. I think you’d like the community and the HOA.


Anonymous said...

Just wondering if you considered Florida in your look-around? If not, why not?
I've used it as my HOR for 65 years and haven't had any real problems.

Anonymous said...

Two other critters you might want to at least be aware of in Texas are rattle snakes and East African Oryx.

I've seen signs in the Southwest warning drivers to beware of the oryx. I think the deal is they ram your car and are very aggressive, but not widespread like moose are up north. It's just in a few isolated areas, but nobody tells them that. We don't have a population of cougars in my state but from time to time they find one. Animals roam.

Rattle snakes like cool basements and crawl spaces and other places where people are training with weapons and other outdoor activities. Hey, that might be a good place to hide valuables?

I don't think the scorpions there are dangerous, but I'm not certain.

As far as Florida goes, I like the place somewhat, but after reading thehousingbubbleblog.com I woudln't touch real estate in that state for many years. I suppose it depends on a person's outlook, but based on the math & taxes, I wouldn't. Some people say it's getting better, but others say it has a loooong way to go yet.

Anonymous said...

I second Bill's recommendation to find an Insulated Concrete Form home. Very strong, relatively cheap to heat and cool. Try to get a metal roof too for both longevity and ease of rainwater collection.

Anonymous said...

I have an older combination wood cook stove and electric that I got free in like new condition, likely a rare breed. It may be possible to find a new model. Saves space. If interested I'll get the manufacturers name and model for you. It could be found used and little used.

Anonymous said...

FerFAL, you're an architect, right? You should have no issues finding a crew that can build your ideal house for a fairly reasonable price. The materials are going to cost more than a stick-built house - BUT - if you manage the project yourself you will be able to do this for a cost much closer to the actual value of the home vs. what you'd get from most contractors or tract houses.

PS I live in an HOA community - there are only 14 houses and our rules are pretty minimal. There is some common property that we take care of, we keep the street paved, and our rules are basically "No parking a taco truck in your driveway and doing business, no junk cars, nothing extremely dangerous to the rest of the neighborhood." I had a major front yard landscaping project that my wife and I did ourselves that took WEEKS and nobody cared. Dues are cheap and serve only to maintain a minimal standard. I also know people who have lived under nightmare HOAs and that was one of the big things to avoid when we were shopping. Gotta do what you gotta do.