Can Your Homeowners Association Say No To Security System Signs?

HOA expert Richard Thompson answers your questions about living in condos, co-ops and communities with homeowners associations.

Q: Does the homeowner association have the right to restrict home security system signs in the common area outside of the homes?

A: The HOA usually has the right to limit signs in the common area and what is placed in home windows. Small security stickers on the window are usually allowed. The main concern is curb appeal. Uncontrolled signage creates a cluttered look and reduces property values.

Q: I don’t feel the board spends money in our best interests. I protested by withholding payment until year-end. Recently, I received a notice saying if I didn’t pay, they would put a lien on my home. Can they do this? Am I wrong to protest this way?

A: Withholding assessments in protest is not the way to get your point across and, yes, the board has both the right and duty to process collection on delinquencies. I assume your concerns are for the community as a whole and not for personal issues.

Your points and solutions should be made in writing to the board. Whether they act on them or not is another question. If they don’t and you feel strongly that they should, I encourage you to run for election so that you can have a direct effect on the outcome. It’s every owner’s duty to serve.

Q: Is it very difficult to change the governing documents? What’s the process?

A: If you are thinking about amending your governing documents, you should consult with an attorney specializing in HOA law. There are state and federal laws to consider as well as practical applications that need to be harmonized. Once the amendment(s) are approved, they usually need to be recorded. The attorney can assist with this as well.

Q: Should we include landscape items in our Reserve Study? How about insuring trees?

A: It’s wise to include “Landscape Renovation” and “Tree Work” in the Reserve Study. All bushes and trees have a limited life. Bushes die and outgrow their location.

While trees usually have a long life, they require corrective pruning that should be done every three to five years and is expensive.

Hiring an arborist to do a comprehensive inventory and report on the trees also makes a lot of sense. If each tree is tagged and referenced in the report, maintenance can be easily tracked. Consistent corrective pruning will extend the lives of the trees and keep them looking good.

Insurance for non-income producing trees provides limited coverage for claims related to fire, lightning, explosion, riot, aircraft, vehicles, vandalism and theft. Most tree claims are related to vehicle damage. Wind, freezing and pest claims are not honored.

Tree insurance does not actually insure the trees for value but provides replacement in standard nursery sizes.

In other words, that wind-fallen 80 foot Douglas fir will probably get you an 8-12 foot replacement. Based on the coverage available, $5,000 coverage will cover quite a few replacements.

To avoid the possibility of insect infestation, use native trees that are hardy and pest resistant. If you already have those prone to insects, consult with an arborist for the proper preventive maintenance or alternatively, cut them down and replace them.

Used with permission from Richard Thompson of


FICO Changes Score Calculations: Will Your Score Rise?


A change in the way the popular FICO credit score is calculated could boost your score if:

  • You’ve settled past debts with a collection agency.
  • You have unpaid medical bills.
  • Your credit is thin because you’re just starting out or you’re a retiree who no longer uses a lot of credit.

Fair Isaac, the company that sells the FICO credit score to mortgage lenders, auto lenders, credit card companies and banks, says it’s changing its formula to give less importance to unpaid medical bills and debts that consumers settled with collection agencies.

In general, the higher your credit score, the less interest you pay when you borrow money to buy a home or a car, or to pay via a credit card. If your score drops too low, you may not be able to get a loan or a credit card.

Here’s what will change starting this fall:

  • If your medical debt is the only unpaid bill on your credit report: Your score could rise by about 25 points.
  • If your debt was sold to a collection agency and you then paid it: That won’t lower your FICO score.
  • If you don’t use credit much: Fair Issac will use other data, like rent payments, to bolster the accuracy of your score.

Fair Issac made the change after a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report argued that medical debt isn’t a strong indicator that a consumer won’t pay other types of debt.

When your credit score rises, chances are you’ll first see an improvement in the rates you’re charged for credit cards, auto loans and personal loans.

Your mortgage rate may take longer to come down because most lenders follow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s lending guidelines. Those guidelines tell lenders to use a very specific mortgage credit score rather than the latest version of the FICO score.

Currently, the average Fannie Mae borrower has a FICO of 744, while the average Freddie Mac borrower has a 749.

Hillsborough County Real Estate Big Picture May 2014


For Sale vs. Sold:

May 2014 is a Neutral market*

Home For Sale in May 2014: 6479 units.

Up 0.6% compared to the last month
Up 50.7% compared to the last year

Home Closed in May 2014: 1819 units.

Up 1.4% compared to the last month
Down 10.8% compared to the last year

Home Placed under Contract in May 2014: 2424 units.

Up 8.6% compared to the last month
Up 10.8% compared to the last year

Graph Link Here:

Days on Market — Sold/List Price %

May 2014 Average Days on Market trend Remains Steady*

Average Days on Market in May 2014: 71

Down 2.7% compared to the last month
Up 10.9% compared to the last year

May 2014 Sold/Original List Price Ratio Remains Steady*

Sold/Original List Price % in May 2014: 93%

0% compared to the last month
Down 2.1% compared to the last year

Graph Link Here:

Months of Inventory:

May 2014 is a Neutral market*

Months of Inventory based on Closed Sales in May 2014: 3.6

Down 0.8% compared to the last month
Up 69% compared to the last year

Graph Link Here:



Is Now The Right Time To Refinance Your Mortgage?

To find the right time for you to refinance, answer these four questions:

1. What’s your interest rate versus the interest rate you could get today?

The bigger the difference between your rate and today’s rate, the more you can cut your monthly payment by refinancing. If you have a $100,000 mortgage:

  • At 6 percent, you pay about $600 a month in principal and interest
  • At 5.5 percent you pay about $568
  • At 5 percent you pay about $537

2. Do you need a more predictable mortgage payment?

If you’ve got an adjustable-rate mortgage, refinancing into a fixed rate mortgage lets you lock in a rate, This way you know exactly what your future payments will be. You pay a higher interest rate for that benefit.

Lenders also make you pay more for ARMs that don’t reset for a long time. The longer the initial rate lasts, the higher the interest rate.

That’s why a 1-year ARM might have a 2.50 percent rate compared with 3.25 percent for a 10-year ARM.

How much risk are you willing to take to get a lower monthly payment? Can your budget handle potential payment increases if interest rates rise?

3. How long do you plan to keep your home?

If you’re in your forever home, then opting for a fixed-rate mortgage locks in your payments for the next 30 years.

If you plan to downsize into a smaller home in a few years, a 5-year ARM will give you a much lower interest rate and monthly payment than a traditional 15- or 30-year fixed rate mortgage.

And if your plans don’t change, you’ll sell and pay off the loan before the ARM resets to a new rate in year six.

For each refinance loan you’re considering, your loan officer can show you how much you’ll pay in total during the time you plan to stay in your home.

Also check to be sure you’ll be there long enough to earn back the money you spend on closing costs.

4. Will you get a tax benefit?

If you itemize your tax deductions, the interest you pay on your mortgage may be deductible.

If you take cash out when you refinance and use the money to pay off credit cards or auto loans, you may also be able to deduct that interest.