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Top 10 Things to Consider When Buying in a Gated Community

EXPECTED READ TIME: 17 MINUTES

Buying in a gated community can be a hard decision to make, especially if you’ve never lived in one. Today we’re going to review some of the top things to consider along with the pros and cons.

What is a gated community?

It’s a residential community that’s fenced or walled in and has controlled entrances. It’s not just a gated neighborhood with a handful of homes. These developments come in all different sizes and usually cater to a specific demographic. Some master-planned communities can have thousands of homes and a variety of architectural styles built by various builders. These can include single-family homes, condos, and townhomes.

Typical amenities include security, a clubhouse for dining and entertainment, gyms, playgrounds, swimming pools, marinas, smart community features, and more. Just like with homes, there are different price ranges and types of developments from luxury to age-restricted 55+, and family-friendly. Amenities usually appeal to specific groups such as golfers, high-tech professionals, growing families, or retirees. 

The states that have the most planned communities include:

Arizona

Ten of the most popular master-planned communities with 2,300 homes or more are Vistancia, Morrison Ranch, Las Sendas, Estrella by Newland, Grayhawk, Verrado, DC Ranch, Eastmark, Desert Mountain, and Power Ranch.

California

Ten of the best-selling master-planned communities are Irvine Ranch, Lake Arrowhead, Rancho Bernardo, Otay Ranch, Rancho Belago, North Valley, Rancho Mission Viejo, and Winchester South.

Florida

Twelve master communities in FL made the top 50 list in the country. These are The Villages, Lakewood Ranch, Wellen Park, Nocatee, Viera, Westlake, Lake Nona, Latitude Margaritaville, Babcock Ranch, Starkey Ranch, Ava Maria, and Bexley.

Texas

The top ten best-selling master-planned communities in the great state of Texas are The Woodlands, Kingwood, Cinco Ranch, Sienna, Stone Oak, Stonebridge Ranch, Bridgeland, Alamo Ranch, Cross Creek Ranch, and WestRidge.

Private residential communities first became popular in retirement and resort areas. Now homeowners of all ages enjoy the community feel, stable property value, and well-maintained grounds of these planned neighborhoods. Let’s explore the top ten things you need to consider before purchasing a home in a gated community.

1.   A Tight-Knit Community

One of the best things about private communities is the sense of belonging for the residents. Because homebuyers with similar interests and likes are drawn to specific communities, residents have more in common, socialize more often, and can become good friends.

Some retirement communities attract homebuyers from all over the country. Residents enjoy meeting people they normally wouldn’t have if they hadn’t become part of the community. This eclectic mix of new friends can be fun and interesting.

And when it comes to socializing, besides enjoying the amenities together, there can be various planned community events like BBQs, picnics, and holiday celebrations. It’s not like living in a big city where you may never meet or talk to your neighbors. Kids can go to the same school, grow up together, and graduate. Retirees can go on group trips, join clubs, and relax at wine and dines with their neighbors. Young professionals can relax by the pool with their friends or play a game of golf. Local families can become close and make lifelong friendships.

Pros ­– it’s easier to make friends and meet new people.

Cons – some residents may feel a lack of privacy.

2.   Amenities

One of the main focuses of a planned community is the perks. These can include:

·      Golf courses

·      Swimming pools

·      Man-made beaches and water parks

·      Tennis courts

·      Sports fields

·      Clubhouses for dining and activities

·      Parks and trails

Most recently, smart communities are popping up featuring the latest in smart technology to keep residents connected. Also, community meeting halls are available and facilities to meet clients for those working from home. As our culture changes, so do the amenities homebuyer’s desire.

Pros ­– You don’t have to go far to exercise, picnic, run, bike ride, dine, or meet friends.

Cons – Besides your house payment, you’ll also have homeowner association (HOA) dues.

3.   Gated Communities HOA Fees

Keep in mind that gated communities have additional monthly fees that you wouldn’t have in a typical neighborhood. But, if you usually pay for a gym, country club, or golf course membership ­– and can replace those fees with community amenities – the HOA fees could be worth it. Homeowner associations use the revenue from these fees to pay for the upkeep of amenities, security, and personnel needed to keep things running.

Depending on the community, fees range from $100 to $700. $200 per month is average.

Some communities have a graduated fee structure giving you a choice of what you’d like to access. For example, there could be basic dues and then options to upgrade for swimming or golfing, etc. If you’re considering buying in a gated community with HOA fees, make sure you include that in your house payment to ensure you’ll still qualify.

Also, keep in mind these fees could increase, later on, so leave room in your budget. If you’re going to be on a fixed retirement income, give these extra fees considerable thought.

Pros ­– If you use the amenities, the HOA fees could be more than worth it.

Cons – If you don’t use the amenities, and the fees are high - you may be wasting your money.

4.   Rules ­& Fines

Some people like rules – they think rules help keep things orderly, safe, and in better repair. Others prefer less rules. If you’re part of the latter, think twice before buying in a gated community. Renting for a while may be a good option, so you know what you’re getting into.

One of the advantages of homeownership is that you call the shots. You don’t have a landlord telling you what you can and can’t do. But there is a board of directors in gated communities that controls many aspects of homeownership through CC&Rs.

CC&Rs – Covenants Conditions, & Restrictions  

The CC&Rs spell out the rules of the HOA community and what you can and can’t do. Some of the common rules include:

·      Exterior House color – you may need the approval to paint the outside of your home, and you’ll be given a list of acceptable colors.

·      Exterior design changes ­– there could be rules about adding a porch, fencing, or changing the exterior design.

·      Parking for vehicles RVs ­– there may be a limit on the number of vehicles, and if you can park your RV where neighbors can see it.

·      Barking dogs – if you have a barking dog, it’s best not to try and live in a gated community unless you’re willing to pay lots of fines.

·      Speed limits – a typical speed limit is around 25 miles per hour. If you have a lead foot, it’s easy to get tickets.

·      Noise limits – most communities have security that will enforce noise limits and issue citations.

·      Property maintenance – you’ll need to keep your home and yard looking their best, or you’ll get fined.

·      Rentals – read the CC&Rs before you plan to rent out your home. Make sure there aren’t any rules against it.

·      Holiday decorations – there could also be severe restrictions on outside decorations.

·      Yard sales – some communities outlaw garage sales.

Pros ­– homes in a gated community tend to be better maintained and hold their value well.

Cons – you don’t have 100% freedom to do what you want in a gated community.

5.   Restrictions on Pets

Gated subdivisions will most likely have strict rules on pets. Some dog breeds like German Shepherds, Pitt Bulls, and Rottweilers could be prohibited. The number of pets, as well as the maximum size, may be restricted. That’s especially true for condominiums which in some instances have a no pet rule.

For single-family homes, it’s common to have rules against fencing, which could prove to be a problem. That would mean you’d always have to have your dog on a lease or tied up.

Make sure to read the CC&Rs before purchasing or renting. Pet rules can be challenging if you own a large dog.

Pros ­– the neighborhoods could be safer without dogs running around, and there’s less barking.

Cons – the yard might not work, you may not be able to have pets, or keep the ones you have.

6.   Speed Limits

If driving 25 mph is irritating – reconsider living in a planned community. Or choose a location near a gate because these communities can be massive. When looking at homes to purchase, you may not want to be in the very back of the property because it can take forever to wind through the streets.

A significant advantage of speed limits, on the other hand, is if you have kids – it’s safer for them to play in the street and ride their bikes. And as residents - driving around is more peaceful. You don’t need to worry about cars racing up and down the road.

Pros ­– speed limits make the streets safer.

Cons – you may tire of driving slowly.

7.   Gated Community Access is Restricted

In most communities, there are separate lanes for incoming residents and visitors that need to check-in. Small communities usually have one or two gates. Larger communities will have many. It’s these gates that keep non-residents out. If you don’t live in the community, you won’t be able to get in. When residents, vendors, tradespeople, contractors, and visitors enter and exit – it’s through a gated area.

If you like added privacy, this type of community is ideal. You won’t have to worry about people dropping by unannounced or solicitors coming to the door.

But keep in mind that your friends and family may have trouble getting access. If you’re having a party, you’ll need to give your guest list to the front gate so everyone can get in.

Pros ­– less traffic, more privacy, only authorized people are inside the community walls.  

Cons – lines to get through the gate can belong, and deliveries can be tricky.

8.   Homes May Be Very Similar  

Depending on the community, homes can look quite a bit alike. Although some developments offer a variety of design and exterior colors, which gives a nice variety. If you like things to be orderly and uniform, a gated community could be for you. But if you take pride in expressing your creativity, especially on the exterior of your home and property, think twice.

Some gated community homes look so similar it’s easy for visitors to have trouble finding their destination. The same goes for townhomes and condos with the same color pallet and design.

Many communities have strict rules down to the smallest detail, like keeping the same style of mailbox. You just have to find the builder that fits your preferences. One of the best things you can do is visit several different communities to see what you like the best. There are so many choices you’re sure to find a good fit.

Pros ­– consistency is one of the things that keeps property values up.

Cons – such uniformity can be dull or stifling for those wanting to be creative.

9.   Stable & Increasing Property Values  

In most markets, gated communities hold their value because the homes and neighborhoods are well-maintained. But in a buyers’ market, it might be harder to get a high price on a house that looks exactly like the one down the block. When buying a property, location is always key. That being said, buying a home in a well-maintained and desirable community is almost always an excellent financial choice.

When shopping on sites like Zillow, Redfin, or Trulia, check out the home's sale history to see how it’s held its value and whether it’s appreciated.

Pros ­– neighborhoods are well-kept and homes maintained, so property value usually increases.

Cons – your home might look like many others, so you’ll have built-in competition.

10.        Are gated communities safer?

Having community security is a big draw for many homeowners.  And overall, a private community can be more secure. But the downside of that is that residents might not be as security conscious. So, they leave their doors unlocked and their garage door open. There can be rashes of break-ins and theft.

But overall, gated communities can be safer, and getting help from security is usually quick, which adds to a resident’s peace of mind. 

Pros ­– As a resident, you’ll have extra added security and help when you need it.

Cons – You might not be as security conscious, and your home could be broken into.

Living in a gated community has a lot to offer, from the ease of making new friends to the variety of available activities and appreciating property values. Plan some time to visit several communities so you can see what your options are. Then you can decide if gated living is right for you.

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