IN DEFENSE OF THE COOKIE-CUTTER HOME
Housing inventory is tight. For every home going for sale, there are 10 serious offers on it. With that being said, home builders are trying to generate as cookie-cutter homes as possible to feed Southern California's insatiable demand. These communities are springing up, especially in more undeveloped areas like Santa Clarita, the Antelope Valley, and San Bernardino.
Quality ranges from regrettable KB Homes to luxurious Toll-Brothers in Porter Ranch. Head to Santa Clarita, and almost everything you see is in a Homeowner's Association (HOA). This author knows of at least 5 developments in Sylmar - some with big money and some with private money.
And have you seen those Reseda Ranch homes (pictured here)? Why are some of them up to $850,000?!
If you're like most Valley residents, you're against these houses. We're spoiled with space. Our DTLA counterparts are packed together with traffic and high-rises, while our Santa Clarita neighbors live in tight communities.
If you're in the Valley, you expect breathing room. Tolerable traffic, wide roads, easy parking, and a pretty front lawn are all our right - not a privilege. But with a damning housing shortage in sight, more residents are resigning themselves to the antithesis of Valley living: the cookie-cutter home. Some studies even show that Millennials significantly prefer fixer-uppers over these!
If you're being forced to choose, don't feel too bad. They have their own serious advantages over single-family residences. For some, they might even be preferable.
Safety is a Concern
Although crime in this city is on the perpetual downswing, there's an argument to be made for not worrying about break-ins. With cameras, gates, and security, HOA communities have near-spotless crime records.
If you travel extensively, live alone, or just prefer to sleep with peace of mind, then these homes are valuable. The average SFR doesn't have a fence. In fact, some SFR neighborhoods outright disallow fences.
Furthermore, many folks whose children leave the house move to a HOA. There are also those who want a senior community, while still maintaining their independence. Without paying fees, getting too close to neighbors, or having the stigma of a senior community, they find the right balance between safety and separation.
You Want Turn-Key Ready
The average SFR is more than 50 years old. When you purchase these homes, you inherit multiple generations of use and abuse. Although you can do your best in physical inspections, you are purchasing a used item. There will always be problems.
Cookie-cutter homes are generally less than half as old. Furthermore, the HOA maintains the area around the home. Landscaping, driveways, and the exteriors are regulated. Even your neighbors are forced to care for their house!
There is a backlash among homebuyers for paying exorbitant amounts of money for old, outdated houses. With HOA homes, this much less of a concern.
Pool and Other Amenities - Without the Maintenance
Want a basketball court, but only use it a few times a year? How about swimming pools without the maintenance? Does your son want a jungle gym only a 3-minute walk away? Many HOA communities have a variety of these amenities.
You can use these amenities without the burden of owning them. Swimming pools, for example, are known to add $30,000 to the cost of a single-family residence. If you desire to create one, then look closer to $50,000. That's a lot of money to use something 3 months a year. Instead, pay a small HOA fee to swim whenever you want - and someone maintains it for you. For the outgoing types, you now also have a community area!
These homes are on average 5-10% cheaper than similar SFRs. Buyers in this market are usually shopping at the maximum of their purchasing power. This amount makes a noticeable difference.
To put it in perspective, buyers can choose to exchange some land for another bedroom, an upgraded kitchen, or an open-floor concept. Now, kids don't have to share bedrooms, or the stay-at-home parent has an office space. Buyers strapped for cash don't have to invest in new floors or a bathroom when moving in - can can reposition their money towards furniture.
This change in price can be as much around $300-$600 less a month in a mortgage. That's a significant chunk of change to save on for 30 years. Furthermore, if any of the above-mentioned benefits appeal to you, then even better!
You're Tired of Maintenance
Land comes with a host of costs. Although younger buyers favor land, older ones tend to forego it. It certainly makes sense, given that first-timers are likely to be starting a family. Regardless, the HOA community is for those that are tired of mowing the lawn, painting the walls, and fighting off pests.
Although you receive pleasure from having your own yard, it easily costs thousands of dollars a year. If you have a gardener, then that's a fee. Anytime you're adding, subtracting, or altering your landscape, you're paying for that too. Even the mere fact of having land puts expensive landscaping fantasies in your head. There's also an increased risk of rodent and pest infestation - which can lead to a slew of foundation and structural issues.
The HOA takes all of those risks away. You simply live in your house. Everything outside is taken care of.
(Bonus) You're Looking for Rental Properties
HOA communities make excellent investment opportunities.
Bedroom-per-Dollar - Bedrooms are a surefire way to increase your rental value. These homes almost always have bedrooms and cost less. This is as opposed to a SFR, which tend to have less bedrooms and cost more.
HOA Maintenance - Renting out a SFR requires someone to maintain it. This might not be a burden your tenants want, or a cost you want to hire a gardener for. $100 a month for a landscaper can eat into slim margins. In an HOA, you won't have to worry about this.
Turnkey-Ready - When you buy a SFR to lease, its condition is generally worse. As discussed previously, HOA homes are newer. Furthermore, a nice interior can sell faster!
Amenities - Studies show that renters tend to be younger. A community swimming pool or playground will cater to their children.