Homeowners associations (HOAs) can really change the tempo of a neighborhood. If a townhome community has communal areas, say a park, parking lot or recreation center, those are probably regulated and controlled by the HOA. Front and back lawns, on the other hand, are typically your prerogative and responsibility. Rooftop maintenance may also be your concern. Under the wrong circumstances, they can be serious overhead. Find out before you buy whether that's the case.
And while you might want to paint your townhouse in DayGlo shades, chances are about 120 percent that you'd have a homeowners association rep knocking on your door and telling you to tone it down, pronto, if you did. On the other hand, an HOA will also stop your neighbor from stealing your idea to go neon before you get the chance to.
But then there are the dues. Fees – sometimes hefty fees – might be required to fund holiday bashes (whether or not you plan on attending) and other community wants. Perhaps those common areas need regular maintenance; you'll be pulling out your wallet yet again. Find out if there are any add-on costs to living in your intended townhome, and whether or not they're something you feel like paying for. You've got a mortgage, after all. Can you afford a bunch of other bills on top of that?
In other words, if these sorts of neighborly obligations chafe you, you might want to consider another set of townhouses, or just a neighborhood unconstrained by an HOA. If you like the idea of a little order being imposed and don't mind paying for it, an HOA might be just the thing you're looking for.