Florida resident Andrea Piacitelli got her HOA's approval to build a concrete block wall around her rear courtyard and is likely thankful she did. When her neighbor complained about the wall's intrusion, the board of directors' decision stood because Piacitelli had gained approval in advance [source: Sokol].
Gaining approval in advance is advisable to ensure your HOA doesn't come after you once you build a wall, add an addition onto your home, buy a vehicle that might be considered "commercial" or otherwise forbidden, or do any other potentially disruptive action [source: Varga]. Not all of these are going to appear as items listed against the rules of your association; however, just because a behavior is not explicitly restricted does not mean your HOA will consider it acceptable.
Complaints by other neighbors can call attention to your actions. So, if you anticipate that the change you want to make to your house might somehow bother one or more neighbors, approach them before you initiate the change. Anticipate what they might object to. You'll learn they might have legitimate concerns or that they won't complain about your project -- both will be invaluable to know.