Throughout the course of my career I have been struggling to explain the difference between a homeowners association in Teton Valley and what a potential buyer might be used to. There is a huge demand for real estate outside of a subdivision, but I think a lot of that has to do with the perception of what a subdivision usually is in more populated areas. I can distinctly recall many initial conversations to understand a buyer’s wants and needs. Many of them are looking to build a 2400 square foot, 3 bedroom home with a blend of wood siding and mountain moss stone. They’re looking for something with protected views in an area with other similar homes. This is a textbook “preferred design” for many subdivisions that help create building envelopes or guidance on preserving views, yet they don’t want to be in a subdivision. Usually, most buyers warm up to the idea of a rural, Teton Valley subdivision by the time they ultimately pull the trigger on a purchase, particularly when they find out the annual dues simply cover the road plowing and maintenance at a few hundred dollars a year, and everyone is pretty good about minding their own business around here.
To elaborate on subdivision life; there are subdivisions that allow and welcome horses, even a few that allow chickens. Most have a minimum home size between 1200 and 2200 per SqFt. Many subdivisions have landscaping standards, but few abide by them in a strict sense. I’m not aware of any where pets are not welcome, and almost all of allow a privacy fence or dog run. Some have a board of directors, others do not. Some subdivisions have only a few homes where each homeowner takes care of their own snow removal as the development fills out. While I have seen a few circumstances where a landowner has to find a unique way to obtain a view because of the next door neighbor, I have not personally seen a circumstance where a neighbor has deliberately blocked someone’s view. I would guess the average association fee is about $400 per year, and this is usually only to maintain roads and fire ponds. Most subdivisions have the convenience of utilities in the roadway, and a building site that is more or less ready to be built upon. We’ll see if this changes with the influx of buyers, but for the most part, both Teton Valley locals and new members of our community are reasonable, kind, and easy to work with when it comes to resolving issues. Remember that most subdivisions have building sites with an equivalent of two and a half acres or more, but even subdivisions with smaller lots get along all the same from what I can tell. Finally, most subdivisions do not restrict rentals of any kind (at the time of this writing).
Properties that are not within a subdivision can have their downsides, too. If you’re looking to buy 20 acres or more, it usually doesn’t gain you much to be inside (or out) of subdivision. Your neighbors are usually far enough away that the extra few utility trailers they collect won’t bother you much. Regardless, there are a few reasons why being in a subdivision just isn’t going to work out for some:
1) Home Sizes
This is probably the biggest one, and it ties in with the next category. Tiny homes, and in many cases, building guest houses before main houses can be difficult within a subdivision. The concern is making an exception for one person, and setting a precedent. There have also been many circumstances where a guest house is built, but the main house never follows.
2) Manufactured and Modular Homes
This one makes sense. If you invest in an expensive home in a nice development, you would probably like to keep the appearance and value of the homes similar. No, you really won’t find any tract housing in Teton Valley, and values can vary significantly from one street to the other even in the same development, but this is usually where a line is drawn. I should clarify – some modular home companies build an extraordinary product so I would call this case by case with each development.
3) Restriction on Out Buildings
Some developments will be restricted on room, others on that view preservation we talked about earlier. Either way, most subdivisions (even if there is room) would prefer that you don’t convert a potato cellar or quonset into a shop. Many do, however, allow for a barn or detached garage.
4) Conditional Use
Almost all developments restrict commercial use (note that Idaho generally does not recognize rentals as a commercial use) save for an artist studio or in some cases a home business that does not impact the neighborhood. With that said, if you are looking for some sort of conditional use permit for commercial use as viewed by the city or county, you can bet that you aren’t going to get through the homeowners association.
5) Goats, Pigs and Chickens
This one hasn’t been coming up as often as it used to, but with the exception of a few communities, goats, chickens, pigs, cows and other livestock are generally not allowed.
To summarize, it’s best to use your judgment. I understand that there are strict rule followers out there that won’t feel comfortable purchasing in a neighborhood that restricts something, even if everyone else is breaking that rule. With that being said, the drive-by test is the best solution in many cases. Look at each neighborhood. If you’re driving through a golf community and all of the lawns are well manicured, then you are probably going to have to have some sort of landscaping, and you are probably going to have to keep it maintained. If all of the neighbors have horse trailers or campers, you can probably feel comfortable with your camper. You can do the same for building style, building materials, how the neighbors have helped preserve views and so on. Do I know the ramification for breaking the rule(s) when everyone else is doing the same? No, I don’t. Regardless, some people are comfortable with the “cowboy” way of life and unspoken rule of law, and some aren’t.