by: Wild Bill, aka The Texas Authority

About me:  I have been the President of my HOA in Texas for the past 20 years.  I’ve been an accountant, financial advisor, Controller and CFO for literally hundreds of Texas businesses and business owners.  I’ve been involved in local, state, and national politics, and I’ve been a provider for my family for over 50 years here in Texas.  It’s a great place to live, so lean on me and listen up.

Depending on where you build your custom home here in Texas, you may be subject to the rules and restrictions of a property owner association. The popularity of such property owner associations, more commonly called Home Owner Associations (HOAs), has increased dramatically over the last 40 years.  

Today it is estimated that 75 million people in the USA reside in such “covenanted” communities, with standards and specifications that apply to all residents.  

Driving the popularity of these associations is the desire to protect property values and insure an ambiance that makes for a higher quality of life in the neighborhoods they govern.

So before committing to any specific HOA, it is imperative to understand the way these organizations work. Not all HOA’s are created equal.

The Basics

Property owner associations in Texas are formed as legal entities by the filing of a set of founding documents, typically described as “Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions”(CC&Rs).  

Usually these covenants are accompanied by a set of “Bylaws” which lay out essential standards for its residents to live by.  As the association matures, the governing Board may also develop a set of Rules to supplement these founding documents.  

Together these written instruments form the framework for a distinctive neighborhood.  All of these written documents should be available to the public at large, so you should request these governing documents and READ THEM.  

When you acquire a piece of property that is part of an HOA, these documents will become restrictions to your deed.  From that point on you will be required to subordinate your personal preferences to the terms and conditions set forth in them.

4 Things To Watch For

1.  Architectural Specifications

One of the primary goals of an HOA is to set standards for the construction and maintenance of the structures within the development’s boundaries.

Serious consideration should be given to the types of materials and design characteristics authorized by the CC&Rs, as they may limit your options for your new home.

Issues such as roof height, percentage of masonry, setbacks, and fencing specification may all be regulated, so any applicable CC&Rs should take center stage in the planning process if you are building a custom home.  This is why it is important to READ THE DOCUMENTS.

2.  Behavioral Restrictions

No one wants to build a home in a neighborhood that allows junk cars to be parked in the driveways, or one that allows animals to roam the streets untethered, or ignores rubbish and debris on a homeowner’s property. 

Do the CC&Rs for your HOA address these kinds of issues?   

Other behaviors that may be addressed in the CC&Rs are overnight parking on the streets, prohibition of invasive noise levels, operation of a business out of your home, rental restrictions and even visitor restrictions.  Again it’s important to READ THE DOCUMENTS.

3.  Association Management

With the increase in residential planned developments has come a proliferation of off-site property management companies to offer services that an HOA may need or desire.  

Although the general policies for the neighborhood fall to an elected Board of Directors, it is instructive to understand who runs the day-to-day affairs of the HOA.  

For example, if the community  irrigation system springs a leak on Saturday afternoon, who shuts off the water valve?  If the common restrooms clog up, who calls the plumber?  If a homeowner persists in accumulating debris in his backyard, who confronts the situation to effect a cure?

Attendance at a Board meeting should enlighten your understanding of who does what to maintain the standards and ambiance of your prospective community.  Additionally, you might reach out to the President or other members of the HOA directly, to better understand the culture and expectations of the community.

4.  Association Fees

The life blood of an association’s health is the amount of money available to carry out its prescribed duties.  These funds are derived from assessments levied on the property owners by the Board of Directors.  

Whether or not such assessments are reasonable is a subjective judgement call, but it must be noted that these financial obligations are mandatory and ongoing.  They must be considered as a cost of living factor moving forward, and you should expect to pay your dues.

Before committing to an association’s rules, it would be wise to understand what triggers an increase in fees.  Is there a limit on yearly increases?  What conditions permit a “special assessment”? Or are the fees frozen? 

An HOA operating without the ability to adjust to future inflation may be placing itself in a short-sighted bind.  And, ignoring the possibility of special circumstances which might arise could be risking the future for the convenience of the present.  The only way to know these factors is to READ THE DOCUMENTS.

Tips for Success

For additional insights into the character of your prospective neighborhood, drive the neighborhood.  Drive the streets in the daylight, and in darkness.  Drop in on weekdays, and on weekends.  And while you’re at it…

Talk to the neighbors.  Find out from them if there are any problems.  Take their pulse to see how they like living in their restricted community.

The Verdict

If your thorough examination leads you to commit to an HOA neighborhood, then commit wholeheartedly.  Be supportive.  Be a contributor.  Volunteer.  You are committing to a lifestyle that will preserve your property’s value, and enhance your quality of life.  Congratulations and welcome to Texas.

Designing a custom home can be overwhelming, to say the least. From hardware finishes to wall paint, landscaping, windows, flooring, and more, there is an infinite number of options to choose from. And while that is, of course, the whole idea behind a custom home, it doesn’t make it any less challenging to wade through the details and narrow down your selections – especially if you’re new to the process.

So, what’s the solution? Do you simply go with the builder recommendations and settle for a carbon copy of the neighbor’s layout? Or do you fully embrace the stress and decision process in order to get what you really want?

Well, it turns out that there’s a middle ground and it entails hiring an interior designer.

Now, if you’ve never considered a designer or aren’t really sure what it is they do or if they’re worth the money, fear not. Today, we’re breaking down exactly what to expect when working with one, and we guarantee it’ll make that decision just a little bit easier for you to manage. Because when it comes to a custom route, we want you to get it right with the least amount of stress possible.

What does an interior designer do?

At a basic level, interior designers guide you from start to finish in the custom home building process, helping you achieve your ideal style, all while staying within your budget and keeping your goals at the forefront of the design. They’re different from the builder in that they are not working exclusively with the structure itself, but also taking into account how you want to use each space – all the way down to your choices in furniture and decor. Whether you have a spacious home office at the top of your “must-have” list, or you need to prioritize your growing family and your love of entertaining guests, an interior designer keeps your specific needs in mind and can make recommendations that will dramatically improve the layout and experience of your custom home.

How much does it cost?

The cost of an interior designer ranges dramatically, depending on the designer you use and the level of service they provide. Most designers will offer a range in their service levels, starting with project consulting and moving all the way up to full-service design work. Project consulting is usually reserved for small design challenges such as choosing paint colors or a furniture layout in a space. Full-service design work is the start-to-finish process that likely comes to mind when you think of interior design; a designer will run point on your entire project from the construction phase through to selecting your furnishings. 

The fee structure can be hourly or charged as a flat fee, but regardless of the method, you can expect to pay a “designer fee” for their expertise on top of the cost of any furnishings or decor. This can range anywhere from $1,000-2,000 all the way into the $10,000 + range. The reason behind the wide variety of charges, of course, is experience. The more veteran a designer is, the higher their hourly rate or flat fee will be. However, while you may be paying more, you’re also receiving top-notch service and they’ve spent their entire careers perfecting the design process, so it’s truly a hands-off and stress-free experience. 

What are the benefits?

Having an interior designer working alongside you every step of the way typically makes the custom home building process much smoother in the long run. Not only do they take the lead from a project management standpoint, but they also help to eliminate the overwhelm when it comes to selecting the right elements for your home. In a full-scale design situation, they work with you first to understand your lifestyle needs and the home styles you tend to gravitate towards. Then, they help you to stick to that goal as you progress through the entire custom building process. Rather than getting distracted by another shiny new finish, they keep you rooted in what you actually want, and take the vast majority of work off your plate. Plus, hiring an interior designer ensures that you won’t pay double for mistakes down the road like buying furniture that isn’t to scale or choosing flooring that doesn’t meet the needs of your busy family.

What are the drawbacks?

Aside from the high cost of hiring an interior designer, designers aren’t necessarily the right choice for everyone. If you’re the type of person who really enjoys a more hands-on approach and actually wants to be a major player in the custom building process, then having a designer on your team could be a detriment. It might feel like too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Additionally, you have to be very intentional about which designer you choose. Every designer has their own style, and it ranges drastically from ultra modern and minimalist to traditional and vintage-inspired. If you select a designer only for their cost structure, for instance, you may end up with someone whose design style is in complete opposition to your own (and you could hate the final product as a result).

What should I look for when hiring a designer?

This brings us to our next point: hiring an interior designer is a process. You absolutely want to avoid simply choosing a designer based on a single factor alone. Take the time to really vet your options before signing a contract. Price, naturally, is a top consideration. After all, you need to stay within your budget to build a successful custom home. But in addition to this, you’ll want to dig into each designer’s portfolio. Do their designs make you swoon? Or do you find yourself muttering “not my style” under your breath while viewing each photo? While designers do work for a wide range of clients with all different styles, they tend to have a “type” that they prefer to design for, and a quick look through their website and portfolio will tell you all you need to know. 

Beyond a designer’s style, you may want to have a call or consultation with several to determine if they are a good fit for you personality-wise. It may seem unnecessary, but remember that the custom home process is lengthy and there can be a lot of emotions wrapped up in each decision. You want to work with someone who not only has your best interests in mind, but also with someone you feel comfortable working with (even if things get a bit tricky or complicated).

Finally, don’t forget to take into account a designer’s experience in the industry. Newbies who have just started their careers can absolutely create stunning work, but sometimes they are a bit too green to take on a massive custom home project. It may be better to go with a designer who has a thick portfolio of work and a seemingly endless list of positive reviews from past clients. You’ll need to assess your comfort level with this.

A custom home is an amazing route to take in the DFW area – especially when you can choose exactly the finishes that you know will make you and your family happy for years to come. But before you take on the entire load alone, make sure you at least consider hiring an interior designer. It may make the process seamless and enjoyable rather than stressful and time-consuming. And as long as you follow this list of considerations when making that decision, you’re sure to end up with a designer who fits your style to perfection.

by: Wild Bill, aka The Texas Authority

Quick summary for y’all transplants to Texas:  If you’re thinking about building a house here, watch out for the Homeowner Associations.  They are everywhere, and that’s part of what makes Texas great.  Keeps the riff-raff out.

Unless you’re building out in the sticks, your property and home are likely governed by an HOA.  And, there’s likely to be a group of neighbors who run that HOA and can be, let us say, exacting in their expectations.

BTW, I have been the President of my HOA in Texas for the past 20 years.  I’ve been an accountant and financial advisor and CFO for literally hundreds of Texas businesses and business owners, and I’ve been involved in local, state, and national politics and a provider for my family for over 50 years here in Texas.  It’s a great place to live, so lean on me and listen up.

The background of the HOA

Homeowner Associations evolved as America evolved, coming out of World War II.

The concept of a “planned community” in America began to blossom after World War II with the development of Levittown, NY, on Long Island, which was developed primarily for veterans returning from the war as a place to live.

The community was designed with uniform construction standards and a loose-knit set of rules to govern the activities of its residents.  The success of this model became popular as residential developments increased over the decades and America’s residential housing market grew by leaps and bounds through the last half of the 20th century.

With the growth of suburbia came the increasing formalization of these residential property arrangements into legal organizations, which have today come to be known as Homeowner Associations.

Today in Texas there exists a body of laws known as the Texas Property Code, which governs the powers and limitations of these entities. 

Since homeowners typically subordinate many of their property rights to the Covenants and Restrictions of the underlying Homeowner Association, it is prudent to step lightly into the world of HOAs.

If you want to build a custom home in Texas, the existence of these kinds of restricted residential developments is a major factor to be considered.

Are you comfortable with property restrictions?

The answer to this question will determine whether you choose an HOA community—or not. Residential property owners tend to divide into two groups on this question:

The first group enjoys the unfettered freedom to choose.  Their point of view is that their residence is private property, subject only to their own individual tastes and desires.  Their independent nature, akin to the Texas mentality, asserts that a person’s home is their castle and therefore not subject to anyone’s rules or restrictions.  

Consequently, if they want to paint their front door lime-green and use a busted toilet as a planter on their front porch, they can do it..  If they want to park their riding lawnmower in the front yard and their first family car in the backyard, they can do that.  It’s their property!

The fundamental concept of an HOA is probably not for these people.

The second group, perhaps being at a different place in their lives, perceives that the ambiance of their living environment depends to a large extent on the housekeeping proficiencies of their surrounding neighbors. 

Committed to the upkeep of their own residence, they welcome the idea of a uniform set of rules in their community–and the ability to enforce them.  To them, it’s important that all residences be kept in good repair;  it’s important that the overall appearance of the neighborhood be pleasant—even delightful; and, that the usage be restricted to residential only.

HOAs have their advantages in this respect.

Since these two groups obviously don’t mix well in a residential setting, under current Texas law the Property Code sets up the mechanics of a quasi-governmental entity designed to give the second group exactly what they want.

A Homeowner Association can set standards for its entire community and thereby define architectural specifications, behavioral limitations, and penalties for a variety of deviations. 

Through the legal instrument of Deed Restrictions, part of the contract in any HOA-governed community, the association can require every property owner to subrogate their rights to the association’s Articles of Covenant thereby ensuring an enforceable standard of uniformity for the whole neighborhood.

So, in searching for the ideal location for your custom-built home, in Texas, you have two clearly defined options:   To HOA or not to HOA.  The choice is yours, and welcome to Texas.

When building your custom home, landscaping may be the last thing on your mind. Considering all of the decisions that go into the interior of your home, it’s fairly easy to push it aside for a later time. But before you shelf the world outside your windows, you may want to at least come up with a gameplan in time for planting season.

Every area of the country, of course, has its own unique climate, and North Texas is no exception. So when it comes to your landscaping, you don’t want to start planting any old tree or flower on a whim. Getting the right mix of plants – and ideally perennial plants native to Texas – that will survive and thrive in the heat and in the proper soil is a must. Not only does it ensure the health of the plants themselves, but it also helps to establish your own peace of mind. And trust us when we say that a self-sustaining landscape design is worth every second of planning. In the long run, it’s far less work and it allows your home to blend in with its natural surroundings.

Large-Scale Trees & Shrubs

Perhaps the most maintenance-free of plant choices, trees and shrubs offer both shade and a variety of visual height and silhouettes to bring your custom home to life. Our state tree – pecan – is an obvious starter choice since its wide-spreading branches offer shade and an added bonus of fresh pecans right in your own backyard. Additionally, oaks and maples are great shade trees to plant given their hardiness in high heat climates and their vibrant autumn colors. For ornamental trees that add an infusion of color and sweet-smelling blooms to your yard, you can’t go wrong with crape myrtle, yaupon holly, Texas mountain laurel, or magnolia.

Ideal shade shrubs include boxwoods, hydrangea, yews, and Rose Creek abelia – many of which produce a show of flowers each year. For full sun areas, stick to junipers for added height and nandinas and Purple Diamond loropetalum for a splash of pink and purple in your garden.

Flowers

It’s always a good idea to add a bit of color into the mix, and given our sun-soaked land here in Texas, there are endless species available to use. Generally speaking, you want to layer your flowers in a way that balances things visually. Keep the higher-growing plants towards the back of your garden and the lower ones in front so each gets its chance to shine (and you don’t miss out on the array of gorgeous colors that will bloom). 

Salvia adds a beautiful purple color into the mix, is incredibly hardy, and keeps pests away while inviting an array of butterflies and hummingbirds into your garden. For show-stopping blooms, you can opt for hibiscus (Lord Baltimore or Moy Grande) or rose (Belinda’s Dream or Knock Out); both are larger than life and a lush tropical aesthetic to your landscaping. And of course, for flowers with ultra-fragrant and colorful blooms, be sure to pepper in some gold star esperanza, Fourth of July roses, Mexican plum, or sweet white violet. 

Groundcover

Groundcover plants, while not essential, are excellent landscaping options – especially if you’re looking to fill empty spaces or provide a layer of texture to your lawn. They also help to create a healthy environment for surrounding plants since they act as “rain gardens” of sorts, soaking up any excess hydration and preventing larger plants from being overwatered. They also serve to minimize weed growth and halt erosion and soil damage.

A few go-to groundcovers we love that provide a nice lush green color include straggler daisy, cedar sedge, silver ponyfoot, and horseherb. For groundcover plants that add a touch of color, consider incorporating primrose, phlox, or verbena.

Grasses

Of course, choosing the right grasses for your custom home’s landscaping is a must as well. Grasses can, admittedly, struggle to survive in North Texas for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the soil is not well-maintained or does not drain properly (and this is especially the case for custom home lots that have seen massive soil compaction during the building process), so getting the right balance of nutrients is essential. Other times, people plant the wrong grasses for the level of sun or shade that their lawn receives each day. Different species of grasses will thrive in different environments, so you’ll want to choose the right one so you don’t have to replace it a short time down the road.

In general, grasses that thrive in full sun include Bermuda grass and buffalograss. Partial shade grasses to consider include St. Augustine and Zoysia. Shade grasses are a bit more difficult to grow, but there are several species that do well overall in these areas. These include Mondo grass, fescue, and bluegrass. You can also opt for more ornamental grasses to add some height and texture to your garden; zebragrass, purple fountaingrass, pampasgrass, and inland sea oats are excellent candidates.

Whether you are drawn to the larger silhouettes of trees and shrubs, prefer a burst of color in your garden, or enjoy the simplicity of a grass-filled lawn, getting the right landscaping for your custom home is an incredibly important step in the building process. Because as thrilling as it may be to see your home come to life within its four walls, without a strategically-placed mix of plants, it will feel stark, empty, and completely void of curb appeal. And while landscaping is certainly lower on the list of items to complete, it’s something you definitely don’t want to skip.