Sara Benson

There was a time when, be it humble or lavish, your home was indeed your castle. However, with the “Smart Growth” advocates reducing the amount of land available for humans, the municipalities shunting off their responsibilities onto the private sector with their HOA mandates and developers enjoying the spoils of increased density and shoddier construction, our dwelling units are anything but a safe haven. Even the notion that a home is an asset, and a step on the ladder to success is questionable these days. But the biggest canard in all the HOA chatter is that HOAs protect property values.

Sara Benson joins us On The Commons this week. Sara is a Real Estate Broker in Chicago who, with Don DeBat, co-authored a book called Escaping Condo Jail: The Keys to Navigating Risks and Surviving Perils of the “Carefree” Community Lifestyle. We talk to Sara about the book, why she wrote it and what she learned along the way. As a condo owner herself, she is well aware of the problems and pitfalls of condo ownership. We talk about the “carrot” that is dangled in front of housing consumers about the HOA protecting property values. That notion that makes homeowners tolerate the unacceptable is explained and put to rest, once and for all in this interview. A mismanaged association can, and does, reduce property values. We learn that 72% of residential associations are underfunded which means that a special assessment could be looming in their future. But how does a potential buyer know whether the unit they have fallen in love with and want to buy is going to be that special home they dream of or the first step on a trip to the poor house? Resale packages from the association do not give consumers all the information they need to make a good business decision on whether to buy or walk away. We also learn about a new service that is available called Association Evaluation, where consumers can order a comprehensive report on the association they are considering buying in. 

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3 thoughts on “Sara Benson”

  1. Incredible! I lost track of how many times I yelled AMEN while listening to this interview. Priceless information was shared by a brilliant and concerned Realtor who looks out for the best interest of her clients, not her bank account. America MUST educate the real estate agents, legislators, and home buyers and this interview is an excellent place to start!

    I agree with Sara Benson that getting the financial information and board meeting minutes is a MUST before purchasing but even with that I still say every HOA is just one vote away from the nightmare I have lived. No amount of disclosure can guarantee a board member won’t be elected by one vote and then go rogue as so many of them have. But Sara Benson is offering absolutely every idea to try and foolproof the condo ownership situation as much as possible.

    I love the idea of PARSCORE. Although it has been my experience that HOAs do not reveal the true numbers when the inquiries come in.

    I hope her next adventure into HOAs will be to design an election process that cannot be tampered with in an effort to retain the same old cronies on the board.

    A special thanks to Shu for having Sara on her show and unlimited gratitude to both of you for sharing your knowledge. I hope we will hear more interviews with Sara!

  2. I love Sara–talked to her on thie phone. Shel is a powerfull avocate who unders the mountain we are climbing. Just began her book and my hair is curling! I look forward to getting more help from her in advocating for homeowner rights–thanks Nila for linking to this!

  3. I just love the idea of a course for Realtors on HOAs, since many a buyer relies on a real estate agent to help find that “dream home.”

    I have read Escaping Condo Jail, and I highly recommend the book because it serves as a terrific reference for first-time condo buyers, as well as condo owners seeking a more complete understanding of navigating the realities of condo living. The book is easy-to-understand and provides “eyes-open” analysis, unlike the dry legal summaries and Q&A book formats written by HOA attorneys.

    Can all HOAs be improved? I doubt it. But with proper federal housing policy, consumer education and advocacy, only the rare, well-managed HOAs will survive for the benefit of buyers that fully embrace the concept and lifestyle choice. For others, let the market correct itself and provide housing options without HOA government.

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