As today’s cash-strapped homeowners forego vacations in favor of sticking closer to home (the so-called "staycation") the idea of creating a relaxing, secluded getaway outside their back door is gaining popularity. Even in a spacious HOA where neighbors aren't wedged together cheek-by-jowl, having a sense of remove from the urban or suburban grid is very attractive to many condo owners searching for a quiet haven. A refreshing oasis. A secret garden. A private retreat.
Can the front entry, the backyard terrace, or the deck of a townhouse or ground-level condominium be transformed into such a space? Jerry Sarno certainly thinks so. “By having a space designed around the way you like to live, your life will be happier and more enjoyable,” says the architect, developer and builder. So when he planned Deer Path Farms in Hudson, Massachusetts, he incorporated his long-held philosophy that homeowners should be involved in the design process from the beginning—for both the interior spaces and the grounds surrounding their single-family attached townhouses.
The outdoor spaces, Sarno says, “are designed to meet the needs and lifestyles of the people living in the home, what they aspire to, and how they like to use the space.” Mounded earth, evergreens and other features create private spaces for each homeowner.
But the Deer Path Farms philosophy is not necessarily the norm for common-interest communities; most condominium owners don't have a hand in designing their spaces from the start. One of the bigger challenges facing condo dwellers longing for that private retreat is that HOAs vary widely in terms of how much land they have available, as well as the restrictions placed on that land. While a good designer can often do wonders with even a small plot, any work customizing exterior space around an individual condo has to comply with an array of constraints. Design professionals advise owners to look into those constraints and answer some important questions long before anybody puts spade to soil or starts shopping for planters at the local garden center. Are residents allowed to plant privacy shrubs on their property lines? What about fencing? What are the association's rules about bringing contractors onto the property? A conversation with your property manager can help clear up questions like these and insure that your project is being carried out within the rules.
According to Attorney David J. Byrne of the Lawrenceville-based law firm of Stark & Stark, New Jersey condominium law defines what is the owner's space and what belongs to the condominium collectively.