Many Americans live in a gated community, where homes (often built by the same developer) are surrounded by some sort of wall or physical barrier that has limited entry points, plus a gate to stop outsiders. The gate may have an actual guard on duty or it may simply have a keypad.
The rationale behind gated communities is, obviously, to enhance security. Residents ideally don't need to worry that random passersby will cause personal harm to them or burglarize their homes. The guards may not only patrol the gate, but walk around checking for potential issues.
But is the reality of a gated community all it's meant to be? Not necessarily. Here are some issues to consider before you buy a home in a gated community.
Like many developments of new homes, gated communities tend to mix individual with joint ownership of common areas, and be governed by rules and regulations enforced by a homeowners' or community association, sometimes called an HOA. (If you've ever lived in a condo, it's a similar regime.)
These rules and restrictions have their own pluses and minuses. Having community-wide aesthetic standards, limits on pets, and a board to make sure common areas are maintained can make your life more predictable and easy, and keep up property values.
But the restrictions can chafe, too, particularly if your life circumstances change. Perhaps you'll marry someone who wants to move in but has a dog over the poundage limit; or perhaps you'll decide it's time to take a one-year sabbatical, but can't rent out your place in the meantime, due to community prohibitions.
Before finalizing your purchase of any home subject to a community association, read the governing documents carefully and (if the community has already been built) research what it's like for other people living there.
Forget casual visits by friends who happen to be in the area. Most visits will need to be arranged in advance; or your friend will have to wait while the guard contacts you and receives an "okay."
That may have a certain appeal, but it can be difficult when, for example, you're having a party or remodeling. If there's a guard at the gate, you'll likely need to supply a list of who will be attending your event or working on your property.
And it goes without saying that community diversity is often reduced in gated communities, both in terms of who lives there and who spends time in any parks or common areas.
If a fellow resident has a party or is remodeling, you may find yourself waiting in line to access your own property. Or, you may wonder why your cleaning person is late in arriving to your home.
A determined criminal can hop walls, sneak under gate posts or past guards, and gain access to entry codes (residents often give codes out to friends and service people, even if they're not supposed to). A thief's determination might be fueled by the perception that the gates surround a wealthy community, containing expensive property ripe for the picking.
Also bear in mind that your guard (if any) is just a human being, and is unlikely to be armed or ready to respond to a serious threat beyond calling in police, fire, or other professional personnel.
At least you probably won't have to deal with many run-of-the mill door-bellers, trying to sell you newspapers.
Again, advance research is your most important task if you're seeking a safe and secure community in which to purchase a home. Ask lots of questions, and ask to read the security-provider's contract with the community.