The fencing around the perimeter of your community not only helps keep the property secure, but is an aesthetic element that—if designed and maintained properly—can add significant value to residents' homes. Because of the surge in fence improvements and products over the past decade, it's important for condo developments to look at all the options out there and choose a fence that will work best for them.
"From the standpoint of a development, I think it's a really good idea to have fencing around the outside border area and around the perimeter," says Al Livingston of Saratoga Rail Fence & Supply in Voorheesville, New York. "People like the privacy aspect of it, and in most cases, it absolutely adds to the value [of the property]."
For condos that already have fences on their property and are thinking about a change, there are a multitude of options to replace an existing fence with a more cost-efficient and maintenance-free alternative. In New Jersey, a lot of people seem to be changing over from wood to vinyl.
"Over the past five years or so, we have seen the white vinyl fence has become the most popular because it requires almost no maintenance and lasts forever," says Michael Labarabra of Frontier Fencing in Monmouth County. "With vinyl, you're not going to see the fence deteriorate because of weather conditions—water does no damage to it."
Livingston agrees. "Vinyl has completely taken over in New Jersey. The largest growing segment in the fencing community is vinyl, and in ornamental aluminum around association pools. Most condos are switching."
"We commonly see fencing going up around condominium developments, housing developments, and planned communities," says Stephanie Aden of Country Estate Fencing, a fencing company based in Nebraska with distributors throughout the East Coast specializing in polyvinyl fencing.
"Communities and homeowners associations like to use vinyl fence because it looks good consistently throughout the community and will retain its beauty for years to come."
Looking Good, Feeling Secure
The only drawback with vinyl is that at the end of the day, it's plastic—and that might be a problem from the perspective of a landscaping or architectural committee who wants to cultivate an old-fashioned look in around their community.
Not a problem, says Livingston. People may be surprised at what can be done in vinyl these days. "From a design standpoint, with the vinyl, we can do so much now with products that have come out, that we can make a vinyl fence look like an old traditional New England Fence," says Livingston. "Vinyl is not what it was 10 years ago when it was a square profile and you were limited in what you could do. Now everything you can do in wood, you also can do in vinyl. We've done some work where if you were to look at the fence from the road, in a million years you couldn't tell if it was wood or vinyl."
In addition to the growing amount of people switching to vinyl (or PVC), there are three other main fencing types for homeowners to choose from.
"There's wood, chain-link and ornamental, which is usually iron, steel or aluminum," says Chris Raywood of Jan Fence, located in Wayne. "In high-ticket condo areas you find the ornamental fences more. You still see wood, but more people are choosing the PVC these days."
Chain-link is usually the material of choice when the purpose of the fence is more for security reasons than landscaping. These are usually placed around the entire perimeter of the property, but putting a fence up for security purposes really is a decision that each condo community has to make for itself. According to Labarabra, it really depends on the surrounding area.
"If you are in an area where crime is prevalent, the focus of the customer is on security," he says. "Even in areas that are secure, a fence will deter outsiders from trespassing on the property."
For condos that are bordered by non-association residential homes, a fence may signal a sharp—possibly uneasy—divide between HOA and municipality, though according to Raywood, most local neighbors don't have a problem with fences, as long as they're well maintained and don't encroach on their enjoyment of their own property.
"Usually in a condominium it is understood that they would want some type of barrier protection," Raywood says. "A six-foot fence could be something of an eyesore, but it all depends on the location and culture of the neighborhood."
Pickets, Planks, and Prices
Clearly, the price tag for any sort of fencing is determined by the cost of the material more than anything else. Chain-link fences are cheaper than wood, which is cheaper than vinyl, which are usually cheaper than ornamental metals. When replacing a fence, the cost of removing the old fence and installing the new one is almost always factored in to the price.
"A fencing project is typically priced by the foot," says Livingston. "For example, if you are taking out an old fence and installing a six-foot high vinyl privacy fence around a 37-foot backyard (in condos, each homeowner usually has between 35 and 40 feet of fence) the cost would be about $40 or $50 a foot—including labor—so [depending on the product], it would be about $1,400 to $2,000 to do a condo backyard."
According to Livingston, there is a range of price points within any variety of fencing material. The price for vinyl privacy fencing depends on height, type of vinyl, whether the fence-posts are totally hollow or reinforced, and what type of weather sealing treatment has been applied to the material. Vinyl tops the material market, but, says Livingston, homeowners and associations can expect to pay "about $10 or $20 less a foot for chain-link, and maybe $5 to $10 less for wood. If you think about it, for the most part it's a small quantity of fence for each individual homeowner."
There's more to think about than just the bottom line, however. "Don't go cheap for the sake of going cheap," Labarabra warns. "Those back areas can take on a lot of pressure from weather, kids, or whatever the case may be. With all the different products on the market today, it's important for condo associations to do their homework."
In the Zone
Most fences are six feet high, but sometimes a condo may wish to go even higher, whether it's for privacy or security issues. Depending on where you live in New Jersey, there are certain restrictions on the maximum height a fence can be.
"It could become an issue," says Livingston, "because sometimes a condominium might want to do an eight-foot fence and not be able to because that [township's] zoning only allows fences of six feet. It's something that you have to do your homework on and check out. In some areas, [existing fences] are grandfathered in—so if you already have a 10-foot or 12-foot fence, and your HOA is going to replace it, you can usually rebuild it at the same height."
But how do you know what's allowed in your municipality and what's not? According to Labarabra, it's up to the fence company to get the permits and abide by local zoning regulations, but the management and condo board is responsible for paying for the permits. The required documents often vary from town to town and even project to project.
"Sometimes building permits are required and sometimes zoning permits are needed," Labarabra continues, "but the condos should know this in advance. Zoning laws are maintained by the borough where the fence is going up."
And there are HOA regulations to consider as well, says Aden. "Some individual homeowners associations have their own restrictions concerning air flow which prohibit the use of a solid fence—codes and restrictions often apply to fences around pools for safety reasons, too. When you're putting up a tall fence, it's important to take local weather conditions and wind loads into account to determine if additional support—heavy wall posts or aluminum post inserts, for example—is needed to reinforce the fence during high winds."
Keeping them Up
As a rule, fencing companies don't usually offer any on-going maintenance programs for their fences once they put them up; although a warranty on labor is standard and many of the products are guaranteed by the manufacturer as well.
Of course, those who choose vinyl don't need to worry about the problems that wood fence owners do—like rot, termites, moss, splintering, and discoloration.
"The old wood fences, a lot of them rot because of moss or mold," Livingston says. "The good thing about vinyl is that mold doesn't get into it—it only grows on it—so you only have to clean it; maybe a power-wash every three or four years to keep it clean and looking new."
With all fences, the thing that should be monitored most for wear and tear are the posts and gates, since they are the only parts that move. Even with that, however, there isn't much of a need to walk the fence line on a regular basis.
"If you see a section of the fence leaning over, obviously something is wrong," says Raywood. "And every time you open the gate, you're essentially doing an inspection. But aside from that, there really are no daily or monthly things to do to vinyl fencing, aside from cleaning it."
Livingston, whose company deals exclusively in the PVC business now, believes that management companies like the vinyl because they get less phone calls about problems because there is no major maintenance.
"Care in routine yard activities such as mowing, snow removal, and trash burning will help prevent damage to the fence," says Aden. "Any damaged sections should be replaced as soon as possible to prevent additional damage to adjoining sections."
But no matter what the material, a well built, well maintained fence line around an HOA's perimeter can add both beauty and peace of mind. According to Livingston, "From an aesthetic standpoint, the value of the property goes up, and if a homeowner is selling their property, it's more attractive to a buyer. It makes it easier to sell the property."
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.