Joining a homeowner's association is something that can cause somebody new to the neighborhood to make lots of new friends, or find bitter enemies. Because becoming a member in an HOA is almost always required for areas that have them, you may find yourself having to obey bylaws and regulations that you do not even know about.
You should always expect that there will be rules regarding what you can and cannot do with your house in order to maintain the property value for everyone in the neighborhood. For example, painting the front of your house 5 different neon colors will probably result in HOA fines, which, if left unpaid, can result in a lien against your house. Nobody wants to be forced to take less money when it comes time to sell their house because buyers are wary of a single home down the street. HOAs do a fairly reasonable job at keeping property values high, particularly because in places where you find an HOA, you find people who maintain their home and keep it looking nice on the outside.
There will also be rules regarding what you can and cannot do with your property that does not include your house. Phoenix HOA management may have different rules and regulations than say an HOA in Seattle. Solar panels might not be as prevalent in Seattle but rules are established in cities such as Phoenix. Another example is that some HOAs may not allow you to have a temporary shed anywhere on your premises. While it may be useful to you, it can be an eyesore for neighbors, and eyesores bring down property values.
You might even find rules regarding where you can park your vehicle, with some HOA CC&Rs expressly forbidding you to park a car on the curb instead of in your driveway. In addition, rules regarding recreational vehicles might be enforced, with some HOAs not even allowing you to park an RV in your own driveway. While it can be inconvenient, it is all ultimately done to protect everybody's investment in their neighborhood. When moving to a new state or city don’t assume you already know the types of rules that may exist.
Maintaining your home and its appearance is an HOA's big sticking point, uncut grass will result in fines very quickly, along with letting trees grow out too much without pruning them, or even having too much oil on your driveway. Nobody appreciates living next to someone who doesn't mow their lawn often enough, which is why homeowner associations usually take a pretty strict line when dealing with outward appearance.
If the neighborhood you are moving into has an HOA, you can always go to the meetings where the rules are made, complaints can be brought, and fines can be issued. These meetings are open to all homeowners, and everyone in attendance who lives within the bounds of the HOA can speak about anything related to their house, a neighbor's house, or the HOA itself.
Monthly dues will need to be paid to your HOA in order to pay for any block parties it might throw, or to pay for landscaping/maintenance on public land, such as the inside of a cul-de-sac, within the HOA boundaries. Your dues will probably not even exceed 5% of your mortgage payment, but if you do not pay them, just like with the HOA fines, a lien can be put against your house that will force you to pay once you sell your home.
Make your experience an enjoyable one by doing your due diligence, understanding what to expect and realizing your responsibilities when it comes to HOAs.