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Overview of the Architectural Process and Tips to Expedite Approval

People have increased the amount of time spent at home over the last few years, and with that has been an increased desire to make home modifications. However, before renovations can begin, homeowners living in a homeowners’ association must typically go through an architectural review process to ensure their updates are aligned with their community’s CC&Rs and architectural guidelines.

The specific steps of this crucial process are ones that many may not be familiar with, which is why we’ve invited Keystone’s Director of Project Management, Anthony Pesota, CMCA and Janet Navarro, Architectural Supervisor to share their insights on the best way to approach a home renovation or landscape project, navigate the architectural submittal process, and prevent delays that can impact the implementation schedule. However, it’s important to first understand the roles of each party and how the process works.

The Inner Workings of a Well-Oiled Machine

The Keystone corporate model enables the architectural processing department to focus on one specialized aspect of community management in order to provide dedicated and expedient service to homeowners. Currently, the department processes an average of 1,500 applications per month. Their purpose is two-fold.

First and foremost, it provides homeowners with concentrated resources that understand the intricacies of each association’s architectural and landscape guidelines, particularly with new developments, as well as the ability to efficiently route applications to and from the architectural review committee, professional architect, and/or the board of directors of the designated HOA. Secondly, it alleviates pressure from the community management team, freeing up their time to facilitate the various aspects of the association’s maintenance and carry out the board’s directives.

Understanding the Architectural Review Process

Keystone’s architectural processing team recommends every homeowner wishing to modify the exterior of their home or make landscape improvements first review the community’s architectural and landscape guidelines and CC&Rs. These governing documents typically outline specific information about what can or cannot be done to a home or yard including the approved paint palette options for the exterior of the homes, the type of fencing or other structures allowed on the property, structural height restrictions, the materials that may or may not be used in modifications, and the type of plant species that are allowed (or not), just to name a few. It’s also crucial to have the contractor(s) that are involved in the project review the governing docs as well as ensure that all the rules and regulations are adhered to.

Once the homeowner and the contractor determine what the project entails, the homeowner should fill out an architectural submittal form, complete with all the required information, then submit it along with any required processing fees and the plans to accompany to illustrate the specific changes desired. Keystone highly recommends all requests, payments, and supporting documentation be submitted together to avoid delays in the process.

Attempting to align disjointed applications with their additional pieces can take time due to the sheer volume of applications that are processed on a monthly basis. When the architectural request and its supporting documentation are paired and ready for submission, the architectural processing team will date stamp every request as it is received. Once it is logged, they then forward the full package to the review board.

The architectural review board can vary from association to association but typically consists of members of the board of directors and/or a designated community architectural review committee. Oftentimes, especially with new home developments, applications can require approval from a third-party, professional architect before it goes to the board for final review.

Account review periods can vary, depending on the association and how often the board or committee meets.

A typical timeframe can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days depending on how many review steps are required and the frequency of review meetings. Each application is different and calls for detailed coordination by the team and prioritization of incoming requests to keep the timeline moving. Once the initial review process is completed by those empowered on behalf of the community, the Keystone architectural processing team receives the decision on the application and scans and logs in the approval or denial into the tracking system. They then generate letters to all relevant parties, package the request, and mail it back to the homeowner as soon as possible before the  .

It is important to note the architectural process team acts as a facilitator for the architectural review committee and /or the board of directors and does not have the authority to approve or deny requests. They are, however, diligent in routing, tracking, and overseeing the process in its entirety.

What an Architectural Application Entails

A typical architectural application consists of several pages and requires information from the homeowner such as name, address, and detailed descriptions of the desired modifications or improvements to accompany their request. It also includes detailed submission instructions, indicates how much the processing fees are, and outlines the review process to manage expectations.

Since architectural and landscape guidelines vary from association to association, it’s worth mentioning again that homeowners should carefully review their design guidelines and CC&Rs regarding any community view protections and regulations, as well as the specific requirements for submittal. Some properties may not have these guidelines explicitly laid out, while others may require paperwork for any exterior changes, even for requests as small as seasonal planting.

For example, backyard landscaping that doesn’t go beyond the fence line may have looser restrictions, although most developments have fuel modification plans in place restricting certain plants to prevent the spread of wildfire and should be adhered to. Homeowners can find out what is allowable plant material by reviewing their CC&Rs. Generally speaking, any changes visible in common areas need HOA approval, but it depends solely on what the community requires.

Ensuring the Stamp of Approval

It’s beneficial for homeowners to check with their HOA about the architectural process before completing any work to prevent wasted time and costs for changes that aren’t approved Knowing what is allowable within the community and what the architectural review committee expects to see will save time in the long run.

For instance, while many communities have pre-approved paint schemes, they may still require an application to be submitted to formally document the changes, even when following these guidelines. Additionally, it is commonly required to obtain signatures from immediate neighbors acknowledging that they have been notified of and approved of the plans.

When an application is denied, the homeowner has the opportunity to amend the plans to align with the community guidelines and resubmit for another review. Keystone’s architectural department team tracks and facilitates each step of the way. As long as homeowners abide by the association’s guidelines, the plans should garner a stamp of approval. If the homeowner feels the decision was denied in error, they have the option of appealing the decision at a future board meeting.

It’s unwise for a homeowner to move forward with any modifications without the review and approval of the architectural committee. If architectural updates aren’t approved and home improvements are still made, the board of directors can then choose to:

  • Schedule a hearing with the homeowner
  • Fine the homeowner if there’s no resolution
  • Engage in dispute resolution with internal support
  • Exercise legal escalation

Understanding that by enforcing the architectural guidelines of an established HOA, the community will maintain a cohesive and appealing aesthetic that will uphold property values and protect investments.

Final Tips to Expedite Architectural Approval

Application submission itself is straightforward but the oversight and facilitation of the process are where Keystone’s architectural processing department can assist both the homeowners and the architectural review committee. Orange County homeowners can drop off completed application packets at Keystone’s Irvine office or in Ontario for those living in the Inland Empire. or simply drop them in the mail. To help expedite the process, every homeowner should:

  • Review community design guidelines with contractors prior to design and application submittal
  • Ensure checks are payable to the association, not Keystone
  • Review a final time for the thoroughness of application completion and make sure the deposit payment, if required, is enclosed
  • Send the application, supporting documents, and payment in one package to the Ontario office for Inland Empire communities or the Irvine office for Orange County communities, or email all required documents if no payment is required

To check on architectural requests, homeowners can log in to Keystone’s homeowner and board member portals at for status updates, including the date received, the type of request, and whether or not the request has been approved. For additional information and support regarding the architectural process, contact Keystone to get the conversation started.

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