Well in the US most neighborhoods don't have a HOA anyways. They are a select few, and they setup mostly to keep the values of their homes, and insure a comfortable living environment. . . .
I disagree with the assertion (made by several posters, not just the above post) that HOAs are somehow unusual. It varies by locale, but in general any subdivision* created in the last 30 years has a HOA. The HOA is how the builder ensures that he can sell all the lots over the 10 year period he is building there, because the early owners aren't allowed to do anything that the builder thinks would detract from sales. Unfortunately, the HOA continues to exist after the builder is done and gone.
*Note that by "subdivision" I am referring to the case where a builder buys somebody's farm, and sells lots with homes built by that builder. Not the case where the farm owner subdivides his land and sells lots to private parties who then find their own builder to construct the home.
Yes, I live in a subdivision with an HOA. Although I've not had any problems with the HOA, I dislike it on principal. In particular the fact that every rule ends with "or other rules as may be given by the HOA board." As a result the current idiots on the board can essentially just make up any new rules that they want, without a general vote. And this covers everything from parking to what flowers you plant on your property. They could decide one day that they don't like roses, and demand that all roses be dug-up immediately.
Yes, I read the covenant when I purchased, but since the area which I live was all built up within the last 20 years, almost all property is HOA controlled in one way or another (except for buying a farm). It was a choice of buying a house with an HOA, buying one of the historic farm houses without an HOA -- typically with mold problems, buying farm land and privately building a house, or living in a rental. I didn't realize how much the existence of the HOA would irk me, or I probably would have gone with one of the moldy historic farm houses.
I understand the "you might affect my property value" arguments, but before I had to move for work, I lived for 15 years in a subdivision with no HOA (different state, older development). While I didn't always personally agree with my neighbors choices, none of them were atrocious. One neighbor put up a fence, but he asked me first. I didn't really want a fence there, but gave him my blessing anyway, since it was not an unreasonable request. Contrast to here where my neighbor put up a fence, after asking the HOA, but I had no input even though I am the one affected by it. I still would have said "go ahead," but I would have liked to have been consulted. Its just more "neighborly" somehow.