Tara's answer is on the money. The only thing I would add is going to a HOA meeting and talking to the board members and the management company to get a feel for how well the community is run. For example, are the reserves in place to handle future repairs such as pools, fences, sidewalks, or what ever else may be covered in the HOA. This way you are not surpirsed with an assessment the moment you move in.
Best of luck!
Unfortunately the amount of the HOA dues for a given property cannot be negotiated by a prospective home buyer. The home owner's dues are determined by the board from an operating budget and fulfilling required reserve amounts. However, if you were to purchase in an HOA governed community there is opportunity to become involved in the association and influence decisions made by the board (possibly becoming a board member at some point). But that all takes time and a good deal of dilligent effort.
If high HOA's are unattractive, it's best to only consider properties that have dues that makes sense to you. Buying a property and then resenting the high HOA's later would be all too frustrating.
Please let me know if you need any further assistance. If you're not working with an agent, I would love an opportunity to earn your trusted business.
Best of luck... there's a ton of opportunity out there right now!
San Diego Real Estate Specialist
Residential Sales and Appraisals