Most town homes and condo communities are monthly HOA fees. Most single family homes are yearly association fees. Each association sets their own payment plans. In townhomes and condo communities normally the fee is paid every month. In single family communities the fee is normally paid once a year, split into 2 payments and paid every 6 months or split into 4 payments and paid once per quarter, although quarterly payments are rare.
Each community varies as to what the fee actually covers. For town homes and condos, generally lawn and common area maintenance is always included. As to exterior maintenance, any and all utilities, this varies greatly for each subdivision. For single family homes, the HOA fee will generally cover common area maintenance, swim, and tennis (if available). If you are looking at a single family community and the HOA seems high compared to others you can bet the HOA fee includes lawn maintenance. A great example of this is the Old Suwanee subdivision off McGinnis Ferry.
A Buyer's Agent can tell you exactly what is included in the HOA fees for any subdivision. If you are already working with an Agent, this is a great place to start. If you are not, Buyer Representation is FREE in Georgia so you should interview Agents and select the one you mesh with best to help you. It cost you nothing to have an agent in your corner to walk you through the home buying process, negotiate on your behalf and ensure you are receiving the best deal on the best property that meets your needs. If you need help finding a Buyer's Agent, REBAC (Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council) is a good place to start, http://www.rebac.net.
You can search for Accredited Buyer Representatives by city, county, etc. and request interviews or additional information from these agents to help you get started.
Happy House Hunting!