- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
Whether you're buying a "starter home" or your "dream home," a house can quickly earn the nickname "the Money Pit" if you don't consider the hidden costs of home ownership.
When comparing the costs of renting to the base purchase price of buying your own home, the numbers usually look like a great deal. But in reality, unplanned fees and the responsibilities of maintenance and repairs can be a huge drag on your bottom line. "Buying a home can be expensive, but what newbie homeowners often don't realize is that the spending has only just begun," noted CPA Liz Weston on the NerdWallet blog. "The hidden costs of homeownership can equal if not exceed the mortgage payments you send to the bank."
While the additional outlay doesn't mean that renting for the rest of your life is the only solution, you should weigh the hidden costs long before you start picking out paint colors. That way, Weston advised, you're able to gauge whether that "affordable" home will trash your budget and you can set aside money for those expenses and develop a back-up plan in case you can't cover the unexpected costs with savings.
Expenses that add to the original mortgage cost
You'll certainly know by the end of your purchase that you have to pay property taxes and insurance on top of your mortgage payment, but it's a good idea to consider them at the outset.
Homeowners' association fees
When you're looking for affordable property, make sure to note whether a condo or development charges HOA fees. These can cost anywhere from $100 per month to nearly as much as a decent apartment rental and you can't opt out of them. Be sure to check (or have your agent check) on the bylaws that dictate when and how these fees can be raised.
"No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership," Brunch & Budget's Pamela Capalad told NerdWallet. Maintenance can include anything from keeping the hedges trimmed and the lawn mowed to cleaning gutters and hiring a chimney sweep annually.
Repairs large and small
A financial planner in Brooklyn, Capalad had brand-new pipes burst four years into owning her home. "There went $2,000 in repairs just like that." No more speed dialing the building maintenance crew when catastrophe hits, either. Instead, you'll have to do it yourself, or, in cases where it's inadvisable, hire somebody. A few of the repairs that could be lurking in your home include any plumbing mishaps that result in standing water and correcting a poor roof design.
You probably learned long ago that warm air and hot water don't just magically flow through your living spaces and into your bathtub, but when you're the homeowner, you're in charge of keeping the source in good repair or (shudder) replacing it when the time comes. You can expect the following lifespans for the equipment that heats your home and water, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:
On the other end of the spectrum - and of particular importance to homeowners in the South - is keeping the air conditioner going. Central AC units have a lifespan of just 7 to 15 years, according to NACHI.
Whether you switch rental arrangements every couple of years or are used to your landlord taking responsibility for replacing appliances, you may be surprised at the cost of replacing appliances yourself. Plan on it, though: "You don't want to be caught off guard when the dishwasher you've been using for a decade suddenly goes on the fritz and you haven't budgeted for its repair or replacement," noted Sears. Assuming you don't get a lemon, you can count on appliance to last at least as long as these estimations:
Looking forward to enjoying lots of time on your new deck? You'd better make sure the deck will be there for you: according to NACHI, deck material doesn't last nearly as long as most homes, predicting that deck planks would last 15 years, composite 8 to 25 years and structural wood 10 to 30 years. Unless the deck was brand-new when you bought it, you might be replacing it sooner rather than later.
Sure, all-wood floors can stand up to hard use for a century. But carpets? They'll go South in 8 to 10 years, according to NACHI. Even if you negotiate an allowance to buy new carpet with the new home purchase price, it will still need replacing pretty quickly.
To narrow your expected home costs even more when you're in the market, hire a good home inspector before you buy, NerdWallet's Weston recommended. A local inspector can give you both an idea of the remaining life expectancy of the house's various components and a rough estimate of how much they'll cost to replace. "It may become apparent that a bargain house will turn into a money pit, while a better-maintained home is worth the extra money."
The solution to hidden home costs, assuming a life with landlords isn't something you're comfortable with, is simply socking away money for potential repairs. "While every situation is different, the typical rule of thumb is to expect to spend an average of one percent to two percent of the value of your home on repairs each year," financial planner Matt Becker told NerdWallet. That may not be the tally every single year, but it should give you a little wiggle room for the years when the big, bad breakdowns (like a broken furnace) occur.
"Chances are, you spent a good chunk of time saving for a down payment, so you're already used to that money being put aside," Capalad told NerdWallet. "The best way to prepare is to continue to maintain a house savings fund, even after you buy the house."