August 2013 Blogs

7 MORE Hidden Costs of Ownership:

Spreadsheets are a double-edged sword to today’s smart home buyer.  They empower you to track and easily calculate out all sorts of scenarios around your home buying and ongoing costs, allowing you to take the age-old art of due diligence to the next level with today’s technology.  This helps you feel like you’re doing your job and are in control of your purchase, your process and your finances–and like you have a plan that covers every contingency and allows you to make the right decisions.

But have you ever heard that saying about the best laid plans?  Owning a home is like being responsible for any other constantly evolving, complex organism: it is not 100 percent predictable.  You can absolutely get a handle on your mortgage and interest, and ensure that they are predictable for the life of your loan.  But try as you might, even the most diligent and financially responsible of spreadsheet stars can (and often do) miss some home-related expenses.

Don’t let the potential for unexpected costs of home ownership turn you off. Do let it underscore the brilliance of adding in a line item for cushion and buying slightly below what you can afford. I once heard a very frugal friend scoff at the concept of “emergency savings.”  Surprise car and home repairs, unexpected medical expenses and such are not “emergencies”, he argued, “they’re just a part of life!”

Having some financial margin positions you to live the good life–with respect to your home and every other expense category in life.

That said, it is within our power to do a better job of predicting the frequently overlooked expenses associated with owning a home. We’ve talked about the hidden costs of home ownership before, but here are a few more our new home buyer friends have called out – consider inserting spreadsheet rows accordingly!

1.  Yard maintenance.  The American Dream of a white picket fence with a beautifully manicured lawn and trimmed hedges may be in your near future.  But think about the maintenance and cost that look requires.  Never had a yard before?  Get ready to buy a mower, edger, hedge trimmers, gardening tools, plant food, weed killer, etc.  Even if you’re an experienced gardener with all the tools you’ll ever need, at minimum you’ll want to buy your own plants and outdoor accessories to help make the space your own.  No matter what, you’ll take more trips to the local garden center than you can count!

And this doesn’t consider the value of your time—regular mowing, weeding, edging, and pruning can take up a considerable chunk.  You may find that it’s a better use of your time and money to find a quality, cost-conscious gardener (or enterprising teenager) to help keep your curb appeal.

2.  Furniture and décor.  “I came way in under my decorating budget,” said no one, ever.  There’s no getting around it: decorating a new home is expensive.  And even if you already have enough furniture to technically fill your space, you may get there and decide it just doesn't look quite right.

Selling your old pieces can give you a leg up on paying for the new ones.  And if you’re not in a hurry to buy immediately, scour local consignment stores and check Craigslist to find great deals that will match your style.  And never underestimate the benefit of a great family photo or inexpensively framed kids’ art to help warm up a space and make it your own—no big costs there!

3.  Cost of living.  Moving to a new state, or even to a new neighborhood?   The basic cost of living can vary widely from location to location.  Check out prices at things like nearby grocery stores, local restaurants, gas stations, and dry cleaners.  Even the daily commuter costs can add up to a big chunk of change; adding a train stop or two to your daily commute can have a large impact over the course of a year.  Work these differences into your monthly budget before you move, and prevent surprises once you’re there.  (Bonus if you’re moving to a less expensive location!)

4.  Moving expenses.  Seems obvious?  I know.  But there’s more here than what initially meets the eye.  It’s not just the cost of the moving truck or movers themselves.  Consider things like any additional moving insurance you may purchase, the price of gas, long distance travel fees, and charges for things that aren’t packed when the movers get there.  Most moving companies can give you pretty good estimates of the moving costs in advance.  Reach out early so you can plan ahead.

But these moving expenses are just step one—there’s the settling in period to consider, too.  If you’re like most people, the last thing you want to do when you get to your new place is quickly unpack your kitchen to cook a nutritious meal.  Get ready for a week of take out and eating out!  Once you are ready to cook, there’s the price of buying that first round of groceries to fill your completely empty fridge and pantry.  And then you have to buy things like furniture pads and a doormat to protect your floors, hardware to hang family photos, new cleaning supplies, shower curtains, and other home necessities.  The expenses in the first couple weeks of your new place add up fast—not to mention the massive down payment you likely just made—so be ready!

5.  Pest control.  Got a good pest report from your inspection?  Fantastic!  But that’s just the initial read.  Buy during the summer, and you may be surprised to see ants and other tiny creatures seeking comfort in your home from the cold, wet winter.  One bad infestation can lead to another, and you may soon find yourself paying for quarterly (or more frequent) pest control.

Even worse: termites.  No termites at the time of inspection doesn’t mean no termites for life—or even for the first year, for that matter.  Paying for regular inspections may feel like unnecessary money to spend, but if you’re in a termite-prone location, it may save you in the long run!

6.  Utilities.  I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating.  Until you’ve lived in a house for all four seasons, you won’t know how much energy you’ll use.  And neither seasons nor energy costs are consistent year-over-year.  You may find yourself suddenly paying hundreds of extra dollars a month for air conditioning during a record-breaking summer.  Or have a three year old who’s suddenly afraid of the dark?  Get ready for a lovely lift in your electric bill!  Then add in cable, internet, water, garbage, sewer, and other local fees.

Once you’ve been in the house and have an idea of what you expect to pay, you can try to stave off monthly fees by investing in things like more energy efficient appliances, a new furnace, solar panels, or a whole-house fan.  Do the math to see what those upgrades will save over time, because although they may cost a lot upfront, when amortized over a few years, they may be worth it.

7.  Annual maintenance.  When you had a landlord, remember how awful it was to constantly have to call when the heater broke or the A/C went on the blink.  Here’s a hint - when you own your home and these major home systems and appliances become your responsibility, you can often prevent major breakdowns and even optimize their function (read: have lower energy bills) by having them serviced and maintained as recommended.

Of course, maintenance costs!  It’s not overkill to work through your appliance manuals and get a sense for how often your washer, dryer, A/C and heating need to be serviced, as well as such essentials as the septic system, if you have one.

This sort of maintenance can help prevent major breakdowns.  But they’re not always 100% unavoidable.  This is when a home warranty helps (so long as you call the warranty company before any other repair person touches the ailing appliance.) While most smart home buyers *get* the critical nature of having a home warranty many are unaware that it needs to be renewed annually or treat the renewal cost as a non-essential.

Fact is, if your home warranty covers one broken heater, major plumbing drama or A/C that gives up the ghost, that coverage can offset the renewal costs times ten (or more).  The upshot?  Maintenance and home warranty renewal definitely deserve a line item on your spreadsheet.




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