Home Ownership Costs: The True Cost of Owning and Maintaining a Home

There’s always something going wrong with my house.

Yesterday, the microwave broke. Early in the morning, I put my mug of water into the microwave and when the time was up, I opened the door – and the microwave kept running. Yikes.

Last week, the garbage can track inside the cabinet broke and had to be replaced. Earlier this year, our refrigerator stopped keeping things cold. So, we had to replace that as well. (Big surprise – the cost of replacing our refrigerator was actually less than it cost us to buy the original 10 years ago.) Our kitchen sink faucet broke, and we’re on the hunt for something that doesn’t cost more than $300.

Did you know that your smoke detectors only work for a few years before needing to be replaced? A couple of years back when we were having irregular beeping of one of our smoke detectors, we called the manufacturer and were told that we should vacuum our detectors on a monthly basis. I don’t know anybody that goes around their home vacuuming smoke detectors. In addition, the manufacturer recommended replacing smoke detectors every five to 10 years.

In the 15 years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve replaced the whole set at least three times. The seal of the picture window in my office has broken and been replaced twice as well. We’ve installed new gutters, and put heat wires on the roof to help keep ice dams at bay.

Then, there’s the ongoing house maintenance.

In the summer, we have weekly – or semi-weekly, depending on the amount of rain – landscaping chores. It takes my husband, Sam, about an hour to get the lawn mowed, plus extra time to trim the bushes, weed and water the flowers, and get the plant debris swept up. In the winter, he does snow removal. Once a year, we seal coat our driveway. If we didn’t have vinyl siding, we’d have to repaint the exterior of our house about every 3 to 5 years (an easy decision after calculating the cost of painting).

Inside the house, we have to change all kinds of filters, batteries, repaint rooms from time-to-time, replace carpet, appliances when they break, spray for ants in the spring, watch for leaking in the fall, and so on.

Our rental properties aren’t cost-free either. We’ve had good tenants and bad, clean ones and those who kept the place less than clean. Between each lease, the apartments need painting. One tenant’s dog scratched up the hardwood floors in one of our units so badly we had to have the floorboards replaced and the whole floor sanded and sealed. And although you tell tenants to change filters, batteries, and take the lint out of the dryer, not all of them do – some see that as a landlord’s job.

My point is simple: It’s expensive to own and maintain property. Here’s what you can expect to pay:

Mortgage, real estate taxes, homeowner’s insurance premium. Often called PITI (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) for short, you’ll either pay it altogether each month (if you escrow for taxes and your insurance premium) or you’ll have to write a monthly check for the mortgage, and an annual or semi-annual check for taxes and insurance. These days, more lenders require homeowner’s insurance on condominium purchases, in addition to the insurance obtained by the condominium association.

Homeowner’s association fees, co-op assessments, monthly maintenance fees. If you live in a condo, co-op, townhouse development or single-family subdivision, you’ll have some sort of fee you’ll have to pay regularly to cover the maintenance and expenses of the common areas.

Utilities. Gas, electricity, cable, satellite, Internet service, garbage removal, water and sewer (may be billed together or separately). Don’t forget to budget for septic system maintenance and repairs or hard water system maintenance and replacement of chemicals.

Repairs and maintenance of the exterior and interior of the property. This includes everything from window washing and tuck-pointing to replacing appliances, carpet, batteries and filters.

Landscape care. Lawn and garden in warm weather months and snow removal in the winter (for those who get snow).

The problem with not taking care of problems when they’re small is that they only get worse. My friend Alice has a country house about 3 hours from New York City. She didn’t know there was a tiny leak in the roof. By the time she figured it out, they had to replace almost an entire wall of the house.

Bottom line: Home maintenance requires vigilance, and a wide-open checkbook. If you’re not ready for the responsibilities, think about renting instead.


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4 Responses to Home Ownership Costs: The True Cost of Owning and Maintaining a Home

  1. Janie says:

    I am already aware of what can ( and does) go wrong. But the point in reading your insipid article was to find a number, percentage of value, equation, ANYTHING NUMERIC, that answered the question. I give you a giant F for such a misleading article.

  2. Judy says:

    No one could give a number on home repairs. it depends on the house alot of factors noone knows until they live there, Just not possible anything can and pretty much will happen when u own a home . I could give a list its very expensive!

  3. Joe says:

    I agree with Janie
    the head line reads :
    Home Ownership Costs: The True Cost of Owning and Maintaining a Home

    and the article does not go into the true costs . yes you made the general
    assessments and point out that things can and do go wrong yet even
    your note on the fridge is misleading stating the one you got was cheaper
    to replace that the original that broke .
    Bottom line : i agree with the F grade based on the misleading headline .
    had you started with the others costs associated with home ownership
    id give you a b or a c . yet overall you did not really even attempt to
    point out what these cost are even though you used your own real
    life scenario where you should know what those costs were and based
    on that you could have attempted to put together the data along with the rentals
    you say you own which again i would hope you know the numbers cause if you don’t you shouldn’t be invested in them .
    Joe

  4. Samuel J. Tamkin says:

    Not sure it helps you if you are looking for mathematical formulas to determine the true cost of home ownership, but here’s a different story we wrote with another angle to the costs.
    http://www.thinkglink.com/2005/07/01/the-money-pit-the-true-cost-of-homeownership/
    Sam

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