The real estate ad says that house you really love is in "move-in condition." That might be true. But even after you paint walls and pick out furniture, there's a lot that can happen to eat up your time and money. Are you ready to make the commitment? Here are some things first-time homebuyers should consider.
The Challenges Of Homeownership
Buying your first home is a major milestone. There’s nothing quite like the giddy rush that comes from knowing you could paint a wall fluorescent pink or cover the cabinets in peanut butter and no one could legally stop you. You’ve also got a new and quite big investment you need to maintain. Weighing the freedom against the responsibility is a delicate balancing act, and doing it successfully is part of what being a homeowner is all about.
There are a number of upcoming firsts for new homebuyers. Since you’ve just come up with a down payment, you might think your biggest hurdle of financial responsibility is over. However, that’s not the case. Check out these common homeowner situations to help you best prepare for them.
1) Something major breaks
As a renter, if the refrigerator stopped running, you only had to concern yourself with keeping your food cold until the landlord fixed it or bought a new one. Also as a renter, major plumbing problems in your building can be a hassle, but easily survivable. The first time something major, like an appliance, structural element or major system breaks in your home, you can be in for a staggering amount of work and stress.
If you’re counting on homeowner’s insurance or a home warranty to cover you, check your policies carefully. Most home warranties end at the walls of your house, and insurance won’t cover damage outside of a disaster. Everyone you might turn to for assistance will be looking for reasons not to help you. If you need to do significant work on your home, like a large-scale plumbing repair, you’ll probably have to pay for it yourself.
Events like these will happen sooner or later. The only way to be prepared is to practice self-insurance. Start building a home repair and renovation fund, and build major expenses into your regular monthly budget. When you spread these expenses out over the course of months, rather than trying to pay for them all at once, they’ll be much more manageable. As a guideline, expect to spend 1-4% of the value of your home in repairs and maintenance every year.
2) Costs increase
When considering a budget in your new location, it’s tempting to just move the money you were spending on rent into a mortgage payment. However, your housing costs aren’t the only thing that’s likely to go up. If you’re moving from a smaller apartment into a larger house, utility costs will increase. If you’re going from a relatively new apartment building into an older house, appliances won’t run as efficiently, and seals around doors and windows won’t fit as snugly.
It’s not just utilities, of course. Transportation costs may also increase if you’ve moved farther away from work or other places you frequent. Having a larger kitchen might encourage you to cook and entertain more, putting pressure on the grocery budget but saving on your restaurant spending. Lawn maintenance and landscaping costs may make an appearance on your budget for the first time. A lot of costs will go up as you transition to a new lifestyle.
Spend your first month in your new locale documenting your expenses. This is the best way to build expectations for what your new living expenses might look like. If, after a month, your expenses are too high, you’ll have a better idea about where you can make cuts.
3) Tax bills come due
Property taxes are a once- or twice-a-year expense that can really wreak havoc on your budget. While many mortgage companies maintain an escrow account for these costs and include them in your regular mortgage payment, many homeowners are on their own when it comes to tax time. If that’s the case for you, start doing research to determine what your tax bill might look like.
This is another expense that becomes manageable if you break it into a monthly cost. The U.S. average property tax bill is just under $3,000. That’s about $250 per month. That might be a challenge to set aside, but it’s still better than being blindsided with the full amount.
4) Maintenance requirements increase
There are dozens of things around the house that most people don’t think twice about. Items like water supply hoses, smoke alarms and toilet bowl seals all decay with time. Many of these things can cause damage to your house if they don’t work properly.
Start making a list of chores that need to be done monthly, weekly or less frequently. Split up those duties to make sure no one has to do it all by himself. Keep a spreadsheet or some other document so you know the last time maintenance was performed on major items in your home. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Fix little problems before they turn into big ones!