My husband and I closed on our first house on March 9, 2012. Since then, it has been a whirlwind of new homeowner activities. Painting, fixing, landscaping, neighbor-meeting, decorating … and spending. Lots of spending.
We rented for several years, and during that time we lived on a very tight budget. We saved 20 percent of the purchase price for a down payment and about an extra 5 percent for new home expenses purchases (in addition to our emergency fund). We had a nice cushion for making our house our home, but after nearly 10 months, I’m surprised by how quickly we’ve spent what we had saved.
Below are some expenses we had long-expected and other expenses that surprised us. I hope these items will serve as a reality check for those considering buying their first home someday (and I’m sure many current homeowners will nod their heads in agreement!).
Expected: Minor landscaping/yard expenses
Unexpected: Constant landscaping/yard upkeep
We purchased a house that sits on a third of an acre, which is a pretty large yard for suburbia. Mowing is required for all yards, of course, but if you want your yard to look nice and not have the entire neighborhood whisper about your lack of home maintenance skills, you’ll also have to learn about fertilizing, seeding and grub-killing.
Having never owned a home or cared for a yard before, I neglected to consider these lawn upkeep items when planning for home ownership expenses. Fertilizers alone can be a couple of hundred dollars per year, not including the tool you’ll need to lay the fertilizer. And that’s if you do it yourself — hiring someone will be more expensive (but may yield much better results).
Then there’s landscaping. Flowers, plants and mulch and rocks look so pretty, right? Nice landscaping can really up the curb appeal on any house.
But landscaping requires regular upkeep. My husband and I (okay, mostly just my husband) spent almost every weekend trimming, hoeing, insecticide-ing and digging last summer. It takes a ton of sweat equity, but it also requires a lot of tools. All sorts of clippers, shears, shovels, a wheelbarrow and more can cost hundreds of dollars in start-up expenses. Of course, once you have those things, the costs start to even out, but they can be quite a shock at first.
To sum it up: We spent at least $1,000 on lawn maintenance start-up costs during our first spring and summer here. We probably could have been smarter and bought some things second-hand or looked for deals, but we thought we needed everything immediately. It’s also important to note that smaller yards or yards with little landscaping might cost a lot less in upkeep.
Expected: Higher heating and cooling bills
Unexpected: Very high water bills
If you’re a renter, you probably have about a $10-$25 water bill come your way every month, right? Enjoy it! That is maybe one of the best perks of renting. If you buy a house, you’ll see that bill go up substantially if you have a lawn and don’t live in a maintenance-free community. And if we keep having droughts every summer, expect to see a $150, $200, or more water bill every couple of months. Ouch!
Expected: Home maintenance
Unexpected: Coming home from vacation to a broken air conditioner and major roof leakage problems
The reality of home ownership really set in when we came home from four days in Las Vegas last summer to a broken A/C (of course, it was during a 100-degree-plus heat wave) and major leaking that had come from the roof. Talk about a buzz kill.
And this is where I beg all first-time homeowners to require a one-year warranty from the seller’s when you buy a house.
Our warranty was around $400, and we had the seller pay for it in closing. It has been MORE than worth it. The A/C problem could have cost us several hundred bucks, but instead it was just $60 for a service call under our warranty. (We also had a brand-new water heater and garbage disposal installed, in addition to our garage door openers fixed – all for just $60 a piece under the warranty.) The warranty doesn’t last forever, but I think it gives newbie homeowners a chance to get familiar with home maintenance expenses and start saving for them during that first year.
The roof? Well, lucky for us, we know a guy. (Our warranty doesn’t cover the roof.) He gave me a discount and, for $400, was able to fix all the problems in one afternoon. Now we have zero leakage and feel like we have a much stronger roof. But it was definitely not something we had planned to spend money on the first year!
Expected: Furniture and décor
Unexpected: Just how much STUFF you need to make a house a home
In full disclosure here, I confess that I was beyond excited to get my mitts on my new house and decorate and furnish and craft to my heart’s content! This is the main reason I was so adamant about saving for new home expenses before buying.
I knew the big things we needed. But after living in our new house for awhile, we quickly realized we wanted more.
For example, we have hardwood floors throughout the main floor, so we wanted a large rug for the living area. Do you know how much large rugs are? A large rug (9×12 or 10×14, for example) can be upwards of $1,000. For a rug! Color me sticker-shocked. (Let’s just say Overstock.com and coupon codes are lifesavers.)
I know we don’t need things like an oversized rug, but many homeowners have an urge to make their house their own, and this was one example of our way of doing just that.
We’re now learning to slow down and take our time with filling our house. My very wise mother-in-law says it takes five years to make a house a home. I think that’s more than true – if not longer.
With the maintenance, decorating/furnishing, and landscaping combined, our new house savings account allowed us to pay for our home ownership start-up costs in cash. Still, I thought our savings would last several years, but we’re already nearing the end of it. Luckily, we’ve already including a “house expenses” line item in our monthly budget so we’re still saving for these expenses.
I am one of those people that loved renting – I kind of liked being in a small place and knowing I had one expense (the rent) and that I could call my landlord anytime I wanted. But owning a home – however expensive it may be – is possibly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. My husband and I take great pride in our home and have no regrets in making the leap. Now I just need to get better about planning ahead for purchases and looking for deals in advance!
Homeowners, what expenses did you expect or not expect when you bought your first house? Renters, what expenses are you most surprised to find on this list?