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Hidden Cost of Home Ownership

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For SaleWe bought our home nearly six years ago and it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. While the sagging housing market has been in the news frequently in the last few years, I never bought into the idea that home ownership was a wealth building move. For decades, experts would say that home ownership is the path to wealth and they would illustrate that with facts and figures about home values. The net result of that was a better understanding of the financials of home ownership. The financial cost was more than the purchase price. You had to include property taxes, insurance, and a whole host of other costs that aren’t reflected in the listing.

There is, however, one hidden cost that most people overlook and one that one is very difficult to quantify – time.

Maintenance

Do you know how often you need to replace the air filter(s) in your furnace and HVAC systems? It won’t matter what number you give, the answer is that it depends. Homes with pets need their filters replaced more often than homes without pets. If you live near heavily trafficked roads, such as highways, you’ll need to replace those filters more often (my friend lives near a state highway and he changes it once a month). Replacing an air filter should only take a minute but it, like many other minor maintenance items, add up and can cause issues if you forget.

Just the other day, our refrigerator started making a lot of noise. It was a repetitious noise that I attributed to a fan. I thought maybe something was stuck so I pulled out the fridge and vacuumed out the only fan I saw (which was not spinning). Cleaning out all that dust is something I should be doing more often than I do (probably once a year, I should probably clean it out twice a year) but that didn’t fix the sound. Eventually I realized it was the freezer defroster fan hitting ice build up, so I knocked away the ice and the sound went away (for the most part). Not a big deal but I spent a couple hours figuring it out.

Cleaning

I love the phrase – “No one washes a rental car.” While the original intent of the quote was to illustrate that there is pride in ownership (you will take care of the things you own), you can also take it to mean that you will need to take the time to actually clean your home. While you probably should clean your rental too, you probably wouldn’t clean it as often or as thoroughly. Let’s be honest… when you know you’re moving out in a couple months, how important is it that the stove gets clean? That the fridge gets wiped down? What about your bathroom? Not very.

Repairs

Everyone knows about repairs because unlike cleaning and maintenance, repairs are more financially costly. They also cost you more time. If it’s a repair where you need an expert, you need to take the time to vet several experts. If it’s a repair you can figure out yourself, you need to take the time to figure it out!

Our dishwasher’s water pump stopped working one day and I, having zero knowledge of dishwashers, looked to fix it. I looked at the pump, all the connections looked good, and I assumed that it was busted. I ordered a replacement part online and went to install it when it arrived. When I removed the water pump, I saw that a small piece of plastic had slipped into the pump (I’m amazed it got by the filters) and jammed it. I removed the plastic, replaced the old filter, and the thing ran like new. I returned the new pump and the entire thing cost me about $4-5 (the price of shipping back the new pump). It felt great to fix something but that cost me several hours (maybe 2-3 spread across two days).

I don’t consider myself a particularly handy person. I have a repaired wall in our house, hidden behind a bookcase, that looks like the surface of the moon because I’m terrible at repairing drywall. Regardless of your knowledge and ability, maintenance, repairs, and even cleaning will cost you time that you should account for should you decide to buy. Home ownership is certainly great but not all the cost is reflected in the purchase price (or the taxes, or the insurance, or the other numbers experts are sure to accurately identify!).

(Photo: sercasey)

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5 Responses to “Hidden Cost of Home Ownership”

  1. You are right, buying a house is not a wealth building investment, it’s an investment in a roof over your head that one day you will own outright.

    So many people fell into the myth that home ownership is an investment to build wealth. They overleveraged themselves with no money down mortgages and home equity loans and didn’t consider the costs of ownership. Those are just some of the reasons there have been so many foreclosures.

    When buying anything (especially a house) you have to consider the future as well as the present costs and be prepared.

  2. Dave says:

    You can buy a cheap house and pay it off in 10 years or you can keep paying rent for the rest of your life.

    • Smarter Dave says:

      Or you pay just as much in property taxes FOREVER as you would rent. Then you don’t have to come out of pocket for a new roof, sepctic and whatever can happen. I like keeping my money in the bank and paying rent, not being a broke homeownder.

  3. Steve says:

    Buying a house is a wealth builder ‘relative’ to the alternatives a majority of the time. People who are afraid to buy because of the few years it takes to break even compared to renting usually use that justification for 10+ years…

  4. Steve says:

    Just because you’re renting does not mean you’re “moving out in a couple months”. Come on man.


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