Over a year ago, I bought my first home. And while I'd been warned about the extra expenses that come with homeownership, there were still some surprises.
I don't mean the “unexpected” costs of property taxes and repairs — expenses that are often covered in articles about new homeownership. “Surprise! There's no landlord to come fix your garbage disposal.” Is that really a surprise to anyone, though?
No, what I'm talking about are the less obvious expenses — the ones that new homeowners probably aren't thinking about when they sign the closing documents and get the keys to their new home. Here are some of those less obvious expenses that took me by surprise in the last year.
1. Changing the locks. When I first moved in, my dad “reminded” me to call a locksmith and have the locks changed. Only, silly me, I had no idea that I should do that. Dad pointed out that my house had had several owners and was even a rental at one point. That means that any number of people could possibly have a key to my house.
Okay, so that's three locks that needed to be changed. No big deal. Only the three estimates that I got came in at around $200 — much higher than I was expecting. Finally I found a special for $79 and got the locks rekeyed.
2. Lawn maintenance. One of the big selling points for our house was the half-acre yard. It feels like a bit of country in the city.
Well, the week we moved in, a neighbor asked us, “Do you guys have a riding lawnmower? ‘Cause you're gonna need one!” The truth is that we hadn't really thought about lawn care yet. We'd just bought the house, and we were 100 percent focused on some repairs and getting moved in. But our neighbor had a point — we'd either need a riding mower or a lawn service. And being the DIY-type, we wanted the mower.
Eventually the growing grass forced us to take the plunge.
3. Multiple appliance repairs and replacement. Okay, we knew we'd be responsible for our own appliances. But what I didn't count on was so many of these repairs and replacements in the first year!
We had to replace a garage door opener, an AC motor (and it was an expensive one), and a water heater. Thankfully, our real estate agent negotiated a one-year home warranty, paid for by the seller. So these costs, which would have been well over $1,000, ended up costing only $180.
Each time I had to use the warranty, I emailed my agent to thank her for her foresight.
4. Cosmetic upgrades. I thought that cosmetic upgrades, like painting the bedrooms, would be quick and cheap. Well, they were neither quick nor cheap!
Just one bucket of paint ran $32, and with four rooms, I needed a lot of buckets of paint. Plus, there are all of the little things you don't always think about — rollers, trays, gloves, paintbrushes, drop cloths, and rolls upon rolls of painter tape. Cosmetic upgrades turned out to be a lot more expensive than I originally thought.
5. Furnishing the house. Obviously, you don't have to go crazy furnishing every inch of your house. And we haven't. We're going slowly.
But sometimes, things come up. For instance, when my in-laws were planning to visit, we decided to buy a daybed for the guest bedroom. We also needed guest towels for the bath. And a bath mat. If we hadn't had guests, we might have held off on those expenses. But part of the reason we bought the house was to entertain family and friends more often (and more comfortably).
6. Window treatments and replacements. Not long after moving in, I realized just how old our windows are. As in, I'm pretty sure they're original to our 1971 house. Plus, a couple of sets of blinds had shredded strings and didn't work properly.
As I discovered in the window treatment section of Lowe's, blinds are expensive! So we just replaced the two sets that weren't working. As for replacing every window in the house, it's something we're starting to look into now.
7. Rising property taxes. Property taxes aren't a surprise, but the fact that the county increased my taxes by 31 percent from one year to the next was a huge shock!
I'm currently protesting my taxes, and there are a couple of reasons why that assessment shouldn't stick. For one, I paid less than the assessed value for the home just over a year ago. And two, my homestead paperwork is currently being processed and, according to their site, taxes shouldn't increase on a homestead by more than 10 percent in a given year, plus the value of any improvements.
So, fingers crossed…
8. Tree trimming. This is the next to-do item on my list. Another thing about that great yard that we loved is that it came with a bunch of gorgeous, established oak trees.
Only it's time we had those trees trimmed. There are some branches that need to go, and the trees are entirely too tall for us to do the work ourselves. Plus, we're not arborists, and we'd like our trees to stay healthy and beautiful. After all, they're part of the reason we fell in love with this property in the first place.
Covering those unexpected expenses
Luckily, my husband and I had the extra money in the bank to cover these expenses, but I can see how people can get into serious trouble if they aren't prepared for some of them.
And while I wish I had a magic formula to share with you, it's impossible for me to tell you how much to shore up your emergency fund. It just depends on too many factors, like the size of your house, the size of your lawn, how much work you can do yourself, and even just plain luck (or lack of it).
So if you're contemplating purchasing your first home, just be aware of these hidden costs. Save more than you think you need to, and don't buy as much house as you can. We bought a fairly small house and, while I love the house and love working on it, I'm glad we didn't get anything bigger!
Readers, if you own a home, what other hidden costs surprised you?
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.