If you’re in the market for a home, one of the often-overlooked long-term expenses is maintenance and upkeep. Sure, making mortgage, taxes and insurance payments are the bulk of any home purchase, but add regular upkeep costs on top, and home ownership is expensive.
If you’re committed to buying, remember that money made in real estate is made on the BUY transaction, not the SELL. That means buying at the right time, in the right place, with the right financing, and the right home to maximize your return when and if you need to sell.
But close behind is buying a home that matches your lifestyle. And if routine chores, upkeep and projects aren’t your thing, consider these buying tips.
1) Gravel/Non-Paved driveways: Lots of rural driveways are not paved. For many, this is a preferred aesthetic, as well as contributing to good run-off practices. But non-paved driveways aren’t low maintenance. Just the opposite. They require regular grading, filling of potholes, proper ‘crowning’ to prevent pooling, and if you live in an area with snowy winters, the spring clean-up and repair work after a season of shoveling and plowing can be significant. And remember, the longer the driveway, the more expensive to maintain.
2) Surrounding plants, shrubs and trees: Woody ornamentals, flower gardens, and large trees all require annual attention. If you enjoy gardening, great. Chances are you may have a lot of the simple tools you need. If not, you’ll need to either make an initial investment of money to get what you need, or pay someone else to do the work. Likewise, professional arborists should be called in to handle large, tall trees to be sure they remain safe for your home and surroundings, and healthy to avoid unexpected damage. If you don’t like gardening or aren’t interested, keep in mind that a neglected property will look shabby quickly, so you may consider some upfront expenditures to create a more work-free landscape.
3) Large Lawns: Mowing more than about a quarter-acre with a push-mower is a significant time investment, especially in warm-weather climates where grass grows quickly most of the year. If you buy property with a huge lawn or a meadow that needs mowing regularly, you need to either hire someone to take on the task, or buy a riding mower.
4) House Construction: If you like the look and style of real wood siding, trim and windows, be prepared to constantly invest time and money for its upkeep; everything from regular sanding and painting or staining, to replacing worn or rotting pieces, to prevention of wood-infesting pests like termites, carpenters ants and bees. That goes for your decks, porches and railings, too.
If you chose a house with vinyl siding, regular washing is a must to prevent mold and moss growth, and immediate repair of damaged parts is key to preventing water and pest infiltration.
5) Fencing: Whether you’ll have a postage-stamp backyard or hundreds of acres, if you have fencing, you’ll have upkeep. Wood fencing rots eventually, can be damaged by weather and animals and may need to be painted or stained regularly. Other materials have their own unique, long-term challenges, too, but remember, that no matter what your fencing might be made of, the more of it there is, the more time and expense is required to keep it in good shape..
1) Flooring: Wood floors are great; they are inviting, pleasing to the eye and have a lot of resale appeal. But they also require regular cleaning, and real wood requires regular refinishing, especially if you have dogs or an active household: wood floors can show a lot of wear, and left unprotected, can stain easily.
Of course, carpets need to be vacuumed and shampooed regularly, and lower-quality carpets will need to be replaced more often, as will households with a lot of heavy traffic.
Natural stone flooring also requires careful upkeep, sealing and avoidance of harsh cleaning chemicals to avoid stone damage.
2) Walls: Older home with real plaster are a joy. They are usually more soundproof than newer-construction drywall, do a better job with insulation and are one of the hallmarks of a classic, older home. And they are also more expensive to upkeep. Nail holes, large holes and simple construction can be a challenge to repair, and if cracks drive you crazy, a plaster-walled home will drive you crazy. Cracks are inevitable and part of their charm. There aren’t many places with good, experienced plaster repairers still around, so major repairs (done correctly) can be quite costly.
3) Counter-tops: Many people love the look of marble and granite…until they find out how much time and effort they require to keep them looking good. Both stain easily and need to be kept sealed, be cleaned immediately after spills to prevent permanent marks and polished regularly to keep them in great shape.
4) Appliances: Stainless has been the rage for a long time. But fingerprint-proof stainless is relatively new. If you have a busy, active or young household and care about how your kitchen looks, older stainless steel appliances can provide a never-ending chore of getting rid of smudges, dirt and fingerprints. Ask if the appliances are of the non-fingerprint type.
Gourmet kitchen in your future? Multiple sinks, refrigerators, dishwashers and the like mean multiple opportunities for cleaning and breakdowns. And many high-end kitchen remodels tend to lean toward appliances that are more expensive to fix and have more problems in general than the tried-and-true workhorse brand-name versions.
Love the new glass-top ranges? They need special attention to avoid permanent scratching by using special cleaners, and leaving spills until later is a no-no. Heat and certain ingredients like sugar can ruin a glass range if not wiped up right away.
Keep in mind that the age of your house has a big part to play, too. Older homes (or poorly maintained homes) will require more on-going work than new construction or an owner who is meticulous about upkeep. When shopping around for homes, keep this in the back of your mind as you compare and contrast your options.
At some point in a home’s life cycle, almost everything in a home will need attention. Be sure you are getting a thorough, professional inspection before buying to call out the big-ticket and system-issue expenses (heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical, roofing, foundation), are budgeting for future items that will be inevitable due to wear (like roofs, appliances) and never neglect water-related issues like leaks or drips.
To preserve your money, your time and your sanity, give careful thought to thing things you like (or don’t like) to do around the house, and make sure your purchase is in line with your values!