Buyers focus on the mortgage but it doesn't tell you the true cost of home ownership. With your first home, you compare your mortgage payment to the rent you've been paying but wait, what expenses were included in your rent? Your landlord pays the mortgage, taxes and insurance. Most states require water to be included in your rent and what do you do when the window won't shut? You call the landlord and he/she handles the repairs.
Most homeowners don't know how much they're spending on their homes. We've been taught to focus on the initial price of a car or refrigerator. We rarely consider the annual operating costs even with stickers telling us how much it will cost. When I bought my Toyota Rav4 in 2007, I calculated how much more a 6-cylinder would cost versus a 4-cylinder car and ordered the 4-cylinder. The dealer tried to discourage me, telling me it would hurt resale. Amazingly, 6 months later I could have sold my car over purchase price because of the higher mileage when gas prices went over $4/gallon.
Cost of Home Ownership: Financial Costs
Your financial obligations are the biggest part of your cost of home ownership. Sadly, home buyers don't estimate the total cost of home ownership when deciding how much house they can afford.
- Mortgage principal and interest – varies based on how much you paid for your home (or refinanced) and the interest rate. Most homeowners today don't know how incredible 4 or even 5% interest rates are compared to rates that have escalated to more than 10% (18% in 1981) over the last 30 years (details at FreddieMac.com).
- Property taxes – you live where you do because you grew up there, or got a job and moved there. While most people don't look at state property taxes until they're researching where to live in retirement, you should research local property taxes which can vary significantly.
- Insurance – the average (across the US; for more details visit the Insurance Information Institute website) homeowners insurance premium was $978 in 2011.
Cost of Home Ownership: Operating Costs
When you go from renting an apartment to home ownership, suddenly you're paying all the utilities where the landlord might have included some of them in your rent. You likely have you more square feet and that means more space (cubic feet) to heat and cool. This map provides a nice visual comparing gas and electric costs across the US (more data here).
- Electricity – costs vary across the US from a low of $75/mo in New Mexico to more than $200/mo in Hawaii. You can more data here
- Heat – is a tough statistic because there are so many different ways to heat your house. The website that calculated the average cost by state is no longer. If you know where there's better information, including the cost of heating oil, leave a comment below.
- Water – varies from nothing if you have a well to more than $300/mo in larger cities. Water costs are increasing faster than other expenses (5 to 6 percent) based on your family's usage (50, 100 or 150 gallons/person/day). Also driving higher costs are higher “fixed” costs to cover repairs to sewers and water treatment infrastructure (learn more at CircleofBlue.com.
- Phone plans – feel like games at an amusement park, changing every few months. Most people have done away with landlines, as cell phone costs have skyrocketed. Even if you try to save money by using Voice Over Internet (VoIP), you're going to pay about $30 after an introductory rate for 6 to 12 months.
- Cable plans – are much too expensive at $78/mo, according to Forbes.com, The Cable Bills Too High; Here's Why. It feels like our government has given up regulating this industry, so those comfortable with technology are migrating to web based alternatives.
- Internet costs – are approaching $100/mo depending on which Internet service provider you use. And costs will continue to go up given the monopoly environment created by states and local communities signing exclusive agreements with ISPs (learn more about predatory Internet deals).
- Maintenance services – like lawn care and pool maintenance can add up quickly, so it's a personal decision of whether you can afford the added costs versus do-it-yourself. For this example, let's assume an average of $100/mo although my costs are higher with cleaning $120 and pool service costing $100 per month.
Home Ownership Includes Improvements & Repairs
So it's not surprising that most homeowners don't budget for home improvements and repairs. Given the cost of home ownership outlined above, here's what this looks like:
- Mortgage principal and interest, $1,265 per month.
- Property taxes average $260/mo.
- Homeowners insurance (excluding flood insurance) at $82/mo.
- Homeowner associations range from roughly $100 to more than $400/mo depending on the services included like trash pickup and Internet services (we're using $150/mo here).
- Average cost of utilities now $320/mo.
- Digital services (phone, cable, Internet) roughly $269/mo.
- Home related services like cleaning, lawn care and pool maintenance (we're using $100/mo).
- Home maintenance, repairs and major renovations budget of $200 to $400 per month (we're using $200/mo).
- Total cost of ownership at $2,646/mo.
But wait, what about home maintenance and repairs? And what happens when your roof leaks and the estimate for a new roof is almost $8,000? To avoid the added costs of repairs from a leaky roof or making the wrong decision under stress, you should budget for ongoing maintenance and repairs.
You might think you're saving money by ignoring home maintenance but it will cost you more money, and a lot more stress. By replacing your roof before a major leak, you'll avoid repair costs (attic insulation, soggy drywall and more) and you'll have time to find a reputable roofing company rather than going with the cheapest roof or the only roofer to give you an estimate the day after the leak.
You should budget 1 to 2% or $200 to 400/mo ($2,500 to 5,000/yr for a home worth $250,000) for ongoing maintenance and plan for replacing home features like your roof, hot water heater and more than we can explain here but we've got you covered.
- Preparing Your Homeowner Budget
- Housing Costs vs Cost of Living
- Planning and Budgeting for Exterior Home Updates
- Budgeting to Replace/Upgrade Interior Home Components
Which of these costs was a surprise to you?
PS The good news … you can/should look at home ownership as one way to Invest in Your Home for Retirement Savings.