You’ve probably heard the advice over and over again about how owning a home is one of the major milestones in achieving financial independence. It is certainly true that by owning a home you can take ownership in something that has the potential to build equity and provide you with the freedom you might not otherwise have by renting, but there is more to it than that.
If you recall last week I had mentioned that I would be doing a podcast series in partnership with Charles Schwab, and the first edition talks about buying a home. I am still waiting for the public link to the podcast so I can share it with everyone, but for whatever reason it is still delayed. So, while I had hoped to share that with you today, I can at least share a lead-in personal story that illustrates some of the true costs of ownership that many people overlook or don’t prepare for.
When it Rains, It Pours
Doesn’t that always seem to be the case? It almost always happens in a way that once something goes wrong, a bunch of other things pile on all at once. Well, that has been the case for us over the past few weeks, and it is quickly becoming quite costly.
We moved in almost two years ago into our home, and after going through one rough winter, it became clear that we need a snow blower. Living in an area that receives frequent and heavy lake effect snow, it isn’t uncommon to wake up in the morning to two feet of snow. I tried to stick to elbow grease last winter and shovel, but those efforts were futile. So, we have been planning to buy a snow blower this fall and we’re just looking for a good deal. Estimated cost: $450-$750.
A few weeks ago we were getting ready to go out and buy a snow blower when something unexpected happened–our water softener broke. We have a well and live in an area with very hard water, so this is a tremendous inconvenience as well as a costly breakdown. For now we are just making due with hard water, but it is leaving rust stains in the shower, tastes awful to drink, and makes it feel impossible to get clean. The water softener itself is very old and it will cost nearly as much to try and repair it as getting a newer model. Estimated cost: $600-$2,000 parts and labor.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, another problem reared its head just a few days ago. One of the toilets is leaking at the base. It probably just needs a new wax ring, which would be fairly inexpensive, but labor intensive. Not only that, the toilet itself is quite old with rusty hardware and probably needs more than just a wax ring to bring it up to like-new operating quality. Estimated cost: $150-$300 parts and labor.
You may think that our string of bad luck would be over, but you’d be wrong. On Friday morning I woke up and it sounded like the furnace was making a noise, so I go check it out. It is an electric ignition, and the ignition module had a blinking red light. That can’t be good, so I dig out the manual to see what it means. Apparently it is a safety measure where the ignition locks itself out if it cannot ignite the burner after three attempts. No problem, so I cut power to it so that it can reset and attempt to start it back up. Again, it tries to ignite three times and locks itself out.
I spent the better half of the day on Saturday trying to get it working, but to no avail. So, today I am seeking quotes to have someone come out and check on it, and hopefully have it repaired ASAP since it is getting down to freezing at night and becoming uncomfortable by morning. A quick fix will be only a hundred or so, but any major replacement could become very costly. Estimated cost: $100-???
Think Before You Leap
While most people realize that there are maintenance costs associated with owning a home, they still tend to be an afterthought. What are the chances that a bunch of household appliances will break down at once? While that won’t happen often, it can and does happen. The real problem is not being prepared. So, while buying a home has tremendous advantages, think about the true potential costs that come along with it. Just because they may not happen very often doesn’t mean you should discount the financial impact they will have, and have some money or a plan put together to deal with the problems when they do occur.
What This Will Cost Me
This is a significant blow for us as we were really starting to make headway on debt and saving money for a bathroom remodel. Granted, the toilet can be an initial addition to that, but now the major improvements will have to wait. Even if everything comes in at the low end of the estimates, we’re going to be out a good $1,400. If the problem with the furnace is more severe or we need to spend a little more on a water softener, we’re looking at numbers well north of $3,000.
I wouldn’t trade owning our home for anything, but issues like this can bring added stress and put a substantial dent in your wallet. I remember the years of apartment living where I’d wake up in the morning on a snowy day and find the whole parking lot and sidewalk was cleared and salted. When our hot water heater went out, a quick call to the landlord and they had it replaced in less than 24-hours. When the dishwasher and air conditioner broke, again they sent someone right out to repair it.
It can be easy to become complacent when you have had the luxury of not having to purchase and install expensive appliances when they break down. This serves as a good reminder on how important it is to prepare for these unexpected and unwanted problems.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.