RISMEDIA, February 8, 2010—(MCT)—On his road to homeownership, Scott Leibfried has learned one thing: Expect the unexpected. He and his wife had an offer accepted on a home, only to later find that foreclosure proceedings were about to begin on it. That’s after they considered another home that was aesthetically pleasing but had major issues that came to light upon closer inspection.
In the meantime, they’re trying to estimate the money they will need for closing costs and any future expenses, hoping they won’t eat too much into their financial cushion.
“There are always going to be things that come up,” Leibfried said. That statement could describe homeownership in general. Allan Glass, a Los Angeles-based real estate agent who works with the couple, says the biggest mistake buyers make is underestimating the costs of buying a house and maintaining it over time.
Homeowners should have 1% of the purchase price of their home in savings for improvements and surprise expenses, he said. “That is the absolute minimum. It’s better to have 2-3% socked away somewhere.” The cushion often isn’t easy for first-time home buyers to have—especially after they’ve scrimped and saved for their down payment. And there are many first-time buyers in the market now, due to affordable prices, low interest rates and the federal tax credit.
“Some people walk away from closing with a nickel and a stick of gum, and that’s probably not going to be a good idea,” says Dale Robyn Siegel, president of Circle Mortgage Group, in Harrison, N.Y. She recommends having at least six months of mortgage payments in the bank after closing on a house “especially now, with such an iffy job market.”
To get a better handle on where the house stands, buyers should attend a home inspection and ask questions, says Bill Richardson, a home inspector in New Mexico and president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. That way, they can get tips and recommendations from the inspector as he or she is working. They should keep the inspection report handy for reference. For existing homes, an inspector will estimate the age of major components, giving the home buyer a sense of when they will need replacing. A furnace, for example, often lasts between 12 and 15 years; a water heater from 10 to 12 years.
Once you know what you’re dealing with—and perhaps what the sellers will repair or pay for before the sale is final—look five years out and make a list of big-ticket home issues that you’ll need to address, says Kelly Rogers, director of education for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County, based in Santa Ana, Calif. Make a timeline for those expenses.
And don’t count on borrowing money needed for repairs. “The banks have really tightened up, so it’s harder and harder to get a home-equity line of credit,” Richardson said. “If you don’t budget for repairs, you will never get the repairs done when you need it.”
When small problems pop up, it’s important to address them before they become large-scale projects. Consider the tile in the bathroom: As soon as there’s deterioration or cracking, address it, Richardson said. “If the toilet is loose to the floor, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it can leak and rot the floor,” he said. “What could be a $15 repair could end up being a $700 repair or more.” Richardson suggests planning for a $500 to $1,000 annual general maintenance budget for most starter homes, which would cover everything from painting a room to caulking the bathtub. “Buying a home is one of the largest investments you’re going to make,” he said, “If it’s done wisely and with lots of thought, it can be a huge asset. If it’s not well thought out, it can become a huge burden to you.”
Estimating monthly expenses can often trip up new home buyers as well. As renters, people are accustomed to paying rent and likely utilities—phone, Internet service and cable. As a homeowner, however, there will be other utility costs such as water, sewer and trash collection. Then there are property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and possible homeowner’s association dues. There also can be expenses unique to your location. In Los Angeles, for example, water restrictions are such that if you go over a certain cap of usage, you face a penalty. You also can have miscellaneous expenses such as snow removal and lawn service, if you don’t plan on doing them yourself, Siegel said.
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