When you're thinking about buying your first home, it might seem like it's all about the down payment. You save for years to have it, and you base a good portion of your home-buying budget on it.
Next comes the mortgage. How much will you owe each month in principal, interest, taxes, and insurance? How does that compare with how much you currently pay as a renter?
If you've figured out how to tackle those two huge expenses, you might think you have it made in the shade. With lemonade! But the hard truth is that those are far from the only expenses you'll incur when you buy a house.
In fact, there are lots of hidden costs to anticipate. These fees might affect your overall budget, timeline for buying, and what kind of home you want to buy. It's important to consider them early in the process, before you fall in love with a place you can't afford.
Expenses you'll learn about while home shopping
1. Closing costs and other fees
The house has to be appraised to find its fair market value, the property records must be checked to make sure the seller has full rights to sell you the home, the real estate agent has to be paid for her work, and so on.
The seller might pick up some of these costs, but you'll have to shoulder some of the burden. We're talking about fees that, all together, can add up to a few thousand dollars. And you can expect closing costs to run from 2% to 5% of your home's value.
Your mortgage lender must explain all the fees to you, so if anything confuses you, ask for more information.
2. Home inspection
This is a must to make sure you're not buying a home with major structural issues. A home inspection will take a few hours and cost up to $500, but it can save you a lot of grief in the future.
3. Home warranty
If you're buying an older home with appliances that are no longer covered by manufacturer warranties, getting a home warranty could be a good call. They generally cost a few hundred dollars per year and protect things such as kitchen appliances, ceiling and exhaust fans, plumbing, the furnace, and the sump pump. Inevitably, you'll face a major repair on your new home, so consider whether a home warranty will save you from that expense.
Expenses you'll encounter after you move in
Owning a home is full of hidden costs. Some cost you actual money, while others cost you time, energy, and happiness (which, let's face it, also have an equivalent in money!). So even though you might not have to deal with these expenses until after you move in, you should definitely factor them into your decision.
1. HOA and condo fees
If your new home is a condo, or part of a community with a homeowners association, you'll pay a monthly fee toward maintenance of shared community features. The more amenities you get (e.g., a pool, doorman, roof deck, or community center), the more you'll pay.
The upside: Your HOA might care for things that save you money and time, like maintaining the landscaping around your townhouse.
If you're considering a condo, ask for information about the HOA's budget and cash reserves. If it decides to make a repair to the building that's not part of its annual budget, you and your neighbors could be slapped with a special assessment to raise money for the unanticipated project -- and this could cost you a few thousand bucks!
2. Maintenance, repairs, renovations, and redecorating
Maintaining your home -- e.g., cleaning windows and gutters, keeping up the landscaping, and making small updates -- typically costs about 1% of your home's value each year. And that's not including large unexpected repairs, which can get pricey.
Plus, once you move into your new home, you're going to want to put your stamp on it.
"People always buy new furniture when they move. The apartment furniture isn't good enough for the new house," says Sophia Bera, a financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning. "This can be really expensive, and I've known a few people who've financed the furniture, but then they spend more than they were planning on."
You might also opt to renovate part of the house right when you move in; if that's the case, make sure to take that into account when considering what home you can afford.
Those first few utility bills might shock you. For one thing, renters often don't pay separately for water, trash pickup, and sewer. And if your new home is larger than your previous rental, you'll pay considerably more for electricity and gas.
If your daily commute changes, you might need to buy a new car, or pay more to maintain and fuel the car you have.
A longer commute also bleeds into your free time. Don't underestimate how much you'll be affected by "just" another 15 minutes each way.
Sometimes finding a home that has the amenities you want for the price you can afford means moving to a totally different part of town -- and leaving your neighborhood friends behind.
Bera, who opted to spend a bit more to live near friends when she recently moved to Austin, TX, counsels her financial planning clients who are buying their first homes. All too often, people don't consider the effect of moving miles away for the perfect house.
"The big thing I see is how much it changes their lifestyle. It might not be as convenient to do the activities they love or see their close friends, so they miss out on a lot of these things." she said. "They have to create a whole new community. One thing we often don't ask ourselves is: What is the price of community?"
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