9 hidden costs of home ownership - and how to plan for them

Published: Thursday, March 01, 2018 @ 3:25 PM

Be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time home buyers often make Not getting a professional inspection Not putting a pause button on purchases Not keeping up with correspondence Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home Not working with a buyer's agent Not looking into loan assistance programs

Whether you're buying a "starter home" or your "dream home," a house can quickly earn the nickname "the Money Pit" if you don't consider the hidden costs of home ownership.

»RELATED: 6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

When comparing the costs of renting to the base purchase price of buying your own home, the numbers usually look like a great deal. But in reality, unplanned fees and the responsibilities of maintenance and repairs can be a huge drag on your bottom line. "Buying a home can be expensive, but what newbie homeowners often don't realize is that the spending has only just begun," noted CPA Liz Weston on the NerdWallet blog. "The hidden costs of homeownership can equal if not exceed the mortgage payments you send to the bank."

While the additional outlay doesn't mean that renting for the rest of your life is the only solution, you should weigh the hidden costs long before you start picking out paint colors. That way, Weston advised, you're able to gauge whether that "affordable" home will trash your budget and you can set aside money for those expenses and develop a back-up plan in case you can't cover the unexpected costs with savings.

Here are nine costs you should factor into a decision to purchase, according to Weston and other real estate experts:

Expenses that add to the original mortgage cost

You'll certainly know by the end of your purchase that you have to pay property taxes and insurance on top of your mortgage payment, but it's a good idea to consider them at the outset.

Homeowners' association fees

When you're looking for affordable property, make sure to note whether a condo or development charges HOA fees. These can cost anywhere from $100 per month to nearly as much as a decent apartment rental and you can't opt out of them. Be sure to check (or have your agent check) on the bylaws that dictate when and how these fees can be raised.

Simple maintenance

"No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership," Brunch & Budget's Pamela Capalad told NerdWallet. Maintenance can include anything from keeping the hedges trimmed and the lawn mowed to cleaning gutters and hiring a chimney sweep annually.

Repairs large and small

A financial planner in Brooklyn, Capalad had brand-new pipes burst four years into owning her home. "There went $2,000 in repairs just like that." No more speed dialing the building maintenance crew when catastrophe hits, either. Instead, you'll have to do it yourself, or, in cases where it's inadvisable, hire somebody. A few of the repairs that could be lurking in your home include any plumbing mishaps that result in standing water and correcting a poor roof design.

Furnace replacements

You probably learned long ago that warm air and hot water don't just magically flow through your living spaces and into your bathtub, but when you're the homeowner, you're in charge of keeping the source in good repair or (shudder) replacing it when the time comes. You can expect the following lifespans for the equipment that heats your home and water, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:

  • Electric radiant heater: 40 years
  • Furnace: 15 to 25 years
  • Gas fireplace: 15 to 25 years
  • Heat exchanger: 10 to 15 years
  • Heat pump: 10 to 15 years

Air Conditioning

On the other end of the spectrum - and of particular importance to homeowners in the South - is keeping the air conditioner going. Central AC units have a lifespan of just 7 to 15 years, according to NACHI.

Appliance replacements

Whether you switch rental arrangements every couple of years or are used to your landlord taking responsibility for replacing appliances, you may be surprised at the cost of replacing appliances yourself. Plan on it, though: "You don't want to be caught off guard when the dishwasher you've been using for a decade suddenly goes on the fritz and you haven't budgeted for its repair or replacement," noted Sears. Assuming you don't get a lemon, you can count on appliance to last at least as long as these estimations:

  • Washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers typically last 10 to 13 years
  • Gas ranges typically last around 15 years
  • Stovetops typically last between 15 to 18 years
  • Microwaves typically last 9 to 10 years

Deck re-do

Looking forward to enjoying lots of time on your new deck? You'd better make sure the deck will be there for you: according to NACHI, deck material doesn't last nearly as long as most homes, predicting that deck planks would last 15 years, composite 8 to 25 years and structural wood 10 to 30 years. Unless the deck was brand-new when you bought it, you might be replacing it sooner rather than later.


Sure, all-wood floors can stand up to hard use for a century. But carpets? They'll go South in 8 to 10 years, according to NACHI. Even if you negotiate an allowance to buy new carpet with the new home purchase price, it will still need replacing pretty quickly.

To narrow your expected home costs even more when you're in the market, hire a good home inspector before you buy, NerdWallet's Weston recommended. A local inspector can give you both an idea of the remaining life expectancy of the house's various components and a rough estimate of how much they'll cost to replace. "It may become apparent that a bargain house will turn into a money pit, while a better-maintained home is worth the extra money."

The solution to hidden home costs, assuming a life with landlords isn't something you're comfortable with, is simply socking away money for potential repairs. "While every situation is different, the typical rule of thumb is to expect to spend an average of one percent to two percent of the value of your home on repairs each year," financial planner Matt Becker told NerdWallet. That may not be the tally every single year, but it should give you a little wiggle room for the years when the big, bad breakdowns (like a broken furnace) occur.

"Chances are, you spent a good chunk of time saving for a down payment, so you're already used to that money being put aside," Capalad told NerdWallet. "The best way to prepare is to continue to maintain a house savings fund, even after you buy the house."


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Vandalia park offers nearly two dozen community garden plots

Published: Saturday, March 10, 2018 @ 7:00 AM

            Residents of Vandalia can participate in the annual Community Garden project using land set aside at Jeffers Park. CONTRIBUTED.
Residents of Vandalia can participate in the annual Community Garden project using land set aside at Jeffers Park. CONTRIBUTED.

VANDALIA – The city of Vandalia will again offer residents a chance to garden even if they don’t have a backyard.

The Vandalia Community Garden is located at Jeffers Park on Halcyon Drive near Interstate 75.

This year’s garden will feature 22 plots of 15 feet by 20 feet that are available to city residents on a first come, first served basis.

“Our Parks and Recreation Department is always looking for ways to better utilize park space and to respond to emerging community needs. We had heard suggestions we try this for a few years before we finally decided to give it a shot,” said Rich Hopkins, Vandalia communications manager

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The first year, the garden offered eight plots, which were claimed quickly. More plots were added along with a water source in the second year.

The program is a low-cost offering for the city, Hopkins said.

“We did have some initial costs in bringing a water source to the park, but beyond that there is not much we need to do. We prepare the plots at the beginning of the year by tilling the dirt, and we check on it regularly through the course of the year, but that’s a part of our routine maintenance,” he said.

Most of the plots are reserved by individuals, although some list friends as “additional authorized gardeners,” said Micki Weber, a city parks and recreation assistant. Among those using a plot in the past was a Girl Scout troop, she said.

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Most participants grow food, but some grow flowers.

The number of plots reserved declined slightly the past couple of years, Weber said. However, some of the returning gardeners will take a second plot when they are available, she said.

Registration packets are available at the Vandalia Recreation Center, 1111 Stonequarry Road. There is a $25 registration fee. The growing season is April 1 through Oct. 31.

“Ultimately, we believe the community gardens are a great option for folks who have more gardening ambition than they do garden space. The plots are fairly large and give people a creative and nurturing outlet for the spring and summer months,” Hopkins said.

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There have been few problems at the gardens during the first six years, he said, noting “isolated incidents” of trampled plans or pilfered vegetables.

Anyone with questions about the Community Garden can contact Weber at (937) 415-2353 or mweber@vandaliaohio.org.

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Flip or flop? 9 things to know before you start flipping houses

Published: Monday, March 05, 2018 @ 3:30 PM

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate Improve your credit score if it's low Beef up your down payment Get more than one quote Consider paying points

A knack for DIY and a fondness for shows like “Flip or Flop Atlanta” is only the start of what you need to begin flipping houses yourself.

"You must first have a clear understanding of what it is," Sky Five Properties CEO Kaya Wittenburg wrote in Realty Times. "It's not like those addicting home improvement shows. You can't just find a dilapidated house, break down a wall with a sledgehammer, find a vintage couch at a garage sale and sell the home for four times what you bought it for."

»RELATED: 4 of the best ways to turn your home into a cash cow

According to Wittenburg and other real estate and personal finance experts, to start flipping houses, you'll need a little luck and these nine practical things:

An understanding of how flipping now is different from flipping then

"The house-flipping trend died down following the housing crisis in 2008," Wittenburg noted.

As of early 2018, though, home prices are rising and there was a 3 percent increase in homes flipped over previous years. But this isn't like the pre-2008 flips.

"House flipping in the early 2000s involved people buying a house and then sitting on it waiting for the price to rise," Wittenburg said. "Now, however, house flippers are getting their hands dirty and doing major upgrades to increase the value of the home."

Time management skills

According to Wittenburg, the average time it takes to flip a house is about 3-6 months. That's how long you'll have to complete the upgrades that will appeal to sellers without dumping a lot of your own money into the project.

The ability to recognize a good house to flip

In a guide updated in December 2017, Remodeling Calculator noted that people who want to get into the flip market need to know how to spot properties that offer good value, not merely a low price.

"Rushing into buying a foreclosure only because its cheap often becomes a bottomless money pit."

A steady source of financing

"You need to be sure that you will have enough money to fund the entire process, from making a down payment to paying real estate broker fees when you go to sell," according to Remodeling Calculator. Remember to budget for the monthly mortgage payments and utility bills you'll pay until the house sells.

DeRon Jenkins and Page Turner on 'Flip or Flop: Nashville.'

The cost of renovation

One of the biggest outlays is the cost of renovation, which pros told Remodeling Calculator averaged $15,000-$25,000 on a basic fixer upper.

"One of the biggest financial pitfalls is running out of money during the remodeling stage," they noted. "Ideally, you should have 15 percent-20 percent of the sale value of the house set aside for renovations."

Building permits

You can end up flopping as quickly as you'd hope to flip if you neglect to get the required building permits. Bear in mind that only a licensed contractor will be able to obtain permits.

"Without a building permit, the town has a full right to request that the project be removed and the home be returned to its original state. They can also put a halt to your project, and impose fines, until appropriate permits are obtained," according to Remodeling Calculator.

Remodeling contractors at the ready

"One mistake newbies make is looking for remodeling contractors after they already purchase a home," Remodeling Calculator noted.

While that's logical if you're purchasing a home for yourself, when flipping, you want to resell as quickly as possible and scoping contractors stalls the remodel. At the same time, being in a hurry destroys your negotiating power with contractors.

"They will sense you are on a very tight schedule and have limited options, and will definitely up-sell their services. Start looking for contractors way before you even start searching for a property."

A real estate broker who specializes in the house flipping market

You'll be competing with professional builders and you may never see potential houses because they're quickly sold to well-connected pros. And while you can start your search on websites like RealtyTrac, Trulia, Foreclosure.com and Homefinder.com, Remodeling Calculator also recommended finding a broker who specializes in this market.

An eye for newer homes that mostly need cosmetic changes

If you don't have experience with flipping or remodeling, Remodeling Calculator warns against picking up older homes. Even pros don't want homes older than 100 years and newbie flippers should stick to much newer properties. "A very old house will have very costly electric, heating, plumbing and other issues," Remodeling Calculator cautioned. "Taking this high expense into consideration, such a home will not end up bringing a high return on investment, and may actually result in losses." Instead, vie to flip homes that mostly require new paint, flooring, fixtures and so forth. "You make the most money when the majority of the updates are cosmetic."


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Here are tips on keeping a snake-free yard

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 12:57 PM

Woman's Dream Home Becomes Snake-Infested Nightmare

Forget about "Snakes on a Plane," we're more concerned with snakes in the yard. Even though snakes are nowhere near as prevalent as our irrational fears would have us think (assuming you don't live smack dab in the middle of rattlesnake territory), if you're a homeowner with a bit of landscape or yard under your direction, you may encounter snakes on occasion.

That should be no biggie, according to experts at the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.

"As a general rule, snakes are just as frightened of you as possibly you are of them and often they move as quickly as possible in the other direction," the extension noted. Venomous snake bites are rare and you can readily take steps to treat them. If you're an avid gardener, you may even want snakes in your slice of the great outdoors, since they diet on rodents and insects and can actually help protect you from garden pests.

Not buying it? You can try to keep snakes out of your home life. Just understand that even the best measures are not 100 percent foolproof, according to America's Wetland Resources, which is based in the South.

"There are no magic or absolute solutions," AWR asserted. "There are no poisons or repellents that work, though some new 'breakthrough' is occasionally advertised. Horsehair ropes and trails of mothballs have consistently tested negative, and pest control operators have no answers."

But there are still plenty of valid ways to limit, or possibly eliminate, a slithery presence in your yard, garden or home. Here are five tips from the pros on how to keep snakes out of your yard:

Seal crevices. Closer to your home, seal the openings where snakes like to set up house. "Check the clearance of door bottoms, weep holes, openings where pipes enter, cracks and spaces under eaves," AWR recommended. "Don't neglect storerooms and sheds."

AWR added that sealing enough openings to make a difference is much more difficult if you own a raised wooden home.

Lawrenceville approves $253,061 for upgrades to the Lawrenceville Lawn. Courtesy City of Lawrenceville(For the AJC)

Tidy up the yard. Snakes might choose to live on your property or simply travel through, according to AWR. You want to make your property as inhospitable as possible, so concentrate on ridding it of any places snakes would consider good spots to hide. Remove debris, from piles of boards, tin, sticks and leaves to flat boats on the ground and piles of bricks or stone, AWR advised, and keep vegetation cut back.

Stop serving the snake's preferred menu. It's a win-win. When you take away potential hiding places for snakes, the spots where rat and mice families like to congregate are also eliminated. But take this one step further, AWR advised, and take further steps to get rid of the rodents that snakes like to snack on. You may want to involve a pest control agent, but you definitely want to practice anti-rodent hygiene, including not leaving pet food out for more than an hour or so, closing trash cans tightly and securing compost in a sealed container.

Combat the climbers. If limbs from a neighbor's yard hang over your fence, snakes may use them as an entry to your place. Consider working with your neighbor to get them trimmed.

Consider the snake-proof fence. If you live in an area where one or more venomous snakes are common, you may want to invest in a snake-proof fence, according to NCSU. "Small areas where children play can be protected from all poisonous and most harmless snakes with a snake-proof fence," it noted. "However, the cost of the fence may make it impractical to protect an entire yard."

Make a fence by burying 1/4-inch mesh wire screening 6 inches underground and building it up 30 inches, instructed NCSU.

"It should slant outward at a 30-degree angle from bottom to top. The supporting stakes must be inside the fence and any gates must fit tightly. Tall vegetation must be removed along the fence, both inside and outside."

It's costly, but you can snake-proof the entire yard with a concrete chain wall that extends six inches or so below the surface, noted AWR.

"If you already have a wooden fence and the boards are very close together, a good solution is to snake-proof the bottom."

One fairly cheap way is to use 1/4-inch hardware cloth cut in strips wide enough to overlap the bottom of the fence so it can be tacked securely and extend down into a narrow trench six inches deep.

AWR added another word of caution for either snake-proof fence design (spoiler alert: it's nightmare inducing.) "Many snakes climb by looping over objects and the above described design may virtually eliminate their entry," it noted. "Others, however, can crawl up vertical surfaces if they are rough, such as the trunk of a tree or a brick wall (including the side of a house)."

To overcome this creepy climbing capability, you can place a foot-wide ledge made of wood or metal flashing along the outer side at the top. "This structure makes the snakes lean out away from the wall and it will lose its grip and fall."

After all this snake talk, AWR does have one bit of great news. "Snakes are rarely abundant in any one location."

And if all your efforts fail and snakes do make their way into your yard, AWR recommended the ultimate failsafe.

"The best thing you can do for yourself and family is to teach everyone to respect snakes and to be on the lookout for them," according to the  AWR website. "Remember, don't touch it with your hands. Use a shovel to place the snake in a deep bucket with a cover. The chances of your encountering a venomous species is remote, but possible enough to always by careful!"


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Don't try this at home: Top home repairs that aren't DIY

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 11:38 AM

These are six times you should never skimp on home repairs Anything with electrical work A leaky roof Defective water-based plumbing appliances Standing water A dirty chimney Clogged gutters

Everyone wants to feel self-sufficient, and even those with deep pockets find it's a good idea to stick to some kind of home maintenance budget. If you chuckled at the thought of having "deep pockets," you're probably even more concerned with controlling costs on the home front.

»RELATED: 6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

But frugal isn't always better, even if you have monster DIY skills. "When it comes to doing your own home repairs, there's a thin line between being fearless and foolish," noted Joseph Truini of Popular Mechanics.

Sometimes you have to go all in with the home repair budget, whether it's to avoid bigger, more costly disasters, to assure home safety or to protect your investment. These are six times you should never skimp on home repairs, even if you must hire a pro to get the desired results:

Involved electrical work. Feel free to install dimmer switches or replace an old ceiling light with a new ceiling fan, Truini advised. "Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, as long as you remember to first turn off the electricity." But anything more complicated than that and it's time to call the pros (and heave a sigh as you get out your wallet). "When it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician," he said. "When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire."

The floor of a second story classroom shows water damage from a leaky roof. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

A leaky roof. Those drip-drips on the floor, even if it's only the attic floor, can indicate big problems for a homeowner who ignores them. They include possible structural damage, mold or loss of personal property, according to The Balance. "It's nothing to mess with. Address roof leaks as soon as you discover them, and you'll save yourself a ton of cash," it added.

Roof problems can be caused by weather, which can decay roof materials, or a simple lack of maintenance, which most commonly makes a flat or low-sloped roof uneven, so it accumulates water that can destroy roofing material. While a few adjustments can be made by an amateur, the most important roof area to inspect is the flashing, which is supposed to provide a watertight seal between your roof's sections and other parts of the building, according to The Balance. If you try to install, adjust or replace the flashing yourself, you're risking a disaster. "Incorrect installation procedure or attachment, and improper sealing of the flashing will allow the water to enter between the roofing systems and the roof structure."

If the problem is the roof's design, including the slope, drainage or incompatible materials, you should also get an expert roofer involved before the leaks start impressive levels of destruction. While design adjustments are expensive to correct and have to happen while another roofing material is happening, ignoring them will cost many more do-overs and potential roof failures.

Defective water-based plumbing appliances. Being a homeowner requires a little bit of DIY plumbing for the occasional leaky faucet, clogged drain or stopped-up toilet, according to the Louisville, Kentucky-based Tom Sondergeld Plumbing. "These basic projects can be finished in a couple of hours and don't require any specialized skill," the owner admitted.

But there are larger plumbing issues that can't be ignored, or tackled by a homeowner who's handy with the wrench. One time not to skimp is when a water heater, sump pump or other water-based appliance stops functioning properly. "When these appliances need maintenance or replacement, it can be an extensive process," TSP advised. "A licensed plumber can either repair or replace the appliance properly."

Standing water. All jokes about hourly rates and attire malfunctions aside, sometimes a plumber's efforts can prevent out and out disasters. One of these instances is when you spot standing water in the house, according to TSP. (Mysterious standing water, that is, not the result of a recent large dog being bathed or a spill you recognize.) The standing water can be close to a water heater, toilet or sink, but the damage may be far more extensive. "A plumber can see if there is more than meets the eye," TSP said. "Typically, standing water is a sign of a much larger problem. Before you start digging into the issue, call a professional and let them use their expertise to diagnose and treat the issue before your home becomes a splash park."

A dirty chimney. Due to the potential for fires and dangerous fumes, sweeping the chimney annually is not optional, according to the Balance. "Hire a professional chimney sweep once a year to make sure your chimney is free of creosote, bird nests and other flammables," the site recommended.

Hiring a pro to clean gutters can prevent drainage problems throughout the house.(Contributed by windows2clean.com/For the AJC)

Clogged gutters. It may not seem like something worth paying someone to climb up on the roof for, but clogged gutters, downspouts that don't direct away from the house and improper grading can all lead to drainage problems. "All of them put your home's foundation at risk and invite water indoors," noted The Balance. "Now, not later, is the time to tackle those rainwater woes."


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