It's exciting to think about buying your first home, but before you commit, you should be aware that the expense of owning a home goes well beyond your mortgage payments. If you've been doing the math to see whether you can afford to buy a house, don't forget to factor in these other major expenses.
Property taxes vary from one state to another and even from one county to another. According to a Tax Foundation study, New Jersey has the highest average property taxes at 2.38%, while Hawaii has the lowest at 0.28%. For a home assessed at $200,000, that's the difference between $4,760 and $560 in property taxes. That's quite a range! So before you buy your new home, find out just how much the property taxes will be.
Keep in mind that buying a house will trigger a new assessment by your county assessor and likely reset the property's official value. Thus, even if taxes on the property have been low in the past, they may shoot up dramatically once you own the place -- especially if it's been a while since the last assessment.
Like property taxes, homeowner's insurance rates tend to vary from one part of the country to another; states with a lot of natural disasters, such as Florida and Texas, tend to have higher rates. The average cost nationwide is $1,083 per year. Get a few quotes on policies available in your area for a more accurate idea of how much this insurance will cost you.
Depending on your location and situation, you may need additional insurance coverage. For example, someone in California would probably want to get earthquake coverage, and if your house is on a floodplain, flood insurance would be a really good idea. Finally, if you paid less than 20% down on your home, your lender will probably require private mortgage insurance (PMI), which protects not you, but the lender in the event you default on the loan.
Once you own your own home, you can no longer pick up the phone and call the landlord if a pipe breaks or the stove stops working. Most new homeowners are aware that repair expenses will be an issue, but they may not realize that regular maintenance can also add up to an impressive total.
For example, if you have a lawn, you'll either need to hire someone to mow it for you or do it yourself. If you hire someone, it can get quite expensive, especially for professional landscapers; if you do it yourself, you'll be responsible for buying and maintaining your lawnmower, buying gas for it, and spending potentially valuable free time mowing. In addition, any trees or bushes on the property will need to be pruned and maintained; the house exterior will need to be cleaned and eventually repainted; decks and porches may need to be resealed and/or painted regularly; and even the driveway will eventually need repairs. And that's just what the outside of the house will require.
Expect the unexpected
Everyone should have an emergency savings account to cover unexpected expenses, but it's even more crucial for homeowners. Homeowner's insurance will help with some, but not all, emergency expenses related to your home. For example, when my fence blew down in a storm, the insurance company paid for it, but when tree roots climbed into my septic tank, I had to pay for the repairs myself (that's considered a "maintenance" issue and isn't covered by most insurance policies). And if you put such a repair on a credit card, you'll be paying for it for months, if not years, to come. So before you commit to buying a house, make sure you have a well-funded savings account dedicated to house repairs and upkeep. You'll definitely sleep better knowing that you can afford to pay for house-related emergencies.
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