This Shocking Expense Cost Us a Fortune When We Sold Our Home

by Maurie Backman | Published on Aug. 8, 2021

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Couple dismayed by document in hands.

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Selling a home may cost you more than expected. Consider yourself warned!

Years ago, I was living in a small New York City apartment when my husband and I started dating. Once things got serious, I moved into the house he owned, which made a lot more sense than cramming into my 450-square-foot studio.

We lived in that home together for a few years before deciding it was time to upsize. After all, my husband purchased that house as a starter home, so I knew from the beginning that we wouldn't be staying long.

I also knew that selling our home would cost us some money. We needed to repaint walls, fix some minor cracks in our flooring, and steam clean our carpets to get rid of the evidence that a dog had once lived there and had some accidents.

My husband and I set a home repair budget so we wouldn't go overboard in the course of getting the house in shape. And finally, the time arrived to list our property.

But there was another hurdle to jump. We needed to obtain a certificate of occupancy from our town to finalize the sale of our home. That certificate is confirmation that a home is suitable to be lived in, and it's something mortgage lenders may require a buyer to present in order to finalize a home loan. (And as sellers, it was our responsibility to provide it to our buyer.)

When we first applied for a certificate of occupancy, we failed for one big reason -- a massive crack in the sidewalk outside of our house. But little did we know just how expensive fixing that issue would be.

A total shock

As homeowners, I knew that my husband and I were responsible for certain exterior items relating to our house. For example, it was our responsibility to trim our trees so people could walk freely down the street without getting smacked with branches, and it was on us to remove snow after a storm.

What I didn't realize, however, was that the upkeep of the sidewalk in front of our house was our financial responsibility, too. So when we found out we'd need to have our sidewalk repaired in order to obtain our certificate of occupancy, it came as a very unpleasant surprise.

Now my husband is a reasonably handy person, but fixing damaged concrete is not in his wheelhouse. As such, we had to hire a mason to come in and do the work, and even after comparing quotes, we wound up paying around $1,500 to have that sidewalk fixed.

Because that was an expense we weren't at all anticipating, and because we'd already depleted most of our home repair budget on other items, we had to dip into our emergency fund to come up with the cash. Thankfully, the money was there, and we didn't have to go into debt.

Lesson learned

The takeaway from all of this isn't just that selling a home may be more expensive than you initially bargain for. It's also that becoming a homeowner could mean being responsible for more expenses that you may be aware of.

If you're looking to buy a home, find out what items you're responsible for before diving in, and also, make sure you have plenty of money available in an emergency fund for when things go wrong.

The reality is that we would have eventually been hit with a repair ticket from our town to fix the sidewalk even if we hadn't applied for that certificate of occupancy. I'm grateful we had the cash reserves on hand to deal with it, because otherwise, an already annoying situation would have become a lot more stressful.

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