Home Costs: 4 Crucial Questions Reveal Hidden Expenses

What It Costs to Own a Home
What It Costs to Own a Home

Of course home costs go far beyond the monthly mortgage payments, as any homeowner will complain. Along with obvious ones like taxes and insurance, there are maintenance costs to consider, the expenses that accrue from repairs and replacement of important items.

One of the best ways to learn about home costs beyond mortgage, taxes and insurance is to talk to experts before you buy a home. Your real estate agent, home inspector and the sellers of the home that you are purchasing all have critical information that will help you determine the less obvious costs of owning a home. Michele Lerner, a real estate expert and author of "Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time," says they should be able to tell you if you must pay for services like garbage pickup and snow removal. "These are expenses you need to be aware of," Lerner cautions.

She suggests that buyers ask the following four questions before purchasing a home, in order to help find the true cost of homeownership.

1. When were appliances and major systems last repaired or replaced?

The need for structural repairs or replacement of big-ticket items such as hot water heaters and appliances, are sometimes harder to predict than other costs. "When you are touring a home, ask the owner how old the appliances are, when the roof was last repaired, how the furnace has been maintained," Lerner said, adding that there are often warranties that can provide you with this kind of information.

2. What are the utility bills?

Ask your real estate agent or the home seller for the average cost of utility bills. These include gas, water, electric, cable and Internet. There are many apartment residents who have never seen a gas or electric bill. And even for those who have, the costs of heating and cooling your first home can dwarf the costs of the same services for a rental unit.

3. Who are your repair people?

The seller is also a good source for a list of repair people for you to contact if you discover deficiencies in your home. If the sink backs up while you're preparing Thanksgiving dinner, you need to know the name of a local, reliable plumber. It's especially helpful to have the names of service people -- think plumber, electrician, landscaper, handyman, appliance repairman -- who are familiar with your home. They can be a good source when you can't find the water shut-off valve or, during that first cold day in October, the furnace's "on" switch.

4. What does the inspector say?

A home inspector is a crucial source for some of the most critical answers, so when you do decide on that first home, be sure to have a home inspection. "These people can tell a lot about the condition of things, such as the heating and air conditioning system, the plumbing, and structural issues of the home," Lerner says. "They can tell you that you will need a new hot water heater and how much it will cost. Attend the home inspection and take notes."

Other essential guides for first-time buyers:
Home Affordability: How Much House (or Apartment) Can I Handle?

Homebuying: 5 Key Steps to Your 1st Real Estate Purchase

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