Last Updated on August 27, 2022 by Mark Ferguson
Buying a house is a dream for many people and has been accomplished by most households in the United States. As of the middle of 2022, 65.8% of households own a home in the US. Achieving the dream of owning a home is fantastic, but maintaining a house also takes some work. It can also be costly if certain items break or you decide you want some upgrades or updates. There are many things you can do to reduce the maintenance and repair costs, but at some point, there will be some items that need to be addressed.
Is renting worth it to avoid maintenance costs?
Maintaining a home can be expensive, and some people choose to rent to avoid those costs. It is true, that will most rentals the landlord is responsible for the maintenance costs, but the renter will usually pay in the end. Rent is usually more than a mortgage at least in mid to low-end homes. The landlord wants to make money and rent needs to be higher to pay for the maintenance costs, taxes, insurance, and vacancy costs.
Rent is usually higher and it increases over time with inflation and increasing housing costs. While it may seem like you save money on those costs, you usually pay more in the end since a mortgage is usually fixed, at least for a certain amount of time. Even if rent is lower than a mortgage on some houses, given enough time, it will most likely increase and cost you more money than buying.
There are some reasons for renting but I believe most people are betting off buying!
How can you avoid maintenance costs?
When you buy a house there are many things you can do to avoid maintenance costs. The most important thing you can do is get an inspection done on the home. Have a professional inspector check out all of the major systems to make sure they are in working order and see how old they are. Obviously, a new house is going to have less maintenance than an older home, but older homes built after the 1960s with the major systems updated can be almost as good. When you buy homes built prior to the 1960s it can be hit or miss on how good they were built. 100-year-old homes tend to have many more problems even if they are updated. If you buy an old house be prepared to spend more on maintenance and repairs.
The home inspection can alert you to major problems with the HVAC (heating ventilation air conditioning), plumbing, electrical system, roof, foundation, windows, appliances, and more. A home inspection may not catch everything because you cannot see through walls but it can help a home buyer avoid some major hassles. A good inspector should be able to warn a potential buyer about possible future issues like poor drainage, sewer lines with root problems, etc.
I would suggest finding a really good and experienced real estate agent to help you buy a house and using an inspector they recommend. Not all inspectors are the same and many states like Colorado have no requirements or licensing for inspectors.
It is also important to have the correct insurance on your home as well. In Colorado, very few people ever have to pay for a roof because we get so much hail. If you have insurance and a hail storm destroys the roof, the insurance company will cover the cost (minus the deductible). Not all insurance policies are the same as many do not cover flood damage or sewer backups. Ask your agent what your policy covers and if you need an additional rider for a sewer backup (one of the more costly things that can occur), or flood coverage if you are in an area at risk for flooding.
Are home warranties worth it?
Another option to protect against maintenance costs is to purchase a home warranty. Home warranties are sometimes worth it but here is something important to remember about insurance and warranties.
The warranty companies are in business to make money. They have done the math to figure out that the warranty usually costs more than any repairs will cost.
Home warranties are usually limited to one or two years and cost from $300 to $1,000 depending on what is covered. If you have no repairs during that one or two years after you buy the home or get the warranty then you spent that money for nothing. Home warranties also are limited in what they cover. Most cover major appliances, the furnace, the AC, and the water heater. They won’t cover a plumbing leak, or electrical problem, or a roof.
I personally think home warranties are too limited to be worth it for me.
How much will you spend on maintenance for a home?
Houses are complicated and vary greatly in size and what needs to be done. You could buy a patio home or a condo where the lawn care and all exterior maintenance are taken care of by the HOA. You could also buy a 20k square foot mansion with 60 acres and a butler. For this article, we will discuss the basic maintenance on an average house (2k square feet) with an average size lot (.2 acres).
Here is what will most likely need to be maintained and what it might cost you.
- Yard care: Will you mow the lawn yourself or hire it out? Even if you mow it yourself it will take gas, a mower, and time. If you hire it out it probably takes $50 to $100 a month depending on how much grass you have.
- Painting: Most houses will need paint over the years. The exterior paint can wear quickly in certain areas. You might need to paint the exterior every 5 to 15 years depending on the area and paint used. A paint job for a house this size could be $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the painters used. If you do it yourself you can save money but that also takes time.
- Appliances: They do not make appliances like they used to. They tend to break every 3 to 10 years. Appliances are also getting much more expensive. I would count on replacing or repairing them every 5 to 7 years but you might get lucky and have longer-lasting ones. That could take $2,000 to $3,000 (or $10,000) depending on how fancy they are.
- HVAC servicing: HVAC systems should last many years but they do need cleaned and serviced to reach their maximum age. Every year or two you should have a company clean and check your HVAC system which may cost $100 to $200. You should also change the furnace filters every month or two which may cost $100 in filters a year.
You also may have major items break but it really depends on the condition and age of those items and if they are maintained well.
- HVAC: The furnace and AC should last decades if taken care of but that is not always the case. A furnace could fail after 5 years if the filter is never changed. Replacement could cost from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the system.
- Roof: Most roofs should last from 20 to 30 years. If you have a hail or wind storm move through your area have the roof checked out. You may be able to replace it at little to no cost. If your roof is simply too old it could cost from $7,000 to $15,000 to replace.
- Windows: Windows can last for decades as well but they can also have their seals leak or can be very inefficient. You could also pay $3,500 to replace your windows or $30,000 to replace them depending on the company you use. In my opinion, expensive windows are not worth it. Often, the replacement is not necessary but could save a little money on energy bills.
- Siding: A lot of companies will try to sell people on new siding and really expensive windows that are simply not needed. Siding should last decades if maintained well.
- Sewer: Older sewer lines can break and can back up into your house. It is a horrible mess when a sewer back-up occurs but the right insurance should cover the repairs. If you don’t have the right insurance just the clean-up can cost $5,000 to $15,000.
- Flood: Sometimes water lines break, freeze, or an old appliance fails. There can also be storm damage that floods or damages a house. If it is storm damage insurance will usually cover it and even if a water line breaks the insurance will most likely cover it as well. If you don’t have the right insurance it can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
I won’t list every single thing in the house that can break or that needs to be maintained but this should give you an idea of what it takes to maintain a home. If you do your work upfront to buy a house with good systems you can expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000 a year for needed maintenance and repairs over the life of the home. Some of those costs may come in big chunks and you can save a lot of money by doing the work yourself if you are able and willing. If you get unlucky with a big repair you could spend more.
What about updates to a home?
I just listed the maintenance and repair items that may come up during home ownership but what about updating a home? What if you want a new kitchen or flooring or interior paint? Many people update and remodel their homes but I don’t consider it necessary for maintenance. it can be very expensive to update a home and it may be needed to get top dollar when selling. You also may want to enjoy the updates yourself.
Houses can be expensive but they are also the #1 investment for the vast majority of America. If you don’t own a home and choose to pay rent instead, you are probably paying more per month in rent, and that rent will increase over time with inflation while a fixed mortgage will not. It is important to make sure the house you buy is in decent shape if you are counting on low maintenance costs. I personally, don’t mind a house that needs a little work because I can get good deals on them, but I expect to put money into the repairs and maintenance.
Take your time buying, get an inspection done, and put a little money aside for those repairs and maintenance items that will come up.