My Largest Unexpected Expense as a First-Time Home Buyer

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I became a first-time home buyer in 2018. During the process of the home purchase, I followed the same steps I would take my clients through. This included planning for unknown costs such as leaks, electrical issues, needing a new roof or appliances. What I have learned since being an owner is that there are other costs of homeownership that aren't often discussed or known. I have now realized I didn't account for the one thing, that as of today, has been my biggest homeownership expense.

This expense is MY TIME. 

I have found that my biggest time sucks in homeownership are split into two categories; things I could pay to outsource and things I can't outsource. 

In the process of buying a home there are dollar signs everywhere. So I, like many first time buyers, tried to cut back on all of my expenses. For me, this included not splurging on homecare items like having a gardener, a cleaning service or pool maintenance. One thing I have realized as a CFP® and analyzing many clients cash flows, is that once you start a recurring homecare expense, you are likely not going to want to give up this convenience. I do believe my time is worth more than the costs associated for such services but, for now, I have chosen to delay any recurring costs as long as possible. 

Could Pay to Outsource:

Yard work. My yard has been by far the largest time suck since buying my home. Mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, trimming hedges - there is a lot to do. This time would cost me about $200 a month if I wanted to hire someone to come and do this for me. This would be $2,400 a year in costs to outsource. 

House cleaning. My time cleaning has equally doubled as my space has doubled. This would also be about $2,400 a year in costs to outsource. 

General maintenance. At this point, I have done all the small general maintenance items myself or with the help of family and YouTube. I estimate this will save me about $2,000 per year.

This is an estimated annual savings of about $6,800. These savings will be enough to allow me to make a maximum Roth IRA contribution each year I continue to do the work myself. 

Some first-time buyers won't have the luxury of this extra time that I have and may have to outsource these jobs just to get by. That is something to think about. Just make sure to accurately budget for these expenses especially if you are upgrading to a larger space and lot size. 

Can't Outsource:

Learning our house. Locating where the main water line is, how to use the sprinkler system, setting the outdoor automated lighting times, figuring out the inside light switches, learning our new appliances - there are endless things to learn about your new home. There is a learning curve for figuring out how to run your new house smoothly. This time is something that dwindles but in the first few months it can be a lot. 

Trash and Recycling. Gathering all the cans throughout the house, all the extra junk mail and flyers you get when you live in the suburbs, taking them out the night before, bringing them back in the next day and just remembering to do this whole dance! It is just another thing added to the mental checklist of homeownership that I am not used to coming from an apartment. Especially in the first few months, cutting up all the cardboard boxes of items I bought or moved and trying to fit it all into the recycle bin was a huge time suck.

Constant looming of projects and improvements. Once you buy, you are constantly thinking of ways to make your house yours. Changing the paint, updating the bathrooms or kitchen, redoing the backyard, rearranging furniture, hanging up photos - there is always a project you will want to do. It is a mental to-do list you are always tracking which takes up time and mental capacity. We started keeping a spreadsheet of the home improvement projects we wanted to complete, including an estimated cost and goal date for completion. Keeping a record of these goals allows us to make our home our own, a little at a time, without breaking the bank.

While my home is a major time suck, I still love it. There is nothing like being a homeowner and having pride in your home and the way it looks. Just remember when you are going to buy a home, think about the non-monetary expenses you will incur with your new purchase and lifestyle in addition to the monetary costs.

Make sure to have a fee-only and fiduciary CFP® professional help you understand the costs of homeownership before you buy.