Owning your own home is the American Dream for a reason. You can do whatever you want to and in your own home, as long as you adhere to local building codes when you make your renovations. And owning property gives you and your family stability, freedom, and a means to build wealth.
But homeownership comes with a number of hidden costs—the mortgage payment is just the beginning. In addition to homeowners insurance and taxes, you’ll also have to pay to maintain and repair your home, or you could risk it losing value or even becoming unlivable. And there’s no way to really predict when your home will need repairs, or how much they will cost, but there’s one thing you can know for sure—they will be expensive. The average emergency repair, for example, costs $1,206.
How can you budget for home repairs and maintenance when you don’t know how much they’ll cost? There are a few different budgeting strategies and tools you can use to keep up financially with the demands of maintaining a house. You’ll have to consider the age of your home and appliances, your local market, and how much of a role you’d like to take in finding contractors and scheduling repairs.
Before you can choose the right budgeting method for your home maintenance needs, you need to consider the individual factors that could drive up your costs—or not, as the case may be. For example, the older your home, the more repair and maintenance it will likely need. Your local climate can also drastically influence your maintenance needs—if you get extreme weather conditions, your home will need more maintenance.
Other variables are more specific to your home. Are you located at the bottom of a hill or slope? Water will run down towards your home every time it rains and could have maintenance repercussions. Is your home located in the country? You probably have a septic tank, which comes with its own maintenance needs. Factors like whether or not you’re located on a floodplain, whether there are trees near your home, or even whether your neighbor has termites could influence your home’s maintenance requirements.
Of course, home repair and maintenance costs will vary depending on the cost of living in your area. If you live in an expensive area, parts and labor will cost more than if you live in a cheap area. That’s why many homeowners budget a percentage of their home’s market value for repairs and maintenance each year.
If you’re not setting aside money every month to cover home maintenance and repairs, you’re in for a rude awakening when an emergency happens. But how much should you budget? Many people choose to offset the costs of home maintenance by buying a home warranty or signing up for a membership with a home solutions company. Not only can this help control costs, but it can also take the hassle out of finding a service technician—the home warranty or home solutions company will send someone with whom they already have a relationship. For example, if your refrigerator breaks down, you can call or go online to schedule a refrigerator repair service call with your home warranty or home solutions provider. They’ve done all the legwork in finding and vetting contractors, which saves you a lot of work and stress.
Some people like to budget a percentage, usually one to two percent, of their home’s market value for repairs and maintenance each year. This rule tends to cover individual market variables fairly well, although you’ll probably end up saving more than you need if you bought your home at the peak of the market rather than at the bottom. However, construction materials and labor do fluctuate in cost somewhat with the real estate market.
Still other homeowners prefer to set aside one dollar per square foot of their home’s living space. This method takes into account the fact that larger homes tend to have higher upkeep costs, but it doesn’t factor in market fluctuations quite as well. One method that achieves both is to take the average of your costs using the square-foot rule and your costs using the percent of market value rule. Add an additional 10 percent of that number for each factor—weather, flood plain, trees—that could increase your maintenance costs.
Even if you do get a home warranty, it’s still a good idea to budget for repairs and maintenance, because your warranty company might not cover the full cost of a repair. And, while home warranties will cover unexpected breakdowns of most home appliances and systems, there are some things they won’t cover, like roof repairs or burst pipes.
Keeping up financially with repairs and maintenance can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a lot of extra money to put aside. But the more you save for home maintenance, the more prepared you’ll be when an emergency strikes—and, given enough time, an unexpected breakdown is bound to happen.