Americans are an optimistic sort. A recent study from Bank of The West found that 85 percent of millennials are confident they’ll achieve the American Dream — of which owning a home is a big piece.
Yet, more than half of those surveyed don’t have a plan to actually get there, and once they start on the path, they’re often shocked at how much it costs. Sure, some costs associated with homeownership are predictable, like your mortgage payment. But many of the ancillary costs take homeowners by surprise, including property taxes, insurance, utility bills, and more. You don’t want to fall in love with a home only to find out that the cost of living there will have you over-extended. Here’s a guide to the line items you should be considering, so you’re not shocked when the bills start arriving.
CLOSING COSTS-As you close on your mortgage, get ready for a laundry list of costs: Mortgage taxes, lender application fees, attorney’s fees, title insurance (the insurance policy for the deed), recording fees (paid to the county clerk’s office to record the deed), and any potential real estate tax reimbursements if the seller has paid them upfront. All in, you’re usually looking at an average of 2 to 5 percent of the total cost of the home.
HOME MAINTENANCE-In general, you should plan on paying 1 to 2 percent of the value of your home every year in maintenance and upkeep. Upkeep on condominiums or attached townhomes tend to be lower than single-family homes on their own land. Your agent and home inspector can help you estimate what routine jobs will cost in your area, especially when it comes to first-year costs.
PROPERTY TAXES-Property taxes don’t just vary by state, and they’re not stagnant — they also increase or decrease based on city, ordinance, and even a specific house. The Tax Foundation has a property tax data lookup tool by county you can use when planning expenses. If you believe your property taxes are higher than they should be compared with other homes in your area, you can hire a lawyer to help grieve your taxes (usually for a percentage of the money that person saves you). You can also do it yourself and save the fees.
UTILITIES-Utility costs can be as high a number as property taxes, running a couple hundred dollars or more. But to get a clear sense of what to budget, ask your agent to request that information from the seller as these costs can be eye-opening, especially on older homes.
HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE-If you’re getting a mortgage, you’ll be required to have homeowners insurance. And even if you pay cash for your home, you should have it anyway. You’re best off buying a replacement cost policy which will cover the cost of replacing the items that get stolen or damaged in a fire, rather than one that gives you the depreciated value of the items lost. You can save yourself a significant amount by shopping around, both online and off. Don’t forget to ask about discounts for security systems, working from home, and bundling coverage for your home with your auto insurance policy.