Surprise New Homeowner Expenses

Part of the American dream is to own a new home. However, for many their first home may not be ‘new’, and with that can come some hidden costs.

As a general precaution and a way to gauge potential costs, It's wise to have your prospective home inspected by a certified home inspector prior to purchase, which can cost a few hundred (well spent) dollars.

Environmental Issues

I should mention that many home inspections do not include, as a matter of standard procedure, inspection for what some may call environmental issues (e.g., asbestos, radon gas, and lead paint).

Deduction is somewhat easy. To be safe, if the home you're considering was built prior to the late 1980s, there is a good chance asbestos was used in the insulation. The CDC advises that all houses built before 1978 are likely to contain lead-based paint. The EPA recommends that all homes be tested for radon gas prior to purchase, as it has been found in homes nationwide. Radon gas is a radioactive odorless, tasteless gas, which under certain circumstances can cause death. If you are unsure or concerned about these environmental issues professional inspection is available for an additional cost.

The presence of asbestos in a home can become a problem if it is disturbed. Lead paint poses a problem if the paint deteriorates, and it is particularly toxic to young children who tend to investigate and put their hands in their mouths.

Mitigation and removal for these environmental toxins can be an unanticipated great expense, but removal is highly regulated and should only been done by licensed, certified technicians.

I might also mention that pest control can be an unanticipated expense. In California, all homes that are being sold require a termite inspection, the cost for which and any necessary repairs are borne by the seller. But, there can be other pests not generally covered by these kinds of inspections.

New (First) Home

Should you choose to do otherwise, there are home-inspection checklists available online. They spotlight the most important interior and exterior considerations, which are found by working your way around a house either clockwise or counterclockwise.

Exterior: Working From the Top Down

Roof inspection: While roofs can last 25 or more years, they are the feature most exposed to the elements, and a leaking roof or one in ill condition can be a nightmare. If the roof needs repair, it should probably be done by a licensed roofing contractor or only the most skilled diy-er.

Chimneys: If the home has a fireplace, the chimney needs to be inspected for structural integrity and cracks. Additionally, if the chimney has been used regularly or you are inclined to use it, the interior of the fireplace and chimney should be cleaned by a chimney sweep to eliminate the possibility of smoke infiltrating the house.

Exterior wall coverings: Siding, fascia, and soffits need to be inspected. While brick or stone siding can last a lifetime, wood siding requires constant maintenance. Repairs to wood or vinyl sidings, depending upon the nature of the damage, are pretty straightforward and can be handled by an experienced diy-er. However, repairs to masonry sidings should only be tackled by the most experienced, and can be particularly expensive.

Windows: Inspect your windows for both operation and leaks. Leaking windows can be easily insulated, but that does not make them completely energy efficient, and it's sometimes difficult to repair poorly operating windows. Replacing windows is an expensive project that should only be tackled by the most experienced diy-er. The cost is affected by energy efficiency and architectural considerations.

Landscaping and Hardscaping: Exterior walkways, patios, driveways and flower beds can be a great expense should they need maintenance or repair. There are inexpensive driveway and walkway repair processes available for both concrete and asphalt, but if a driveway needs to be replaced it can be backbreaking work and quite expensive should you decide to contract it out.

Interiors: Working From the Bottom Up

Basements can sometimes provide a look at the foundation walls and indicate whether there are any structural cracks or small leaks. For major leaks or cracks in a foundation, a specialist may be necessary and the cost of repair can be significant.

Moving up and from room to room, carefully inspect floors and ceilings for cracks. Even if floors and ceilings are in good shape, consider that walls are likely to need painting, floors may require new coverings, and windows may need new treatments such as shades, drapes, and/or blinds.

Plumbing, electrical panels and outlets, HVAC, electrical fixtures, and garbage disposals can and will eventually be expenses for all homeowners. In an older house, however, problems with these systems should be anticipated more readily.

Many repairs can easily be tackled by an experienced diy-er. However, despite having the skills to perform many of these repairs, for peace of mind one might consider a home protection warranty plan, which for a few hundred dollars a year not only covers most major system repairs, but also most major appliances.

‘New’ Homes: Exterior

New homes frequently come without fencing, landscaping, underground sprinkler systems, walkways, exterior lighting, and even sometimes patios. The cost of putting all this in can be enormous. However, many new home builders offer these services as extras and frequently the additional cost can be added to your mortgage.

‘New’ Homes: Interior

Most new homes are builder grade: they come with white walls, inexpensive flooring, no window treatments, and can require that you purchase some major appliances.

While custom flooring is frequently an add-on that can be added to your mortgage payment, custom paint, custom window treatments, and upgraded or additional appliances such as washers and dryers or upgraded refrigerators are expenses that must be borne directly by the homeowner.