Owning your home feels great—that is, until the roof leaks. Or a pipe breaks. Or the HVAC just dies—in the middle of a summer heat wave, no less. Which begs the question: How much should homeowners set aside to take care of regular home maintenance and repairs?
If this question catches you off guard, don't feel bad—you have plenty of company.
Xavier Epps, finance expert and CEO of XNE Financial Advising, in Washington, DC, has prepared hundreds of financial plans for new and current homeowners.
"You'd be surprised at the number of clients I've prepared financial plans for that didn't want to consider budgeting for the repairs and maintenance of any sort," he says.
Epps finds that almost 70% of the time, clients actually reject the idea of adding such a line item in their budget. But here's why you should—and how much you should allot to this important fund.
Emergency fund vs. home maintenance fund: What's the difference?
First things first: Budgeting for predictable maintenance and repairs is not the same as saving up for the emergency fund every household should have. An emergency fund, equal to living expenses for a minimum of one to three months, is often recommended as a buffer for unexpected expenses and loss of income.
For example, if you get sick and can't work for two months, your car breaks down (beyond normal maintenance), or you have to travel on short notice to a funeral—those are all emergencies.
If you've already used your emergency fund to perform routine home maintenance and repairs, you won't have any cash reserves left when a true emergency strikes. You should have an amount in your monthly budget allocated specifically for home maintenance and repairs, both planned and unforeseen, so you can afford to keep your house in tiptop shape without jeopardizing your important emergency fund or going into debt.
How much should I budget for home maintenance and repairs?
"Budget between 1% and 4% of the purchase price of your home for annual preventative maintenance and repair costs," says John Bodrozic of Sacramento, CA, who's co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management platform.
Where your actual costs fall in that range depends largely on the age and condition of your home.
If your home is newer, or if it has been recently and thoroughly renovated, you might be able to budget less for maintenance and repairs, at least for the first few years.
"If your home is less than 5 years old, then use the lower percentage of 1%, as most of your home's equipment, appliances, building materials, fixtures, finishes, etc. are still relatively new, thus probably in good working condition," says Bodrozic.
If you bought your place new from a builder, you may even have warranties on individual items in your home, or an overall warranty. That could substantially reduce the amount you have to spend on repairs while the warranties are in effect.
Don't assume that living in a new home is maintenance-free, however, or that you won't need to make changes and improvements to it. A home that hasn't been lived in before may not have all of the features you need. And homebuilders often do a cursory job of landscaping. When you discover how little topsoil they used in your yard, you may need to budget for outside improvements, too.
If your home is more than 25 years old, on the other hand, plan on budgeting closer to 4%.
"Nothing lasts forever. The natural life span of the collection of materials your home is made of is getting older, therefore you will have more fix-it and repair costs," Bodrozic says.
Another way to predict expenses for home upkeep is to look at how many square feet you have, both in the house and outside. Home prices vary widely throughout the country, but as a general rule, the bigger the house and lot, the higher your maintenance costs. A home on significant acreage generally requires more maintenance than a tract house on a postage stamp–size lot, regardless of how much the house is worth. Or when you need a new roof, you'll pay a lot more on a larger house.
Reasons to keep track of past home maintenance expenses
If you've lived in your home for a number of years and you've kept the place up, one way to budget for maintenance and repairs is to look at what you spent last year. Repairs and replacements, especially, can seem like one-time expenditures. However, over time they tend to average out. The refrigerator may have been replaced last year, but in a 20-year-old house, that's not the only thing that's wearing out. This year, it may be the dishwasher or water heater. Get ready for it.
If you haven't lived in your house for long or if you don't have records of how much you spent last year, consider tracking your home maintenance and repair costs. At least mark them on your credit card bills, or keep the receipts in a marked file.
How can I save money on home maintenance?
Follow these tips to keep your annual home maintenance and repair expenses as low as possible, and still keep your house in tiptop shape:
- Know your home. If you're about to buy a home, be sure to have it inspected, and try to determine how old each appliance and major home component is. "Remember, every piece of the home has a useful life attached to it, so it's best to get a feel for how old the items are as soon as you can," says Epps. "If you buy a home with 10-year-old hardwood floors, there's a great chance you'll need to budget for replacement or refinishing." Likewise, wall paint usually needs to be redone in five to 10 years, and an HVAC system may last 10 to 15 years, according to Epps. Consider creating a schedule of when you may need to replace major items.
- Be proactive in your home maintenance. You'll save money in the long run by proactively maintaining your home, rather than waiting for something to quit working. This includes obvious upkeep such as mowing and pruning your yard, plus the jobs that are more easily forgotten—like changing the air filters, cleaning your dryer ducts, and checking your fire extinguishers, according to Bodrozic. "It's important to keep a recurring schedule of these tasks, because if you don't do them, you are more likely to have larger, more expensive repair costs when things break," he explains. You might even want to use an organization app such as HomeZada to create a recurring list of maintenance tasks for you.
- Don't delay when you discover signs of trouble. If the dryer isn't getting the clothes dry, clean out the vents now. Don't wait until it is impossibly clogged or starts a fire. Any dripping sounds or signs of water intrusion? Fix it or call for professional help, before structural damage and mold occur. Pests and wildlife intruders also need to be dealt with promptly—termites cause over $5 billion in property damage every year, which is rarely covered by homeowners insurance, according to Tommy Giardino, senior vice president of operations at Arrow Exterminators in Atlanta. If you hear noises from rodents and squirrels, take action immediately. "Rodents and squirrels are known for using insulation for building nests and gnawing on wires, which can lead to electrical fires," he says.
- Learn the basics of home maintenance. You can save a lot of money by learning home maintenance basics. Know your limits, however. It's more cost-effective to hire a pro than it is to take on more than you can handle, or worse yet, to get hurt trying.
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By: Realtor.com, Sally Herigstad