People assume that success is tied to traditional milestones, such as getting married, having a family, moving up in one’s career, and buying a home. But I often question if single family homes are a money pit. Why? Owning a single family home not only involves the cost of the mortgage, loan interest, home insurance, and property taxes, but also maintenance costs. I’ll highlight below the rough costs to maintain our single family home and what I’d do differently if I’d had more time to search for a home.
I live in the suburbs of Boston, in a High Cost of Living (HCoL) area. We have a colonial on a lot just shy of an acre. While it’s suburban, it’s has a country vibe. The neighboring town is maybe 7,000 people max and has a combined high school. All that said, we are 10 minutes from a few big highways and five minutes from the commuter rail that goes into Cambridge and downtown Boston.
My husband and I looked for a home on and off for a few years. But when we became parents, the stress of bringing home 5.5 pound twins while dealing with his job change and loud neighbors made our search urgent. We spent every weekend toting the twins around going to open houses. We ended up bidding over asking and moving in the summer of 2019. Then our nanny moved on and we started daycare a month later. To say we were anxious and stressed out is an understatement.
Once we moved in, our nanny was around for two more weeks, then we switched to daycare. We decided then to outsource a lot because time is scarce with young kids.
In addition to choosing a heating oil company, we searched for the following vendors:
- Trash and recycling pickup. Some towns cover this; ours doesn’t. It’s about $130/quarter.
- Lawn care. We pay about $70 for cuts every two weeks. They bill 3X from spring to fall. Unless you tell them, they’ll do spring and fall cleanup, which can run as much as $800 or more.
- Snow plow. We pay $60 for every 6″.
- Pest control. We get sprayed for ticks and mosquitos. It’s $95 every two to three weeks. The season lasts until the first frost.
I realize it’s a luxury to own a single family home and one with land that is big enough to require help cutting the grass, clearing snow from the driveway, and getting preventative pest care. We were in our 40s when we purchased this home and had help with the down payment. Still we use the Zero Budget method for our household bills because our daycare/preschool is high with two kids.
Don’t End Up House Poor
When you buy a home, the bank checks your credit score, income, debts, and more. But they don’t ask about your childcare costs. So what if my month minivan payment is over $400/month, if the bank isn’t asking about my childcare costs, which have been $4,000+ since birth?!
The bank will pre-approve you for a big loan. They’ll take into account for employment income and your debts, and help estimate the monthly payment of 1) principal, 2) interest, home insurance, and property taxes. But they rarely consider any of the following costs because they expect borrowers to have a solid budget.
- Childcare costs
- Maintenance costs (Lawn, Snow, Pest, Trash)
- Occasionally repairs
- Heating system: boiler or furnace
- Cooling: new condenser or installation of ductless units
- Roof repair or replacements
- Gutter cleaning or repair
- Structural damages or engineering reviews
- Garage Doors
- Sump Pump installation
- Everyday luxuries such as
- Replacement appliances (fridge, washer/dryer, dishwasher)
- House cleaner
- Alarms: for safety and a direct line to the fire station
You can see the list goes on and on. If I estimate the annual costs of our pest, lawn, snow, and trash costs, it’s about $4,200. A simple average of $4,200 works out to $350 per month. That’s a chunk.
We look ahead and know that once the twins are in kindergarten, our childcare costs will be cut in half. We’ll swap double preschool for double afterschool, camp, and bus fees. We know we are fortunate to live where we do and have a safe environment for our kids. But it sure does cost a lot. And one has to ask:
- Is it worth it?
- What would I do differently if I had to do it again?
I do love where I live and I know I’ll grow into the house. It will hold value, but it would appreciate the way homes do that are in suburbs directly adjacent to cities.
If I were searching again, I’d look for a slightly smaller house, on a small lot, with a shorter driveway. That would mean lower lawn mowing, snow plowing, and heating bills, not to mention the jaw dropping costs of local property taxes.
You have to love the house you plan to buy because in the end, the ideal is to breakeven or make money. Most of us will be lucky enough to breakeven, once maintenance costs are factored in. Still home ownership is about family, personal goals, comfort, and so much more. Think about your priorities before you jump into the process. Go for what you want, not your friends or family think you should buy.