My Kingdom For a Home.....And Then What?
September 3, 2010 6:29 PM   Subscribe

What is one to expect after buying a house?

I am in a position to purchase a home. It will be my first time. I know what is required to purchase but what can I expect after I buy it besides mortgage and insurance payments?
posted by goalyeehah to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Everything costs more money than you ever would have expected. The house will get dirtier faster than you ever would have expected. It's a lot more work than you would have ever expected.

At the end of the day, somehow, it's still worth it. YMMV.
posted by kellygrape at 6:31 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Expect a lot of maintenance. Stuff like getting a ladder, so you can climb on the roof and check it out (be prepared for heights, or find a nice neighbor, or hire someone to do it for you) and clean the gutters. If you have a lot of trees on your property, there will be stuff to do with them - get them trimmed, have some of them removed if they're too close to the house (roots can mess up foundations and limbs can fall. So can trees. I've got one falling down in my front yard right now. It split in a big wind just this afternoon). You will need to learn the ins and outs of drywall. What's it look like when something is wrong with it? How do you repair it, from big mushy spots to nail holes. Get a stud finder, and use it a lot. The expenses in the first few months will likely seem really high - your mortgage will (hopefully!) be less than your rent, but all kinds of other stuff pops up. I find yard work to be immensely rewarding, and actually easier than I thought it would be. It's fun to leave a mark on a place that's mine.

Other, random stuff:
- The noises will be weird and unexpected. If you hear anything scritching in the walls or in the ceiling, check it out as soon as you can. It might just be critters eating something up on the roof, but it might also be mice or some other critter, and you want to get rid of that with a quickness. Have no-kill traps on hand. They work really well, in my experience.
- A programmable thermostat is a wonderful thing.
- It is incredibly wonderfully exciting. It can also be kind of terrifying. It helps a lot to have awesome neighbors, and askme is a great resource for figuring stuff out.
posted by lriG rorriM at 6:44 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Indescribable joy at the prospect of doing whatever the hell you please to the walls, floors, etc, with numerous hours spent fantasizing about what exactly you're going to do. Whether you follow through is a different story.
posted by Leezie at 6:45 PM on September 3, 2010

"It's always something." The story of my life.

Our house is relatively new and was in good shape when we bought it about five years ago. We've had no truly major disasters. So I'd say we're much closer to "best case" than "worst case" scenario as far as used houses go. Still, we've had several projects that cost thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars and others that just caused ulcers. We repainted the entire inside of the house before we moved in. We've replaced the roof, had the outside of house painted (much more expensive than you might think), remodeled the master bathroom that was carpeted and painted pink, replaced the furnace (and had air conditioning installed), replaced the water heater, had the back fence rebuilt (it was too far gone to repair effectively) and we're about to have about 75% of the flooring in the house replaced. Some of these were more urgent than others, but all needed to be done at some point.

Then there are ongoing maintenance tasks. We hire a gardener because we found out we don't really enjoy doing yard work, and we'd rather do other things with our precious free time. The gutters need to be cleaned periodically, the windows washed, the driveway pressurewashed, the fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned.

If you're handy, you can do a lot of this stuff yourself. We found that we're not really all that handy, and for us it usually works out better to just hire someone than to try to do things ourselves (other than really minor repairs). We replaced the carpet in our home office with laminate and it turned out well, but we both said "never again." If you can't afford to hire jobs out, you won't have much choice in this regard. If you do have the choice and choose to hire things out, you still have the truly monumental challenge of finding trustworthy people to do the work. I'm really amazed at how bad the average contractor, plumber, etc. is. Personal recommendations help, but we've had bad experiences even with people who came with recommendations. Just because they did one job well doesn't mean they will do the next job well. We've used to find people to do work, and have had very good success with that. Angie's List might be good as well, but I haven't tried it for years.

I do think home ownership is worth it. But I'd suggest always being prepared for twice as many things to go wrong (and for the fixes to cost twice as much) as you think is reasonable.
posted by sharding at 6:52 PM on September 3, 2010

Oh man, I keep thinking of more stuff. I just bought a house last year. So. First year of houseowning lessons learned.

- Painting rooms really can brighten up a place and change the mood dramatically. It's really fun to make over rooms, and paint is (relatively) cheap.
- It can be a helluva challenge to get rooms as dark as I want them for sleeping.
- It's really wonderful to have all this space.
- You always need more bookshelves. At least you do if you're me.
- There are constantly little thrills, like realizing that I can get another pet and *don't have to ask anyone! Or pay extra for the privilege!*
- My neighbors are a wonderful resource. Get friendly with them. Bring over brownies or something. Make nice with the kids, even when they're on your lawn. It pays off.
- Wallpaper is nasty. And should never be in a bathroom. That said, if you need recommendations for wallpaper stripping goop, hit me up.
- Thrift stores and places like Savers are great for picking up little home accents that really make things awesome on a budget.
- Get a great big binder. HUGE. With lots of pockets. And save all your receipts regarding the work you do on the house. Keep track of how much you spend room by room decorating. Keep track of what you do to the outside, and when. Save it all. It really DOES come in handy.
- Squirrels are really noisy.
- If you can afford it, it's generally a good idea to spend for quality when it comes to the house. This stuff needs to last. Yeah, you could buy a really cheap fridge. And then repair or replace it again in a year or maybe two, but why? And when it comes to structural stuff, just don't even think of scrimping by. There are ways to do it on a budget, and most contractors and handymen will work with you on payment, but don't go for the cheapest thing out there.
posted by lriG rorriM at 6:55 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

You will find yourself deeply concerned about things that never mattered before. Flaking paint, a leaky faucet, squeaking stairs...they all become matters of great import when you own. That being said, congrats, it's a great feeling !
posted by lobstah at 6:59 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be prepared to potentially owe more than your house is worth at some point? We bought our house two years ago, and though I don't think we're underwater quite yet, based on what other houses in the neighborhood are selling for right now, we'd probably be looking at selling for 10% less than we bought the house for, if we had to sell soon. And I don't know if the housing market is going to recover anytime soon.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:01 PM on September 3, 2010

The first thing you should do, sometime between the acceptance of your offer and the closing, is to schedule a visit for the purpose of picking the current owner's brain. Where is the water shut-off? What breakers control what circuits in the house? Is there a way to shut off the water to the outside faucets without shutting off the house supply? What does this switch do? If you take an interest in the day-to-day history of the house, the seller may open up and tell you things you would never have thought to ask.

If the owner has had to call upon professionals to make repairs (plumber, heating repair, electrician) ask for a list of these people the owner has confidence in. Better to have this list now than to be calling around when you are ankle deep in water.

While you mentioned mortgage and insurance, you also need to plan on paying property taxes and to budget for maintenance and repairs. You can figure on paying $100 x the number of years old the house is annually for unanticipated repairs.

Enjoy your new (to you) home.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Really good point about being friendly with the neighbors. They're the ones who can watch out for your house when you're away and help you out when you're in a jam. They can also make your life very unpleasant if they want to.

We had a pipe freeze and burst last winter when we were out of town. Thankfully, it was in the garage, so there was no real damage beyond the pipe itself. But still, it could have been a real disaster, and there was no way to tell from outside the house how bad it was. Our neighbors saw the water running out the bottom of the garage, found out water shutoff valve, and shut it off for us. If they hadn't, we would have had a huge water bill when we came home (and if it had been in a worse location, we could have had a destroyed house).

Even if your neighbors are people you wouldn't normally hang around with, it's worthwhile to be on good terms with them.
posted by sharding at 7:04 PM on September 3, 2010

Be prepared for your mortgage payment to fluctuate a bit because the mortgage folks will do estimates of how much you need to have in escrow (for property taxes and insurance) every year. I didn't know about this -- I assumed since I had a fixed-rate mortgage my payments would be pretty much the same, forever. I mean, I knew my property taxes could change but for some reason it didn't occur to me that I'd be paying $100 more per month after a couple years than I was at the very beginning.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and relatedly, sometimes if your escrow is short you'll get a bill -- sometimes of a few hundred dollars -- that you'll have to pay off in a relatively short amount of time. Keeping an emergency fund is kind of way more necessary when you're a homeowner than it ever was as a renter.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:07 PM on September 3, 2010

Janice Papplos, The Virgin Homeowner
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2010

Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, the maintenance never stops, so start collecting basic tools (screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, hammer, etc.). I personally think it's very satisfying to fix simple things myself - clogged sinks, broken sprinkers, painting, yard work, installing ceiling fans. It's never ending, but taking care of something that means a lot to you somehow doesn't feel terribly burdensome.
posted by cecic at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2010

Papolos, I mean.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2010

You will finally understand the concept of entropy on an emotional level. Everything is constantly falling apart, whether you're aware of it or not, sometimes almost as fast as you can fix it. The process of fixing it involves huge amounts of dust, which spreads everywhere no matter how many drop cloths you use. Leaking water gets everywhere faster than you can mop it up. Disorder, chaos, decay - maintaining a house is an unending struggle against the second law of thermodynamics.

On a more practical level, expect to get real good real fast at household repairs, or expect to shell out major money hiring people to fix stuff. You can do a lot of minor plumbing and carpentry yourself if you're reasonably handy, but think carefully before tackling any electrical wiring projects. Don't be too proud to call in the pros for certain things - they have better equipment and more experience than you, and can do a better job faster than you could.

Expect to accumulate more tools than you ever thought you needed. Specialized power tools, basic hand tools - spend more to get good quality and take good care of them, and you'll save yourself tons of time and aggravation.

Foofy stuff like painting and decorating can be fun if you're into that, but save it until the structural work is done because you'll just to have to re-do it afterward. You would seriously not believe the mess that drywall work can cause when a contractor sticks his foot through the kitchen ceiling ...

I like my house and I'm glad I have it, but there are sure times when I wish I was a renter again and could just ask the Maintenance Guys to come and take care of stuff.
posted by Quietgal at 7:36 PM on September 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

Maintenance costs -- like, potentially thousands of dollars a year, even on a house that's not so bad.
posted by Buffaload at 8:16 PM on September 3, 2010

You will finally understand the concept of entropy on an emotional level.

Truer words were never spoken.

Also, get carbon monoxide detectors.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on September 3, 2010

Contractors and handymen can be flaky if the job you want them to do is small. But they will not tell you this to your face. Instead, they will tell how happy they are to have your business and set a date for work. They will not show up on this date.

However, when they do finally show up, they will bend your ear about what they've been doing for the last week for (seemingly) forever. How those "other guys" try to screw people over, but they don't. And -- this one woman -- she wanted to have her light-switches hidden in her kitchen. We had to match them to the paint exactly - and you wouldn't even know where they were if you actually went in there! And how they found a perfect door for you - and they won't even charge you for it! Labor only!

I find the talk quite endearing, actually, but it drives my husband nuts. It's hard for me to get upset with them because all the people we've hired have been such sweet, interesting guys.

After this discussion, they will give you an estimate and set a new date for work. They will not start work at that date either. But they will eventually show up sometime later in the week - or the beginning of the next week.

Eventually things will get done, but it's nothing like the usual experience of being a customer. If you're looking to get something fixed that's not an emergency, try to take this sort of thing in stride and don't flip out. Remember, you're going to be in this house for a long time so you'll be there when they eventually do show up.
posted by Kloryne at 8:50 PM on September 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, and go through your closing bill with the escrow company with a fine-toothed comb. They charged us for delivery services, notary services, and other weirdness that was never accounted for. We wound up not paying about $500 because we paid attention. When we went in to close things, they said, "Well, we know you want to get out of here and get this over with so just go ahead and sign these papers..."

They are not your friends! Your Realtor is also not your friend (even though ours was actually, in real life, 'a friend' - and still is.) Be paranoid! They are out to get you! Grraaar! (Seriously, try to keep that sort of insane thought process going if you can.)
posted by Kloryne at 9:11 PM on September 3, 2010

Kloryne is totally right. What I've been most surprised by is how few of the contractors seem to be hungry for work (even though our jobs are generally, yes, small). They never answer their phones, and I leave pleasant, calm, non-psycho messages inquiring as to their availability for particular jobs, but they almost never return my calls.

Then if I'm lucky enough to get them to come by and give me an estimate and give them the go-ahead on the work, it's like pulling teeth to get them to a) start and b) finish so I can pay them. I've been working with one guy for a few months now on getting a screen door made. I want that stupid screen door. It's hot. We need it. I call him all the time. He forgets to do it. He loses my number. He forgets what I wanted. He comes by to give me an estimate and forgets to bring his book of photos of what's available. He's a nice guy and he seems to be enthusiastic about the *idea* of our door, but gosh. It's sort of nuts.

Anyway: persistence helps, and a cheerful attitude. I can't imagine what this whole process would be like if I was yelling and losing my temper every time someone blew me off. Just not worth it. And then I'd have to start over from scratch and find a new guy with good skills. But it's hard to avoid feeling like a door mat sometimes too.
posted by chummie26 at 9:20 PM on September 3, 2010

You will find yourself deeply concerned about things that never mattered before.

This, compounded by the fact that you will, after a few weeks of living there, notice all the little niggles that never bothered you when you were viewing the place, just as they don't catch your attention when visiting someone else's house.

You will come to know where most things are in your local home improvement megamart. You may also come to appreciate that contractors have their own suppliers, which may or may not be better for you (in terms of quality and price) but may also require learning exactly what to ask for, because "that thingum widget with the square whatnot" will earn you rolled eyes.

You will (rightly) learn to hate drywall.

You will probably develop an appreciation of tool and kit storage, whether you choose to or not, because going out for yet another roll of duct tape when you know you've bought five in the past month is a right pain in the arse. At very least, store all the kit you need for each particular task (drywall, plumbing, painting, etc.) in one place.

You may develop a yearning for a shed.
posted by holgate at 9:59 PM on September 3, 2010

All the maintenance horror stories are right, but you know what else? You'll develop weird feelings of pride in things you'll never have imagined giving a crap about, let alone being proud of, and it's awesome. Like, I was in your position six months ago, and I'm still telling people about last month when I fixed the sensor on the garage door ALL BY MYSELF.

Of course, I did completely wreck the garage door 30 seconds later, so it was kind of a Pyrrhic victory, but still.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:45 PM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

We are approximately 14 months from paying the house off, after 10 years of doubled payments. There is a good reason that the cliche calls for a mortgage burning party.
posted by yclipse at 5:26 AM on September 4, 2010

Depending on the house and the lot you will want to find:
A reliable electrician
A reliable plumber
A reliable air conditioning/heating/gas man
A reliable handyman/roofer/contractor
A reliable painter
A reliable gardener
A reliable poolman

You may also wish to cultivate the friendship of a guy with a backhoe, a guy with a big truck, a guy with a chainsaw, etc.

Besides all that effort that you will be spending on the house, interior and exterior, there is ...THE LAWN. Most American houses come with a lot of lawn. It can be a real time consumer. I'm an avid gardener and I hate, hate the lawn because it sucks up my time, my energy, and my money. I've been working on replacing as much as possible with ponds and flowerbeds and walkways but there is still way more lawn than I want. Even if you don't feed, seed, weed, dethatch, and water, you will still have to mow once or twice a week, spring through fall. And probably edge as well. So that means buying a lawnmower and maintaining it. And finding a reliable lawn mower guy to fix it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:44 AM on September 4, 2010

Oh, contractors are flaky when it's a gigantic job too. Like, entire renovation of a house that had the interior torn out and rebuilt gigantic. A renovation that was promised in 6 months took over 3 years. It's even worse when there are multiple contractors, and they have to either work together, or one can't work until the other one finishes. The one that can't do any work yet will always be the one that DOES show up.

NEVER pay a contractor in advance, and never pay them until the job is done, even if it'll only take 5 minutes' more work. I think (the person with the huge renovation) never did end up paying for her tile, since she'd get a bill, tell them she'd happily pay when the work was DONE, and then they wouldn't show up, yet again, and then they'd send her a duplicate bill...rinse, repeat. I'm pretty sure after a couple of *years* she just ended up having someone else do the finishing touches.
posted by galadriel at 9:02 AM on September 4, 2010

Make sure you get all the tax exemptions to which you may be entitled.
posted by massysett at 10:14 AM on September 4, 2010

I don't know how someone comes up with the age of the house times $100/year, I have lived in my 75 year old house for 25 years and haven't paid but a few hundred a year.
posted by cellar at 10:55 PM on September 4, 2010

I was lucky to get a former model home so (knock on wood), these are generally constructed much better than the production homes. Still, I had to put in curtains, fix several sprinkler heads that started geysering (sprinklers WILL fail), stripped wallpaper in a bathroom, etc.


Use a stud finder when you're drilling holes for curtain brackets or anything else. On my second curtain-hanging, I did not use a stud finder and ended up drilling directly onto two pieces of metal. The tell-tale signs were fuzzy pieces of metal on the drill bit and the...shiny stuff in the hole I made.

Become friends with spackle /drywall repair kits.

Wallpaper was EASILY stripped with a steamer.

Benjamin Moore paint (widely thought to be the best) is surprisingly inexpensive, unless you get the Aura line.

Sprinkler repair is surprisingly freaking easy and you don't have to pay up the nose for it.

You must buy a ladder. The lightweight 6 foot fiberglass ones have served me nicely. I am female and cannot carry the super heavy ones when doing DIY.

Nice things about home ownership:

BBQ in your backyard whenever you freaking feel like it.
Planting flowers. Gardening generally.

But ... be warned that the work and upkeep NEVER ends. I am never bored on the weekends. There is always something to do. But I enjoy 75% of it.
posted by KimikoPi at 12:50 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the first five years, it costs $100 minimum every time you go to Home Depot. (And go you will, every couple of weeks!) But dang, you're doing it yourself!

Also, your ability to compartmentalize -- "I can live with that" -- will certainly be exercised. Be prepared to overcome it sometimes and indulge it other times: it took me eight years to get around to removing the last of the wallpaper, but on Day Two my wife ripped out carpeting that I thought we were keeping. (She was right.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:25 AM on September 5, 2010

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