House vs. apartment. Are the costs of maintaining a house roughly less, the same as, or more than levies on a comparably sized apartment?
June 16, 2008 8:20 PM   Subscribe

House vs. apartment. Are the costs of maintaining a house roughly less, the same as, or more than levies on a comparably sized apartment?

I live in and pay the mortgage on a large Sydney apartment (condo, for the US readers) with quite steep quarterly levies of $1000 which cover the maintenance of security parking, pool, spa, sauna, gym, gardens, and a caretaker who we can call at certain hours of the day to report trouble with any of these "trimmings". All very lovely, but $4000 a year is a lot to pay for facilities I can only occasionally make use of. In addition, the body corporate consistantly threaten to introduce eye-wateringly steep "special levies" from time to time to pay for building maintenance. So much so, that I fear missing an apartment meeting because I might miss the chance to know why we're paying an extra $1000 this quarter or other. It happens from time to time, and I'm scared of it.

I have begun fantasising about selling up and buying a similarly sized free-standing house. Doubtless this house would defnitely not have the pool etc that the apartment has. Indeed, it would not even have secure parking, but I figure it might be cheaper in the long run, and things like paint colours externally would be all my choice.

So, am I kididng myself? Do homeowners spend as much on annual maintenance, above and beyond mortgage etc as apartment owners do? More? Is the apartment saving me money because other people are fussing over the business of running the place, leaving me happily ignorant of the day-to-day demands?

Any thoughts about the relative merits? I know this isn't a simple comparison, but perhaps some of you have weighed up a similar thing.
posted by lottie to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You spend much less on heating in flats than in houses because you benefit from the heat of your neighbours. Economies of scale make facilities less expensive than if you were the only person paying for them. Move to a flat without all those extravagant things you don't need?
posted by stereo at 8:32 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

You`re living in a fool`s paradise if you think you`re going to save money with a house relative to what you`re paying in what we call condo fees and condo assessments. When something in your house needs repair you`re 100% responsible. And the time you`ll spend doing your own yardwork (and -- here in Canada -- shovelling the damn snow) are very much worth the fees.

I was on the condo board at our former residence and it was a HUGE pain in the ass having to deal with people who refused to serve on the board, ever, but were more than happy to give me an earful about my (and the other board members`) decision to raise fees, pay for an engineering review (which we were LEGALL reguired to do)- the other owners made my life hell for two years.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:05 PM on June 16, 2008

I think this probably depends on the house and on how handy you are. I have spent more than $4000 (US$) each year on maintenance that is over and above the standard stuff (i.e. not utilities). This has included: replacing part of a roof, repairing hardwood floors, having a chimney reflashed, replacing a large portion of siding, replacing a window, repairing a bunch of holes in the house (don't ask....), a new heat pump, new dishwasher, one new toilet, a ceiling repair when a shower leaked, and other things I'm sure I'm missing. We bought this house in 2005. I expect to have to replace more roof, a hot water heater, another toilet, and some carpet in the next several months. Every other year we have to have the septic tank emptied, the house powerwashed, and the very large deck restained How much of this stuff you will have to do depends on how old your house is and how well it was built. How much it will cost you depends on how handy you are. And I'm not exactly clear on how much of this you would have to do to your current place. We do our own work re: gardening, lawn care.

I love our house, but there are definitely days I fantasize about being back in an apartment, where most of that stuff is someone else's problem. (Again, not sure, in a codo setting, how many of them actually are someone else's problem).
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:12 PM on June 16, 2008

Having owned a condo and a single family home, a home definitely costs a tiny bit more. Not a huge amount, but a bit. However, in the house my maintenance and improvements build equity in my investment.

Also, I decide when a repair is critical. In the condo I had to wait until it got prioritized by board. We had a good board and they generally did a good job; not every condo owner is so lucky.

And lastly, I'm not annoyed by spending a bit on my house. In the condo, I always felt irritated by the bi-annual "special" assessment.
posted by 26.2 at 9:32 PM on June 16, 2008

The sense I get from your question is that you are pretty stressed about your current living situation. It may be time to look around and compare. You will either find something you like better, or the search will give you peace of mind that you are in a good place for you.

Stereo makes a good point; it doesn't have to be that apartment, or a regular house. There are many alternatives in between.

I've owned 5 homes (in the US) and came to a point where I knew I wanted to move, but wasn't sure if I wanted to rent or buy. I sold my home, and moved into a rental for a year, understanding that I could decide later if I wanted to buy or rent long term. That was a great decision. Rather than being in the stressful position of trying to buy and sell something at the same time, I had breathing room and didn't have to rush into buying something.

That was a few years ago. Now, I rent an apartment, and I love it. I hate yard work, but I love a green and well maintained garden. That's what I have. I don't have to worry about maintenance. I like not having to schedule my weekends around lawn-mowing and trim-painting, and weeding, and pruning. Everything has trade-offs. You have to decide what kind of lifestyle you want, and how "quality of life" is defined for you.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:34 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

For me - having done both - owning a house has been a bit cheaper than comparably-sized (actually, a little smaller) condos were. Some of this is because I don't have a pool, secured parking, etc. Also, I've got friends (and myself) to do any crazy upkeep stuff. I can control it a little better.

Peace of mind is worth a lot, too. As is personal freedom. I'm glad I made the move.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:02 PM on June 16, 2008

I've lived in the same house for 8 years, and in that time these repairs and maintenance have come up as absolutely necessary:
- new roof
- entire exterior painting
- entire interior painting
- 2 new hot water heaters
- new fridge
- rebuild chimney exterior due to rot
- repairs to A/C, furnace, plumbing
- new fence to replace rotting existing fence
- cut and repair a large hole in an interior wall due to dead squirrels in the chimney
- various drywall repairs due to leaking plumbing

Additionally, the dishwasher is about to go. We've also chosen to change out the carpet for hardwood and finished the basement. We bought a lawnmower and leaf-blower, and use them regularly. An alarm costs us $100 quarterly. I was quoted $3000 last year for tree pruning and removal (which I didn't do even though grass can't grow anymore because the shade is so total).
posted by xo at 10:06 PM on June 16, 2008

I have a house in once city and an apartment in another. The apartment is much less expensive and (more importantly) much lower stress.
posted by rokusan at 10:06 PM on June 16, 2008

Just as an aside - if you don't make use of the extra amenities, you can find places with strata fees that are a LOT lower. My husband and I bought a large Sydney apartment (more like a townhouse) last year and our strata fees are half yours. Why? No pool, spa, elevator, etc. There's no way that I'd spend less than $2000 on maintenance costs for an equivalently-sized freestanding house.
posted by web-goddess at 10:58 PM on June 16, 2008

Just to provide a little balance, we bought a 65 year old house six years ago and we haven't had the long lists of repairs that others have put out. Just replaced the furnace and air conditioning (which were twenty some years old...) Sure there's the yard care and snow shovelling, but all in all, I wouldn't put it at $4000 (US or Austrailian)
posted by advicepig at 7:18 AM on June 17, 2008

When something in your house needs repair you`re 100% responsible.

How is that different from living in a condo? If I own a condo and my fridge breaks, they don't buy me one. If my plumbing leaks and ruins my hardwood, they don't buy me a new floor or, probably, fix my plumbing. Likewise, I have to think that in any modern building, hot water heaters and furnaces are going to be the condo-owner's responsibility.

I would be surprised if the OP realized any significant savings, though, and the costs might well be higher.

But it seems to me it depends on what the OP enjoys. If you don't use the pool but like gardening, then spending $4K on house+yard maintenance is a better deal than spending $4K on condo fees that go primarily to non-amenities you don't use.

And the time you`ll spend doing your own yardwork (and -- here in Canada -- shovelling the damn snow) are very much worth the fees.

I dunno. If your goals are limited -- don't be the worst house on the block -- then it takes hardly any time. Mowing takes a half hour or so once or twice a week, and you can easily have your mowing done for you by some neighborhood kid who wants to buy a new telescope.

It seems unlikely that the OP is going to need to worry about snow in Sydney, but even here in Buffalo dealing with snow with one dude and a shovel is a doddle. It helps to remember that the only bit that absolutely needs doing at any given moment is the berm at the end of the driveway from the snowplows, and that doesn't take more than 5 minutes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:34 AM on June 17, 2008

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