BUDGETING


The True Cost of Owning a Home

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it originally was published in May 2007.

If you're entertaining thoughts of buying your first home now that median home prices nationwide are at a five-year low, take note: The cost of home ownership might be a lot more than you think.I'm not talking about the down payment or monthly mortgage payments. Although buying a home is a big investment, owning one comes with a new set of expenses you may not have had while renting or living with Mom and Dad. These extras can put a strain on your daily finances if you aren't prepared.

I know the temptation to buy a house can be strong, especially if you've been renting for a while, have gotten married or are ready to start a family. When my husband, Alex, and I moved to Kentucky five years ago from Washington, D.C., where we rented an apartment for six years, I couldn't wait to buy a house. (Read about our experience.) Since then, we sold our first home, bought our dream home (well, at least it will be after we do a lot of work on it) and have learned plenty about how much it really costs to be homeowners.

So to help you estimate your own cost of ownership and come up with a realistic housing budget, I offer my experience as an example. Below, I itemize the expenses Alex and I have paid over the past five years, complete with actual dollar amounts. Your own costs will vary depending on the size, condition and location of the house, but this should help you anticipate what you're getting into. No doubt homeownership comes with a bevy of benefits, but you'll want to make sure it's the right move for you at this point in your life before making that long-term commitment. (See How to Know When You're Ready to Buy for more guidance.)

Where the money goes

We paid about $180,000 for our first house, which was about 25 years old and had about 2,600 square feet. We lived in it for two years until we bought a 100-year-old, 6,000-square-foot house in the historic district of our town. We paid $356,000 for our current home, which has two apartments upstairs that we rent to cover half our mortgage and other expenses.

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Insurance. Before you can get a mortgage, most lenders will require you to show proof of homeowners insurance. The average premium was $729 in 2004 -- the latest figure available from the Insurance Information Institute. Insurance premiums vary greatly depending on where you live and the size, type and age of your house. For example, older, historic homes such as ours often cost more to insure because the cost of repairing damage to them can be greater than for newer homes that have standardized features. And if you live along the coasts, you'll have to pay a high price for being in a hurricane-prone area. You also will have to pay extra for flood coverage if you live in a flood plain. Learn more about what can send rates up or down and see what average premiums are for your state.

Our annual insurance premium was about $825 in our first home and rose to $1,583 in our new place. It pays to shop around for the lowest premium. If we chose the first insurer we called, we would have paid $1,000 more for annual coverage. Alex and I ended up going with the same company that insures our vehicles because it gave us a $250 multi-policy discount, and its rates were a lot lower than other companies. MY TOTAL: $825 a year in our first home; $1,583 a year in our dream home.


Property taxes. This is another expense you can't escape. Property taxes are based on the value of your home. So the more expensive your house, the more you'll have to pay in taxes. You'll have to pay state property taxes and usually county or city property taxes, too. Use the state tax profiles tool on our Taxes page to find out what the property tax rates are where you live. MY TOTAL: $1,532 a year in our first home; $4,307 a year in our current home.


Utilites. You're probably used to budgeting for utilities if you are renting. But the cost of heating a one-bedroom apartment can pale in comparison with the bills for an entire house. (Learn how you can trim costs.) MY TOTAL: $2,045 a year in our first home; $4,800 a year in our current home.


Appliances. When you buy a house, most major appliances will come with it, except perhaps the washer and dryer. We spent about $800 buying these two appliances when we bought our first house. The sellers also took their refrigerator, so that was another $750 (for a pretty basic model). MY TOTAL: $1,550



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