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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor
| May 2, 2019
Buying a home with a swimming pool in the backyard will certainly score you bragging rights around the neighborhood. However, there's much more to pool ownership than planning deckside parties and kids' playdates. For starters, maintaining a pool is time-consuming and expensive. Plus, there are potential safety hazards to consider.
We did some research and talked with real-estate experts to determine the pros and cons of owning a home with a swimming pool. Be forewarned: The cons outnumber the pros. Here are 10 of the biggest regrets that homeowners with a pool might encounter.
Unless otherwise noted, all cost estimates for pool operation, maintenance and repairs are national averages for in-ground swimming pools, based on data provided by HomeAdvisor.com, a website that tracks home-improvement costs.
Owning a home with a pool in the backyard provides a convenient source of fun for the entire family. However, you'll be on the hook for regular (and expensive) maintenance when the pool is in use. In temperate areas such as Washington, D.C., pool season typically stretches from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but in places like Florida and Arizona pools are used year-round. Experts recommend that a pool be cleaned weekly when in use. "To stay safe, you must control the pH level and add appropriate chemicals to assure that the water is neither too alkaline nor too high in acid," says Lori Doerfler, former president of the Arizona Association of Realtors and a real estate agent with Realty ONE Group, a Lake Havasu City, Ariz.-based realty firm.
If you don't clean the pool yourself, which requires purchasing equipment and administering chemicals, you'll need to hire a pool maintenance service -- and that expense can add up quickly. For example, the average cost to maintain a standard 14-feet-by-28-feet pool is $125 a week. The service includes skimming the water's surface for floating debris, vacuuming the pool floor, brushing the pool walls, cleaning the filter, as well as checking the water and pH levels. At the end of the month, that's $500 spent on maintenance alone.
A tear in a swimming pool's lining, a protective layer applied to the pool before it's filled, is a common repair encountered by homeowners. The liner acts as a barrier between the pool walls/floor and water, and it helps prevent mold growth. Vinyl lining is popular largely due to its affordability. Expect to pay $200, on average, to have a professional repair a tear in a vinyl liner. If the tear is small enough, you may be able to repair it yourself with a vinyl pool liner patch kit (starting at $6 on Amazon). If the entire liner needs to be replaced, plan to pay a pro a minimum of $1,700 for parts and labor.
If a gradual decrease in water level leads you to suspect a slow leak, it will cost you around $350 to have a repairman inspect your pool to find the leak and fix it (if it's small). If there's a leak in your pool's plumbing, which can later affect the pool filter pump and heater, you want to have a professional assess the damage. The average cost to fix a plumbing leak is around $1,000.
When considering purchasing a home with a pool, you'll want to be sure to ask the seller questions about any previous repair work, advises Frank Lesh, founder of Home Sweet Home Inspection Company in Indian Head Park, Ill. Find out the specific type of repairs and when they were completed. A pattern of small repairs could be a warning sign of a larger, costlier repair to come.
Nearly 300 children under the age of five drown in backyard swimming pools every year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Many localities require a safety barrier to be installed around a residential pool to help prevent accidental drownings. "There should be a fence completely surrounding the pool area," says Lesh, the home inspector, and not just a fenced-in backyard.
Pool fencing options vary by type (glass, mesh, vinyl, etc.) and price. Fencing for an above-ground pool starts at $53 per fence panel at Home Depot. In-ground pool fencing costs more. All pool fencing should include a self-closing or locking door gate. The CPSC recommends going a step further and installing door alarms on all doors in the home leading to the pool area, as well as on the pool fence door itself.
A diving board also poses a safety risk, because serious injuries can occur if a diver hits the board, side of the pool or pool bottom, Lesh warns. If you make an offer on a house with a diving board-equipped pool, ask the seller to have the diving board removed before you go to closing. If that doesn't work, you can simply do it yourself once the home is in your possession.
Since homeowners with pools face the potential for pool-related injuries or even deaths, insurance providers commonly refer to residential pools as "attractive nuisances." For this reason, you should consider increasing your liability coverage beyond what's already offered through your homeowners insurance policy. Taking out a personal umbrella insurance policy is a good way to do this.
Should you ever get sued, an umbrella policy kicks in once you've exhausted the liability coverage provided by your homeowners policy, which usually maxes out between $100,000 and $300,000. The additional coverage can help cover paying for judgements against you, as well as attorney fees, according to the Insurance Information Institute. You can purchase a $1 million umbrella liability policy for as little as $150 a year.
You might think that adding a pool to your backyard would boost your home's resale value significantly. It won't. Homeowners with pools only saw a 48% return on investment at resale, according to the National Association of Realtors' latest remodeling impact report. Of the 13 outdoor home features examined in the report, swimming pools finished dead last for resale value. By contrast, a new wooden deck would recoup 80% of the cost at resale.
A backyard swimming pool might even scare away potential buyers who are turned off by the work and expense required to maintain a pool, says Christopher Suranna, a Washington, D.C.-based Realtor with Metro DC Houses. The National Association of Realtors' report found that a pool is the least appealing outdoor feature to home buyers.
As if your energy bills weren't high enough during the hot summer months, add an in-ground pool to the mix and they will climb even higher. You could end up paying an extra $300 annually for the additional electricity required to run the pool pump and such.
If you have a pool that's heated, you'll spend much more. The cost to run a pool heater averages between $100 and $600 a month. The low estimate is for a heat pump, and the high estimate is for an electrical resistance heater. A gas heater, which is the most common type of pool heater and uses either natural gas or propane, runs $200 to $400 a month.
Recreational water-related illnesses such as ear and respiratory infections, rashes and diarrhea are caused by exposure to water contaminated with germs and chemicals found in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, and various other public swimming spaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There were a reported 81 recreational water-related illness outbreaks affecting over 1,300 people from 2009 to 2010, the CDC found. At least 5% of the cases required hospitalization.
What can pool owners do to avoid water-related illnesses? Never allow swimmers with diarrhea to swim in a pool. It's a leading cause of pool contamination. Regular pool maintenance is also critical to help prevent these types of germs from making you, your family and your friends sick.
As if the out-of-pocket costs that already come with buying a home weren’t enough, you’ll be tacking on yet another expense when buying a home with a pool. Hiring a traditional home inspector to examine the pool won’t cut it, because most have limited knowledge and training, says Maria Zamora, a Realtor associate with Realty Consultants Network in Addison, Texas. “You’ll want to hire a certified licensed pool inspector to do a comprehensive inspection that includes a leak detection test within the shell of the pool,” she notes. The pool inspector will also need to examine the operating systems (both plumbing and electrical), the pool’s interior surface, main drain and deck surfacing, Zamora adds. This person should also be able to identify any federal, state or local issues pertaining to fencing, as well as any other safety-related problems.
Buyers interested in purchasing an existing home with a pool can expect to pay around $300 for a certified pool inspector to examine the pool, according to Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), a Boulder, Colo.-based professional association for certified home and pool inspectors. You can find a certified pool inspector in your area online by using InterNACHI’s “Find an Inspector” search tool. Enter your home address, then click on the advanced search dropdown and select “pool/spas.” Hit enter. You’ll get search results for certified pool inspectors within a 10- to 50-mile radius of your home.
Zamora also advises buyers to purchase a home warranty that includes coverage for any major pool repairs. “Since the pool is used and not new, there’s a possibility that certain repairs [such as having to replace a vinyl liner, which can cost as much as $1,700] will come up in the future,” she says.
For families with young children, having a home with a pool can be a great source of recreation during summer breaks from school. Parents don’t have to shell out a small fortune to visit a water park or worry about paying for overpriced food and drinks at the concession stand. However, by the time the kids hit high school, hanging poolside with Mom and Dad is likely the last thing they’ll want to do. Parents may find that their backyard oasis is getting used a lot less, yet the maintenance fees and related costs continue to add up.
This exact scenario has been a topic of discussion in several online pool enthusiast message boards on Houzz.com and Reddit, among others. Should you find yourself in such a predicament, you can get rid of the pool -- but it’s going to cost you. To hire a licensed engineer to permanently fill a standard in-ground swimming pool averages around $5,000, according to HomeAdvisor.com. The pool can be filled with dirt or concrete. It’s cheaper to use dirt (about $12 per cubic yard), but it can settle over time making the ground above it less stable, HomeAdvisor.com warns. Concrete, which is more expensive at $100 per cubic yard, is solid. Homeowners shouldn’t have to worry about the land above a concrete-filled pool shifting later on.
Mosquitoes and water bugs are drawn to swimming pools, especially during peak season. Skimming the pool's surface to remove insects helps, but frequent skimming is time-consuming and detracts from the actual use of the pool. Another solution is implementing a routine maintenance schedule to deter the growth of algae, which many bugs are attracted to and eat, along the pool walls and steps.
Water-loving wild animals can also be problematic for homeowners with pools in the backyard. Raccoons can carry parasites, and if one happens to enter your pool and contaminate the water, it could lead to severe neurological illness in humans, especially children, according to the CDC. Birds, particularly ducks and geese, can foul a pool with their droppings, which can lead to illnesses caused by Salmonella and E. coli. Alligators and snakes have been known to find their way into swimming pools, especially in Florida. Clean your pool regularly, and install fencing to keep wildlife at bay.