After years of apartment living, my husband, Jeff, and I purchased our first home. While the house was small and run-down, the large backyard and extra living space excited us. We looked forward to planting a garden, owning a big dog, and using that little room in the back for hobbies.
What’s more, the payments weren’t that much more than our rent, so we could start building equity.
We could do this!
First thing we discovered was the propane not lasting very long. Second discovery: the furnace ducting under the house had separated, heating the great outdoors. And the furnace itself was installed sideways. Luckily, we had a wood stove, so we didn’t use the furnace. We couldn’t afford to replace it anyway.
The bathroom plumbing was a rats’ nest connected with ell joints. Jeff plied his construction skills and redirected the pipes, but the toilet still made strange, annoying sounds. To this day, Jeff can’t listen to water features without cringing.
Then, we planted a lawn. Then purchased a lawnmower. Neither of us had mowed lawn that much. So who’s going to do this chore?
Moving on Up
A decade later, we moved from the Bay Area to Truckee, California, a larger, better-constructed house. Its passive solar design didn’t require a furnace. The wood stove heated the entire house. And the plumbing worked much better.
A house doesn’t exist, however, that doesn’t need constant maintenance. We opted to paint instead of stain the wooden exterior. Other things, (roof, garage doors, water heater) eventually needed replacement.
Other than those expenses, we had to pay garbage pickup, snow removal, HOA dues, property taxes, home owners’ insurance, special district taxes and fees, water, electricity, and firewood. We could pay for someone to stack it, but we did that ourselves.
A landlord would normally pick up many of these expenses, but homeowners are slammed with all kinds of diddly stuff. There’s always something.
Need energy and skill to fix, remodel, renovate.
Jeff and I could do most repairs and renovations: painting, laying pavers for a patio, sealing the asphalt driveway – all 165 feet of it, landscaping, and painting the roof with zinc-based sealant. Professionals were called to replace the roof, however.
All these chores and more took a huge toll on our energies and our bodies. So add medical care costs to the list.
Mobility is hampered.
After 16 years of Truckee snow, loved mostly by winter Olympians, I wanted desperately to move “off the mountain.” For two summers, we tried to sell the house, but its unique passive solar design didn’t attract buyers. Most wanted that cute mountain chalet with granite counters, stainless steel, and 6000 sq. ft. Realtors called our house The Bunker. We called it The Hobbit House.
So our mobility was hampered. At last, we found a house an hour’s drive away, but we had to rent The Hobbit House and depend on a property manager. Like many such managers we’d heard about, she failed in her vigilance even though she screened the tenants.
The Hobbit House soon became known in town as The Pot House. Our neighbor alerted us to this problem. While the tenant had his State medical marijuana papers in order, he and our manager were uninformed about County regulations. Luckily, he was a decent fellow and cleaned up the ducting, that ran through the walls, beyond our expectations.
Another surprise awaited us. Because we were absentee landlords now, and out-of-state to boot, California slammed us with additional taxes on the rental income. We were actually losing $700/month, but we had to pay that tax, then wait for the refund. We’re still waiting. It seems our property manager’s clerk is rather lax with paperwork and accuracy.
Gaining more space and autonomy as homeowners was great, but we learned there’s always something that’ll surprise us on payday. We’re on our own regarding the additional expense, maintenance, and market roller coasters of home ownership. We lucked out in the real estate crash, but as we approach retirement, the next step will be down-sizing. Just how much equity did we actually build?
I can’t imagine living in an apartment. And Jeff doesn’t think condos are a great value. We’d own the inside but not the outside of the property. Getting roofs replaced and exteriors painted is at the whim of the HOA. It’s essentially apartment rental with property taxes.
So we’ll stay in our present house as long as we can. We love it, and it’s worth the extra hassles.