Survey Finds Hidden Costs of Homeownership

(TNS)—Your day burns brightly on both ends.

You prod your kids out of bed at daybreak, get them dressed, fed and off to school. You drive to work, endure meetings, colleagues, power lunches, memos and strategy sessions, only to return home through gridlocked traffic just as the sun sets, beg your kids to eat dinner, wash them, coax them to sleep, do the dishes and then mercifully collapse in front of the television set.

You fret over your emergency savings account, retirement savings account, credit card debt, mortgage rate, health insurance, college savings, and on and on.

It makes sense, then, you’d opt to pay a cleaning or lawn service every week to lighten your load. Hiring someone to keep your property in working order, either on your own or through homeowners association fees, doesn’t come cheap, though.

More than three in five homeowners—63 percent—use at least one recurring home maintenance provider, while 35 percent use two, according to a recent Bankrate survey. The average homeowner pays $2,000 annually on maintenance services, the survey finds.

Costs of Owning a Home
The price of biweekly landscaping probably never factored into your calculus when deciding how much house you can afford.

The average home mortgage neared $250,000 last year, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, which came with a monthly principal and interest payment of $973, or about one-sixth of median family income.

Homeowners saw an average property tax bill of $3,300 in 2016, according to ATTOM’s most recent data, adding another $275 to your monthly budget. You’ll also owe hundreds more in insurance premiums depending on where you live and what type of house you own.

That doesn’t even include the money you need saved in case something unexpected happens. If your air conditioning unit or washer and dryer gives out, you could immediately owe hundreds, if not thousands.

Kevin Mahoney, CEO of fee-only financial advice firm Illumint, recommends to designate a savings account as a “home maintenance fund.” Mahoney, who recently bought a renovated row house in Washington, D.C., contributes $100 to $200 a month as a hedge against unexpected repairs and wear-and-tear. Maintaining a house fund will inoculate you against high-interest debt, leaving your budget open for routine maintenance services.

Cost You Probably Didn’t Think About
After the years required to amass a sufficient down payment—the average among new homebuyers is 11 percent—and all the big costs staring homeowners in the face, it’s little wonder if you don’t account for smaller fare.

But the price tag for convenience can rise quickly.

People who opt for housekeeping shell out an average of $285 a month, while HOA dues ($210) and landscaping ($144) followed behind. A home security system costs $130, slightly more than pool care ($123). Snow removal ($84), septic service ($67) and trash and recycling collection ($55) proved more affordable.

Unsurprisingly, renters are less likely than homeowners to pay for recurring maintenance services, and when they do, they pay less for most services.

On average, renters pay less for housekeeping ($128), HOA dues ($71), pool care ($70), landscaping ($61) and snow removal ($24); however, they fork over a little more for security systems ($142), septic service ($113), and trash and recycling collection ($63).

Nate Masterson, a director of Finance for Maple Holistics, pays $1,000 annually for gardening services, and another $70 to clear his Riverside, N.Y., home of snow.

“It would require a lot of strenuous work to perform either task, and it’s simply more worthwhile for me to pay a professional,” says Masterson, 34.

Make Sure You Account for All Costs
Americans broadly struggle mightily to save.

The average person wouldn’t pay for an unexpected $1,000 expense from their savings, per a recent Bankrate survey, while the median amount in a savings and checking account for a middle-income household has essentially remained flat over the past 27 years, according to Federal Reserve data.

Credit card debt recently hit an all-time high, while the personal savings rate has dropped precipitously over the past two years.

If you don’t have a fully-funded emergency fund comprising three to six months’ worth of expenses in a high-yield savings account, strongly consider suspending as many as these services as possible until you do. Dropping almost $300 a month on housekeeping while lacking $1,000 in the bank is simply too risky. What if the roof caves in? At the very least, start contributing to a home maintenance fund.

You may not have a say in other costs—trash collection and HOA fees were two of the three most common—but make sure to account for those expenses into your budget prior to moving in, and in your emergency fund.

Life’s hard, and there’s nothing wrong with paying someone else to mow your lawn. Unless you can’t afford it.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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How to Tell if You’ll Love a New Neighborhood

When searching for a new place to live, don’t feel confined to your current location. Yes, buying a home is a big commitment, but it’s also an opportunity to make a change and venture out into a new neighborhood or a new town altogether. But how will you know if a new area is really for you or if you’ll end up with buyers’ remorse soon after closing the deal? With a little bit of forethought and exploration, it’s easy to feel confident about your potential new neighborhood. Here’s where to start.

Ask yourself these five questions when choosing a home base.

What do you need to have nearby?

Yoga studio owner Annalisa Berns moved from Los Angeles to Big Bear, California, four years ago because she had an epiphany during her housing search—not only did she want to live in the mountains, but she also wanted a community that came equipped with a health food store and other yogis. “Those two things were critical to me,” she says.

Think about your day-to-day life, brainstorm the things that are important to you, then make a list of the amenities that you can’t do without. If living near a yoga studio or specific type of food store is a must-have, drive around the areas closest to those businesses to find pockets of neighborhoods that meet your needs.

Is walking important to you?

For a lot of people, not having stores or eateries within convenient walking distance is a definite no-go, so you should consider if it’s one for you, too. When scoping out at a potential new address, be sure to check Trulia’s amenity maps which pinpoint grocery stores, cafes, salons, and more to get the lay of the land.

“Walkability index is a biggie for me and my husband,” says avid sailor Dana Greyson. She and her husband factor in commutes when they search for housing back on dry land. “We want to have a place where, when we get home, we don’t have to get back into our car to live our life.”

Are you going for a quiet or lively environment?

You may love to hang out and party with friends in a certain bustling neighborhood every weekend, but would you want to buy a home there? Maybe not. Portland, Oregon, resident and realtor Jenelle Isaacson sees a lot of folks in the young, hipster city drawn to the most happening areas, only to find out they don’t exactly match their priorities—or noise-level preference.

“I’ve worked with many clients who are lured to a neighborhood by popular restaurants and coffee shops,” she says. “They want to hang their hats where they hang out on weekends, but when it comes to living in these areas, they suddenly find they don’t like the nuisance of so many other people coming to their neighborhood parking, making noise at night. Being in the middle of the party isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

The takeaway here? Reconcile the fact that if you love an area for its lively atmosphere, lots of others probably do too. Weigh the importance of having hot spots nearby with the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Do you want to have friends nearby?

Whether your besties are already in the neighborhood or you want to chum it up with your new neighbors, you should take into account the kind of social life you hope to have in your brand new home base. Atlanta, Georgia, veteran Carol Gee knew her new community was the one when a neighbor waved to her from across the street as Gee and her husband moved boxes—and they became longtime friends.

Think about how your new home is situated. If you’re on a cul-de-sac or across the courtyard from another neighbor, there’s going to be some required water cooler talk chat. “Some people really like to be in an area where their friends are nearby or at least close enough so they’ll come visit,” says real estate specialist Kathleen Perkins. Others not so much.

After you’ve done your research, does it seem like a place where you’d want to live?

Once you’ve done your due diligence, visiting your potential neighborhood during different hours of the day to get a real sense of it and checking to ensure all the boxes are checked on your must-have list, trust your gut.

Some say intuition is a gift, so go with it. If a neighborhood just feels right, it probably is. On the flip side, if anything gives you pause—hit the pause button. It may be time to try and reach out to residents (or realtors) who actually live there to get a first-hand perspective of what everyday life is like, or it may be time to move on.


Even moving just a few blocks or miles can make for a totally new neighborhood feel. Do your research, then go with your gut.


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Originally published April 7, 2015; updated February 16, 2018.

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Can You Guess the Price of These Mini Rentals?

Tiny homes are still going strong as a popular choice for rentals—and there’s no sign of the trend stopping. Many renters are used to the idea of living in itty-bitty studios in order to enjoy the excitement of living in an urban area. However, suburban and rural minimalist homes for rent can often be just as a fabulous. But are they a steal, or will you pay big for the tiny home lifestyle? Across the country, the answer is a mixed bag. Check out these tiny homes for rent, and take your best guess at how much they cost per month.


minimalist home

Billings, Montana

Petite bungalow near the University of Montana

(Click for price.)

In Montana’s largest city, you won’t be surrounded by the open range that comes to mind when you think of the state. But you will still get gorgeous mountain views, and you’ll be close to outdoor recreation. For example, in the North Park neighborhood where this blue, 480-square-foot bungalow is located, you’re minutes away from hiking in Shields Park (which has 60 acres of unspoiled nature ready to explore year-round). If you’d rather hike to entertainment options, North Park has you covered. Since it’s also the home of the University of Montana – Billings, there are a few low-key options that appeal to both students and full-time residents—like City Brew Coffee and 406 Kitchen Taproom—a mere four blocks from your home. Since this charming one-bedroom is priced well below North Park’s median rent, you could buy your new neighbors the next round.


minimalist home

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Sunny two-bedroom on a tree-lined street

(Click for price.)

If you gravitate toward vintage homes, you’ll love the Alger Heights neighborhood of Grand Rapids. Here, petite cottages, ranches, and other charming home styles line the streets, along with old-growth trees. These sights, plus the fact that it’s mostly all residential, make this section of the city feel like a throwback to the 1950s in the best way. You can safely walk your dog or ride your bike down to the MacKay-Jaycees Park, a popular spot for local baseball games and picnics. Or, closer by, catch up with neighbors at the pocket-size Paris Park (a green space two blocks south of this sweet little home). There are also some signs the neighborhood is coming into the 21st century—the industrial-styled gastropub The Old Goat just south of Alger Street SE has become a favorite hangout for locals. As with many neighborhoods with more single-family homes than apartments, rents can trend a little higher. Yet this 637-square-foot two-bedroom is still below Alger Heights’ median rent.


minimalist home

Austin, Texas

Quirky home near fantastic shopping

(Click for price.)

Old meets new in the city’s Old West Austin neighborhood. Though it’s historical—this section dates back to the mid-1800s—the look is constantly evolving. You’ll still find the old homes that make this neighborhood sought-after, but many have been expanded or updated. For instance, this simple, 675-square-foot bungalow was added to a bigger property as a guest house. Still, it has plenty of character, from the micro front porch to the gnarled old tree in its tiny front yard. The biggest draw is the fact that it’s located right around the corner from N. Lamar Blvd, one of Austin‘s best shopping and entertainment districts. From the boho boutique Kick Pleat to the Mexican food window Fresa’s, you can walk to indie places (and even mainstream retailers like Whole Foods) with ease. Location is everything, so remember that when you guess the rent.


minimalist homes

Broomfield, Colorado

Elegant carriage house in a quiet development

(Click for price.)

Located north of Denver and southeast of Boulder, Broomfield is a popular commuter hub that’s grown into a city. The city designation can feel misleading at times since Broomfield’s overall character feels like a series of well-planned suburban developments. There aren’t official neighborhoods, and instead of one main downtown area, there are two shopping districts populated by chain restaurants and shops. That doesn’t mean it’s all big box stores—you’ll also find the upscale Omni Interlocken hotel and spa. But most of Broomfield’s residential streets are purely residential, making for a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. This magazine-ready, 550-square-foot carriage house sits on a winding street with other well-designed homes, all connected via roomy sidewalks to the large Broadlands West Park.


minimalist homes

Portland, Oregon

1930s cottage at the end of a quiet street

(Click for price.)

Interestingly named for the German word for “butcher,” Portland‘s Metzger neighborhood feels slightly more conventional than the city’s famous downtown. Here, you won’t find obscure record shops, but you will find darling little homes and suburban standbys like Costco and Target. This, combined with good schools, makes Metzger particularly popular with families. However, empty-nesters have been moving in at a steady rate, too. For them, the appeal might be in smaller-sized vintage homes that are still available here—like this 683-square-foot, 1930s home. If you’re looking for a little excitement, its proximity to I-5 gets you to all the quirkier offerings downtown in less than 15 minutes. Though it’s a short ride, you’d be surprised at just how this home’s rent compares to the median price of Portland.


minimalist homes

San Francisco, California

Open and airy studio in a classic San Francisco neighborhood

(Click for price.)

If you know anything about San Francisco, odds are good you’ve heard of the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. This is where you can board a cruise to Alcatraz, climb the historic Coit Tower to see 360-degree views of the city, climb the steep Greenwich Steps or Filbert Street Stairs, and brush up on your denim knowledge at Levi’s Plaza. Living here is like living in a postcard of San Francisco. This bright, 477-square-foot studio is within walking distance of all of the above attractions, but it doesn’t mean you’d be limited to playing tourist 365 days a year. (Though we would definitely endorse Tulipmania and its 39,000 blooms in February.) You can do light grocery shopping around the corner at RJ’s Market, workout across the street at Bay Club San Francisco, or board a streetcar two blocks away at The Embarcadero Sansome Street stop for the rest of your errands. Your commute never looked so good, but like everything else in San Francisco, expect to pay a premium.


minimalist homes

Seattle, Washington

Quaint home in an up-and-coming neighborhood

(Click for price.)

As the tech boom continues to shake up Seattle, those looking to find a close-knit (and reasonably-priced) community continue to explore lesser-known neighborhoods. Mount Baker, located southeast of downtown Seattle, is one of those on-the-rise areas. Here, the streets are lined with some of the most adorable little cottages you’ll see in the city—this 470-square-foot, one-bedroom home is in good company—instead of high-rise condos. This, along with the lush trees and often beautifully-landscaped yards, makes Mount Baker feel a world away from the hectic pace you’ll find in more built-up neighborhoods. Take a walk to Rainier Avenue S. for takeout from any one of the diverse restaurants (from soul food to pho), enjoy it at home in front of the freestanding fireplace, then try to tell us that this isn’t the good life. And you may be surprised to learn that it’s more affordable than one might assume for Seattle.


minimalist homes

Long Beach, California

Cozy one-bedroom with ocean views

(Click for price.)

Long Beach‘s name isn’t a misnomer—there really is a nice, long beach here. But like everywhere else in California, the shores attract lots of visitors. This is especially true here because of tourist attractions like the RMS Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and museums like the Long Beach Museum of Art. So if you crave the water without the crowds, Belmont Shore is the place to be. It’s almost entirely residential, with narrow streets and close-together homes that tend to discourage gawkers. Locals enjoy the quiet Seaside Walk (a serene boardwalk) for ocean views, but you just have to look out your window to enjoy a spectacular scene. This 530-square-foot furnished rental is the upstairs suite of a sweet cottage, giving you a boost that gives you an even better look at those beach views. If you have a boat—or know of someone who does—definitely take a fast trip across the bay to Ballast Point Brewing Long Beach.


minimalist homes

Seattle, Washington

Unusual stone home in a bike-friendly area

(Click for price.)

Situated right near the popular open-air shopping at University Village, the Ravenna neighborhood is a surprisingly peaceful little oasis that feels a little less manicured—but no less stylish—than others in Seattle. For one, it’s not unusual to find dirt sidewalks (particularly on NE Blakeley Street), and the local landscape makes it easy to envision Ravenna’s past as Seattle’s wilderness. (You can also see evidence of this in the woodsy wonderland of Ravenna Park.) This unique, 600-square-foot stone cottage is right off NE Blakeley Street, which is right next to the Burke-Gilman Trail. This bikeable and walkable path stretches 27 miles through Seattle, making it possible to commute without a car (and without traffic worries). With what you’ll save on parking, gas, and auto maintenance, this home could be a better deal than you might think at first glance.

Originally published October 2, 2017; updated February 16, 2018. 

Ready to find your own tiny home? Search for rentals of any size right here on Trulia.

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Can’t Buy a House With Cash? You Can Still Land the Home

Buyers who aren't paying cash for a house aren't necessarily out of luck. Here's how you can gain an edge over cash buyers.

All-cash buyers are active in many markets, and they can strike fear in new home buyers. The cash buyer can perform and close quickly and provide sellers with a sense of comfort.

But, does this mean a solid buyer putting down 20 percent or more shouldn’t attempt to compete with the cash buyer? Absolutely not.

What if you can’t buy a house with cash?

The truth is, a buyer getting a mortgage can still compete against a cash buyer and win.

These are the questions that can make the difference:

  • Do you have a 20-percent down payment?
  • Are you well employed?
  • Do you have cash reserves in addition to your down payment?
  • Do you have very little debt?
  • Do you have good credit?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, your purchase should be as bulletproof as a cash buyer’s.

Paying cash for a house doesn’t guarantee a buyer will win over the seller. Well-qualified buyers who put in a little extra effort can seal the deal.

How can you compete against a cash buyer?

  • Be up front about your finances. Make your offer as strong as cash by providing the seller the confidence they need to accept your offer. In addition to a pre-approval letter from your lender, be open to allowing your agent or lender to provide financial information with your offer. Tell them what you make, and how much money you have in the bank. Show bank statements and even a copy of your credit report. Overload the seller to show them that you’re as solid as the cash buyer.
  • Ask your lender to get a head start on the mortgage. See if your mortgage professional can move the process along sooner. Send the lender a copy of the preliminary title report, if available. If you’re buying a condo, find out if a condo questionnaire is available and give it to your lender. If you take any of these steps, let the seller know. Of course, if you have not already, provide the necessary financial documentation to your lender right away.
  • Shorten the loan and appraisal contingencies. Ask your lender how quickly they can send an appraiser to the property, and how long the loan would take to turnaround. In some parts of the country, loans are being approved in less than 14 days — sometimes even 10.
  • Pre-order an appraisal. This may not be as easy with a bigger bank. But smaller banks, direct lenders or mortgage brokers can line up the appraisal in advance. At the time your offer is written, tell the seller the appraisal has already been ordered. If you can get the appraiser out within 24-48 hours of coming to terms with the seller, it’s half the battle.
  • Inspect quickly. Along with the quick appraisal and loan contingencies, get your inspector in and out. Shelling out a few hundred dollars and getting the inspections done within days of having your offer accepted shows the seller you mean business. It also gives them comfort that they’ll get over the biggest hurdle quickly.
  • Overpay. Cash buyers nearly always expect a discount from the seller simply because they’re offering cash and are a sure thing. As a result, the cash buyer will often make a lower offer. To increase your chances, top the cash offer, even if means paying a little more than you think the home is worth. If a seller is faced with a few thousand dollars’ difference, the seller probably wouldn’t risk it. But what if your offer is five percent higher than the cash buyer’s? The seller, perhaps wanting the best of both worlds, may ask the cash buyer to raise his or her offer. Some cash buyers will offer more, but not always enough to match. If you plan to live in the house for many years and it’s the home of your dreams, paying a little more to get the deal might only translate into $20 per month over the course of a long-term mortgage.
  • Make yourself known to the seller. Some buyers write “love letters” to sellers, hoping to appeal to their personal side. Does this work? Sometimes! If you’re competing with a cash buyer, particularly an investor who plans to rent the home out, it can’t hurt to get a little personal. The seller almost always wants to know more about the potential buyer. Ask your agent to write a cover letter and an introduction. Let the seller know who you are, why you like the home and what your intentions are. It usually works.

Do the best you can and be realistic. Make sure your financial “‘house” is in order. Work with a good local real estate agent, and start working with a local mortgage professional well in advance. Structure your offer to show that you’re ready to roll.

For more home-buying tips, check out our Home Buyers Guide.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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