Costly and unexpected expenses from owning a home — share your experiences

tree damage $$$I have owned four homes in my life, and I can tell you: The list of surprise expenses never seems to stop. Yes, I have always favored older homes, so I probably get more fix-its than someone with a brand-new house. But, I think that if your home is even just 10 years old, you are going to have to keep that savings account stocked with emergency funds, and keep that checkbook handy. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I think it can be really helpful to prospective and recent homebuyers to know about the kinds of expenses — surprises, as well as costs that can easily escalate — that they may expect. So, I’m throwing this story open to readers to share their experiences.

What problems have you needed to throw money at,
when it comes to repairing or maintaining your home —
things you never really expected, or
which ended up costing much more than you planned?

I’ll start our list by explaining my photo above: Tree damage. A tree on my neighbor’s lot fell half-way out of the ground and onto our fence. We were responsible for all damage, can you believe it. Had to pay to have the tree completely removed (from the point at which it crossed our property line), and I have yet to have the fence repaired. Yes: Insurance paid for some of it. But overall, less than 1/4 of the expense, I’d say. We have spent A LOT of money trimming, cabling, removing and repairing damage — all due to trees on our mature lot. Pain in the a** and definitely, an unexpected pain in the wallet.

  1. Patti says:

    We bought a 1951 slab-on-grade bungalow in Falls Church Virginia this summer and discovered after living in it six weeks that our 68-year-old sewer line was badly corroded and leaking. We’re in the midst of a $40,000 sewer line and slab replacement. When we’re done the house will be good to go for another 68 years!

  2. Sharon says:

    My daughter and her husband bought a small house to remodel in late summer of 2009. Supposedly, it was built in the early forties. HaHa! My husband and I found Sears catalog pages stuffed between bricks in the chimney; that we tore down, from much earlier.
    It took the rest of that year and half the next to “rebuild”. The subfloor in all but two rooms had to be replaced, walls in two rooms replaced, one chimney torn out, roof repaired, new breaker box, everything rewired, washed and painted.
    It was worth every hour, and penny put into it. They had an offer from a purchaser for double the total of what they paid and invested in the “fix”. They are happy with their home and planning to live there for a long while.
    Yes, there is life after remodeling an old house, but it’s hard to be satisfied just “rocking on the porch”, my husband and I are starting on our 1960’s ranch now.

  3. Jan says:

    Because I’m not living in my dream house, my house is a lot older than a lot of your homes (142 years old, to be exact!). But we’ve had our share of stupid things that didn’t go the way we planned – not the least of which was having to completely replace an entire floor and ceiling right in the middle of a pretty basic renovation (adding insulation). Talk about going way over budget!
    We also had the house re-wired in the year after we first moved in – total re-wiring and upgrade from the cheesy little fuse box to a good breaker box. Unfortunately, part of the connection from the outside wires to the meter was allowing a tiny, tiny leak through the main wire into the house. We didn’t realize this until the lights started flickering one day. The entire breaker box was almost fried. Thank goodness we found that one when we did, but it died mean we had to replace the breaker box and all the breakers – NOT cheap! Two complete sets in a matter of less than fourteen years!
    My best, best advice comes before you own your home. Pay for your own independent inspector! We, unfortunately, used the realtor’s inspector, and all he found was a light in a closet that apparently should not have been there and a stair rail that needed to be put up. There was a lot more going on in this house than that!

  4. Reen Gavin says:

    1) The first spring (2011) in my 1970’s rancher, flies began emerging from the bricks on my fireplace….by the MANY!! I had them identified by extension service as houseflies not blow flies. I paid $250 for a guy to come to tell me there was nothing dear in my chimney. Pest Control firms either wouldn’t come or wanted a year round contract. So began the exhausting task ( I am bug phobic!) of vacuuming them as they emerged. I added a bug zapper which I hung in my LR ! Neighbors now admit they all wondered why I had a purple light in my LR. This year no flies! YAAAAY
    2) My other house , rented to wonderful professional people suffered an electric surge from a lightning strike. Power company replaced the meter, but the smoke alarms were shorting, the GFI’s were down, and my tenant’s washer needed a new electrical panel. Repair $957—-insurance deductible $1,000!! Natch!

  5. Goldie Harvest says:

    After reading all of the above stories, I really can’t complain! I bought a house because there aren’t many legal apartments allowed on the entire island where I live, and most of the ones that are here are 2 bedrooms or less. I wanted a small house that wasn’t updated, and the 1965 ranch is what I got. The inspector found most of the important stuff so all I really needed was a new roof and some minor repairs. What is absolutley KILLING me is the price of heating oil (700 bucks a pop, a fillup every winter month) I went ahead and made homemade plexiglass storm windows for the aluminum windows that leak like a seive-these cost over 200 bucks for ten windows. Taxes here are almost ten grand too-ouch!

  6. metalcabinetsdontburn says:

    I forgot the new high energy efficient windows and back siding – total 10K last year.

    Contemplating a light tunnel over staircase. Anyone has an opinion about or experience with that?

  7. metalcabinetsdontburn says:

    40+ years in a 1931 federal row house in Washington DC. Luckily, we are the 3rd owners, acquired it before the renovation craze of the last couple of decades. Bathroom is a DIVINE Deco style, black and white high gloss tile on walls, small black and white marble tile on floor, dreamy American Standard LILAC fixtures…

    All inside original. We stripped the doors, pocket doors and french doors and repainted them when we moved in, stripped the kitchen cabinets to their original wood and lead glass. Wonderful 1930’s Magic Chef 36 inch stove. This work was elbow grease. Otherwise, full upgrade on electric twice, just in order to be up to date with all the electrical demands, in the 1970’s with kitchen appliances, in the late 1990’s to keep up with computers, printers, etc. 6K (or the equivalent in the 70’s) at a time.

    Truly MAJOR upgrade was total house re-piping – inside and out – upgrade to 1/2 inch copper – it had lead piping. 13.5K including new boiler and new water heater. (no new car that year…).

    Painting refresh every 10 years. Floors sanded and redone when we first moved in. Contemplating redoing them if needed before sale.

    I have been thinking of a kitchen change, but not an overhaul, unless prep for sale…. If only I could clone the lilac bathroom….

    This house has been so good to us…and it will be a jackpot to the next owners – when we get ready to part with it – if they just ‘listen’ to its beat.

  8. Trina says:

    Fall is coming quickly here in central PA and we finally see the chance to build a fire in our great fireplace. We just moved into the house in June, so we were looking forward the a nice crackling fire. Hubby decided to do the right thing and get someone in to clean the chimney before we got started using. We were expecting a quick sweep and a low bill. What we got was a 3 hour inspection and a $4800 estimate for re-do the chimney. I think it is time for a second opinion! I was so ready for a warm fire. Yuck!

  9. Jennifer F. says:

    We bought our first home last year, a 1929 spanish style in Los Angeles. The house was a flip, and presented great. We had a spot on inspector, who let us know that the flip was a quick one. We’ve had some surprises this year, and some expected expenses that were pointed out in the home inspection. Roof repair, and entirely new roof for garage (previous owner nailed down tar paper, as if that was never going to leak) $3400, which inspector pointed out, and gave fair estimate to fix.
    We hear a loud pop, and low and behold, our original plaster ceiling in the laundry room had cracked and was hanging down, cost to have replastered, the old fashioned way, $1000. Paint suddenly peeling off the walls in not often used guest bathroom, walls had to be scraped, re-surfaced, and painted, cost approx. $500.00 Thanks flippers for not using primer! Good thing we we have another bathroom that’s covered in paint that is a ticking time bomb.
    We also are waiting to have the entire plumbing redone, as it’s 50% cast iron piping, we can live with the sometimes rusty water, for now!
    Other flipper gafs, installing sub standard sprinklers and not having a shut off valve, the sprinkler main line sprung a leak, and that all had to be replaced. Cost was rolled in to removing dead trees, and trimming other old growth ones that threatened the house, and adding some landscaping.
    I grew up in old and very old homes in New England, and they have problems. As far as the difference between renting and owning, I never want to share walls with a neighbor ever again. I also love that we have over time, repainted and are making the house ours. I don’t have to get a landlords approval to paint my bathroom mid century pink, or convert our pull down ironing board cupboard into a better use spice cabinet. I love our vintage house.
    Just make sure you have a rainy day fund for the unexpected, because that check is in the mail. 🙂

  10. susie q says:

    I bought a 950 square foot 1950 minimal traditional last year! And love this site! I must agree with a previous messge, take the time to review and hire a good inspector so you know what you are getting into! I have some repairs and restoration work to do, but nothing that time and money can’t take care of as the house is a solid little old lady and cute as well! And yes, it is a labor of love, and after being without a home for several years living in an apartment after owning 2 homes previously there is nothing like owning your home! Now l need to get back to finding the time and money to make it my own!

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