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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. Amy Butler says:

    I have to disagree about this being a “bullying tactic”.

    We just experienced this with our next door neighbor. we live in Mobile, AL (hurricane central FYI) in a 1924 craftsman in one of the many historic districts within the city limits. Also, our city has many laws protecting the trees (many thousands of 300+ year old live oaks) that it is famous for.

    (Side note– we get our Historic Plaque from the city at a ceremony tomorrow!!)

    Our next door neighbor is a sweet and shy man, but a dead pecan tree was dropping limbs in his back yard (and on his home…punching holes in his roof even) and it was very scary.

    State Farm told him that they would cancel his homeowner’s insurance. The city came after a complaint by Alabama Power (the tree had downed lines and he didn’t deal with it) and another complaint by our family— we JUST had a hand-nailed roof put on—and have toddlers who i wouldn’t let play in the backyard.

    Finally the tree has been taken down. Thank God.

    State Farm doesn’t do the “remove these trees” usually. Unless it is a “clear and imminent danger” to the home or neighbors/residents. It’s a risk vs. reality thing.

    trimming trees is one of those “basic home ownership” line items that people need to take care of and many don’t. often, even just a major limb can weigh many tons — the equivalent of a train car (or two) falling from the air.

  9. PDX says:

    We totally had a bully agency (Allstate) do this. We bought a house in Nov 2012, all the underwriting came through just fine and we were insured, no problem. We actually HAD the trees pro-trimmed that next spring. Then in July, a letter of cancellation came from Allstate, due to “untrimmed trees” and “uneven patio” (there is a crack in it, not a huge deal). But here’s the thing: the underwriter was able to sign off at the time of sale, no problem. And they notified us that we needed nothing repaired, at the time of sale. Honestly, if the patio was that much of a problem to the insurance agency, we could’ve probably made the case to have it repaired before closing. But they said everything was FINE, then cancelled us. I raised holy heck and a corporate supervisor reversed the decision. Our local agent never returned our calls.
    So I called PemCo. Not only did their underwriter see no problems, I got our rate lowered by 1/3.

  10. 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!

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