The invisible costs of homeownership

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Welcome to the third installment of our series, The Invisible Costs. For our newer subscribers, we’ve been exploring hidden expenses that sneak into our wants and needs. So far, we’ve covered the invisible costs of childcare and travel, and these were some of the most popular topics with our readers. So let’s keep it going with a set of invisible expenses that are very visible to your wallet: the ones at home. Yes, we are talking about homeownership, the gift that keeps on giving, perhaps, sometimes, depending on how you look at it. 

I (Douglas) love our home, but I’ve become all too familiar with the costs we weren’t expecting when we purchased it eight years ago. According to an Angi survey, the typical homeowner will spend upwards of $3,000/year on their home. Of course, there are discrete, one-off expenses like a broken HVAC, leaky roof, and the occasional clogged toilet. These things just kind of happen, and while that won’t make you feel any better when they do, you come to expect a certain number of hits as homeowners. But there’s also costs that appear with less of a bang, and even when they’re not as dramatic, they sure add up the same.

Let me be clear about something. This newsletter isn’t an indictment on homeownership with the aim of convincing you that renting is better. I’ve participated in many rent vs. buy debates over the years and believe that buying a home is a very personal decision. Just because Heather and I enjoy homeownership (sometimes) doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Regardless of how the numbers break out, it’s all too subjective to be analyzed strictly through a quantitative lens. Got it? Good!

Alright, back to what we can’t see. Let’s dive deeper into homeownership and uncover some annual costs you might not expect when closing the deal. 

Seasonal openings and closings. Growing up in Florida, we had two types of climates to contend with: hot and hotter. We rarely dealt with seasonal changes. But here in the Northeast, you have to take measures to deal with the shifting seasons. Pools and outdoor furniture, for example, should be covered or wrapped to protect them in wintertime. You can buy furniture covers, which aren’t cheap and don’t always stay on (I’ve gotten soaked just trying to battle pooling water), or enlist a shrink-wrapping service that costs anywhere between $250-400. This may sound discretionary, but it sure beats having to replace outdoor wares damaged by the elements. Have you seen patio furniture prices lately?

Mulch. At an average price of $92 per cubic yard, mulch is the most expensive confetti you’ve ever purchased. Last month, we got quoted $900 to lay down fresh mulch around our property. Believe it or not, mulch is much more than an aesthetic. It also serves as an insulator, helping to regulate soil temperature to keep plant roots cool in the summer and warm in the winter. For those of us who have already put a lot of time, money, and energy into our yards, mulch helps protect that investment. It’s kind of a non-negotiable.

Appliance maintenance. You have to maintain your household appliances to ensure their efficiency, longevity, and safety. Regular maintenance helps prevent breakdowns, improves energy efficiency, and extends their lifespans. Routine tasks such as cleaning filters, checking seals, and inspecting hoses can prevent minor issues from escalating into major problems that require replacing appliances altogether. According to Cinch Home Services, the national average cost for appliance repairs is about $175. TBH, we’re well overdue for a washer/dryer clean. Whoops. 

Gutters. Experts say you should have your gutters cleaned at least twice a year: once in the fall and once in the spring. According to Forbes Home, the average cost to clean your gutter is between $160 to $230. Failing to clean your gutters can lead to roof leaks, mold growth, insect infestation, and damage to the structure of the home. After failing to clean our gutters one year, water began to cascade from our roof and pooled on the side of our house. Fortunately, I was able to reroute Lake Boneparth to the street drain before any serious damage occurred.

Grout. For a truly hidden cost, grout is crucial to all tiled surfaces, but it doesn’t last forever. Grout acts as a sealant that prevents water, dirt, and debris from penetrating the spaces between bathroom and kitchen tiles. Regular maintenance, including cleaning and sealing, helps keep grout lines free from mold, mildew, and stains. If you don’t maintain the grout, it could actually become a big deal, causing damage to walls, floors, and substructures, and potentially lead to significant structural issues. Heather used to manage construction defect insurance claims, and grout was always a very annoying sticking point. According to Homeguide, the average cost to regrout a shower ranges from $450 to $2,000. 

Insurance premiums. If you are not proactive with your homeowner’s insurance, those premiums could start ticking up right under your nose. Factors such as inflation, increased claim rates, natural disasters, and changes in the housing market can all impact your insurance costs. Several years into owning our home, our insurance costs nearly doubled because our carrier simply decided to adjust their rates for the entire state of New Jersey. Fantastic! To stay on top of rising costs, consider: shopping your insurance rates; bundling policies like home and auto; adjusting your deductibles; and searching for discounts you might be eligible for when you install smoke detectors and security systems. Also consider whether filing small claims are worth it, as they might have an impact on your rates moving forward. 

Again, homeownership is a personal choice. And with the choice comes a list of responsibilities and expenses you will have to endure in order to make sure your home is in great shape. One of the best ways to go about this is to not only be aware of the typical costs you will inevitably encounter, but to also be proactive in handling the hidden expenses, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to choose between black mulch, brown mulch, or going out for dinner this month.

What invisible costs should we tackle next? Let us know: [email protected].


  • Douglas went on Power Lunch in the Hamptons to discuss a host of topics surrounding millennials and their finances.

  • He then appeared on Worldwide Exchange to talk about how investors should be handling the markets at all-time highs.


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