Making Cents: Many costs with home ownership

John P. Napolitano

It's not called the biggest expense of a lifetime for nothing. Purchasing a house is big bucks, and the costs associated with home ownership go far beyond initial purchase expenses and monthly mortgage payments.

Depending on the size of the house, you could be paying several thousand dollars a month on your mortgage alone. That's deserving of a big gulp right there. Now, add homeowners insurance and property taxes into the mix and you can easily up that monthly figure by several hundred dollars.

For first-time homeowners, the price of setting up a house can be eye-opening. There may be several immediate repairs or cosmetic issues to tackle. Or maybe landscaping is on the short list, or a few significant purchases such as a lawnmower or an appliance.

Even spread out over a number of months, these expenses can add up, leaving little wiggle room for household emergencies.

Of course, monthly utility bills must be factored in. You don't need to be an engineer to realize that the bigger the house, the larger the utility usage. Also, those large rooms will need to be filled. Two beanbags in the corner of that beautiful 800-square-foot living room just won't cut it. Then there's the cost of upkeep, such as painting the house, repaving the driveway and fixing the roof.

There are few greater pleasures than loving the place in which you live - and creating equity with each mortgage payment. Still, the less is more theory might be one to employ when buying a house. That 3,500 square-foot three-story colonial may be the house of your dreams, but those dreams could turn into nightmares if you can barely meet mortgage payments, let alone have the cash in hand for unexpected expenses.

There appears to be a trend away from so-called McMansions and toward new houses averaging under 2,000 square feet because of a call for more affordable housing, environmental concerns and the rising cost of utilities and fuel.

The bottom line is simple - before you purchase a house, make sure you've considered all immediate and longer-term costs. Factor an amount into your budget to represent upkeep and routine maintenance. There may be long stretches where your maintenance costs will be nonexistent but, rest assured, the water heater, furnace and stove will all break down in the same month. Far too many people find themselves “house poor” and unable to enjoy that home of their dreams.

John P. Napolitano is the CEO of U.S. Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass. He may be reached at or 617-786-7073. For online discussion and more information, go to