The Hidden Costs of the Bigger House

When my husband and I were building our first house, we got advice from all directions – the mortgage officer, the developer, friends and family. Many said the same thing: get as much space as you can, you can always upgrade appliances and cabinets later, but upgrading square footage is difficult. While at the time we thought it was sage advise to maximize the size of our home, and with that our mortgage loan, we didn’t fully understand the implications of what owning a larger home meant.

1) Bigger home, bigger utilities bills. When calculating our monthly budget costs, we of course factored in the larger mortgage payment. What we didn’t do was calculate how much the additional space would mean to our electric, gas and other utility bills. It’s easy to forget that additional bathrooms mean additional water, or that more bedrooms mean added TVs, lights and cable boxes, all of which drive up electric and cable costs respectively.

2) You’ll need additional help to maintain it: if you are working full-time, or even if you’re not, keeping a large home clean takes a lot of work. While my husband and I made a concerted effort to keep the house straightened and clean, with three children we just couldn’t keep up. We finally relented and got some help every two weeks. While it made a huge difference in our time and our stress levels, it was another item we had neglected to budget in our initial finances.

3) Landscaping and property maintenance costs are larger: We were advised by a landscape designer that people always underestimate the cost of landscaping when building a new home. Their rule of thumb was to allocate 10 percent of the cost of the house to the purchase of trees, shrubs and plants. Needless to say we didn’t include the price of all the foundation plantings, side barriers etc, in the cost of our house. Our other realization over time, all those foundation plantings need to be cut back and trimmed each year once they reach maturity. And unless you plan on spending a few hours every weekend maintaining the lawn, add in lawncare maintenance for mowing and fertilizing each year.

4) Additional space means more rooms to furnish. When we first moved into our new home, we had enough furniture to fill a bedroom, nursery and a small living room. Calls placed to our home sounded like they were taking place in an empty airplane hanger. The costs of decorating and furnishing extra rooms can be quite expensive, requiring furniture, window treatments, rugs, lamps, paintings, etc. While we convinced ourselves that this was an expense we could pay out over time, the echoing rooms got old very fast.

Building a bigger home is a great option if you have a large enough financial cushion to accommodate both the increased purchase price as well as the ongoing maintenance costs. But if you are extending yourself financially to build or buy a larger home you should consider how important the extra space is to you. The trade off you’ll be making by putting the additional money into your home, is that you won’t be spending it on traveling, or playing golf, or taking piano lessons. So think carefully about the size of your home because without extra money to pay for activities or vacations, you’ll be spending most of your time there.

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