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Q:  Marsha, my wife and I purchased our first home almost a year ago. Since then, we’ve dealt with several extensive house repairs. Even with the home warranty our agent purchased, it was expensive. On top of that, we hadn’t factored in the high cost of utilities, landscape maintenance, and home improvements. We never expected home ownership to be so costly.

A:  Like most first-time home buyers, you had carefully planned out and budgeted for your mortgage, homeowner’s insurance costs, and property taxes. You forgot that everything has a lifespan, will wear out, and will need to be repaired or replaced. Also, unlike renters, you owe all the utilities.

Houses and dwellings are structures that age and are ever-changing. The beautiful home you purchased will not stay that way without input and a lot of work. This is both your home and an investment.

Much depends on the condition of the house when you purchased it. You have a good idea of the condition from your pre-sale home inspection. The initial quality of the building materials should also be considered. A 60-year-old tract house which initially cost $18,000 will need more upkeep and repairs than a newer house.

What you’re discovering is not just emergency costs but also ongoing home maintenance costs you didn’t anticipate. The expense of repairing and upgrading can be daunting even for adamant do-it-yourselfers. Houses have jokingly been called money pits and sinkholes for money. For good reason.

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There is a solution to being caught off guard with home maintenance. It’s called a budget. When you purchase a condominium, you have Homeowners Association dues. These dues have value. They pay for all the outside maintenance of the complex, roof, infrastructure upgrades, gardening and landscaping, termite work, and more. These are components of property maintenance that every owner — condo or single-family residence — will need to face.

Condominium owners, unlike single-family homeowners, are forced to budget for maintenance. Every three years, condo associations are required to have a reserve and budget study done. Most studies are based on a 30-year plan.

Use the home inspection report and the age of your house to assign a lifespan and replacement cost to all items and systems in the house. This includes furnaces, air conditioner units, stoves and ranges, refrigerators, dryers, washers, dishwashers, garage door openers, electrical systems, and plumbing. Don’t forget painting the house inside and out.

The roof is 15 years old and will need to be replaced in 15 years. Put money away every month. You’ll want to paint the outside in five years. Put that in the budget. This is not an emergency fund but a dedicated budget for the house. Place the money in a safe reservoir and relax.

Sounds impossible? It’s not. Remember the condo owners? Somehow, every month they can pay $400-$800 in association fees. You, the single-family residence owner, can do that too. You’ll be glad you did.

Marsha Gray, DRE #012102130, NMLS#1982164, has been a real estate broker in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, real estate services and lending. To read more Q&A articles, visit She will research and answer all questions submitted. Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or

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