Are You Sure You Want to Own a Home?

Home Sweet Home

It has been a little over a year now since we developed the current RafterTales home improvement and decorating blog, we have posted almost 400 articles during that time. Looking back at the content we have published, it is fun to look back and see which articles have been most popular with our readers; it seems most of the hot topics relate to home decorating and interior design.

Probably this is not all that surprising since we all want to make our homes more appealing, comfortable and a reflection of our own tastes and lifestyles. And not all of us have the skills, time or inclination to take on projects like major renovation or remodeling projects. But owning a home can be stressful and entails hidden costs and unforeseen problems that you will want to consider if you are considering purchasing a home or moving up to a larger, more expensive dwelling! While decorating is more fun than maintenance, I want to share with you a few of my own 2008 experiences with home maintenance and repairs.

Is Your Home an Investment or Primarily a Roof Over Your Head?

The last year of turmoil in the housing and financial markets has certainly caused many people to re-examine the benefits and reasons to own a home. For one thing, the rapid downturn in average home prices and crippled home lending institutions has made home ownership a trap for many people. It is a harsh reminder that residential real estate is not always a liquid investment vehicle. We bought our first home in 1994, at the end of the last significant U.S. real estate downturn.

By 2000 our humble 1970s California ranch home had more than doubled in value and we were able to sell it in less than 30 days, reinvesting our windfall equity gain in a brand new home. What fun it was to design and specify flooring, kitchen appliances, paint and interior design details and watch our new home being framed and built from the ground up!
In 2005 we made the decision to leave California and move north to Oregon. We were able to sell our larger, upgraded California home in 2005 for almost twice what we had paid only 5 years previously and it took only 4 days to sell! What a difference 5 years makes; homes in California are now selling for an average of 30% less than only a year ago … assuming you can even sell a home at all in the midst of the current credit crisis.

While it seems counter-intuitive to what many of our generation has viewed as the single greatest investment we might make in our lifetimes (to own a home and live the American Dream), if you look at the facts of history, home appreciation averages about 3% annually over the long haul, while stocks typically return closer to 10% per year over a very long time frame. The last 10 to 15 years of 10% and higher appreciation in home prices may turn out to look like a complete anomaly in a historical perspective.

Leaky Roof? Broken Heater? Keeping your home in tip top shape often involved unexpected repair expenses. Photo by A guy with A camera.

Plan for Unexpected Home Repair Costs

When we moved to Oregon in 2005 we bought a home that was less than two years old. Unlike moving into a brand new home, where things like landscaping, window coverings and the like are needed; our thought process was that we could just move in since the previous owners had already taken care of those things. And that plan worked perfectly; we just moved into the like-new home without having to invest much in decorating, landscaping and the like.

But, like so many aspects of 2008, our now-five-year-old home had a few unpleasant, and costly, experiences in store! Having decided to move to Oregon, undoubtedly, we live in a “wet state”. That means that the roof, exterior siding, doors and windows take a real beating.

In March, heavy rain and wind storms caused leaks in two of our home’s French doors, both of which have a southwesterly exposure and are placed nearly on top of one another; one in our master bedroom on the top floor and the other in our Great Room just below. Unfortunately, the doors the builder installed were not up to the constant rain and moisture during an extended storm began to cause leaks in the ceiling on both the main floor and in our daylight basement below.

The good news is that homeowner’s insurance covered the cost of repairing the damage. The bad news is that the builder went bankrupt and we had to cover the cost of replacing the French doors with sliders that could withstand the wind and rain. That was almost a $10,000 set back for which we really had not planned. Our homeowner’s insurance covered the cost of sheetrock repair and repainting, which came to another $7,500.

Do Home Repair Problems Come Three at at Time?

It took from March until September for all these repairs to be completed and we thought our home was ready for this winter; we did HVAC maintenance, cleaned roof gutters, had the roof inspected and other preparations for winter were all complete.

Then, two weeks before Christmas, Portland was hit by the worst snow storms in 40 years, with temperatures getting down into the teens. While opening the garage door one cold morning, one of the torsion springs snapped, leaving both our cars trapped inside the garage with the 600-pound two-car carriage garage door unable to open. You’d think that a garage door spring would last more than 5 years, but it turns out that on average these springs (which cost about $20 each) are good for about 10,000 cycles.

Now I’m handy enough with tools and have completed many projects over the years with help from friends, from landscaping to replacing doors, texturing and painting walls, etc. But I have no idea how to disassemble and install new torsion springs on a garage door so we had to call a company in to perform the repairs. Turns out the bearings and rollers also needed repair, so the total bill came to almost $700. Merry Christmas!

Well the snow finally melted as the storms driving down from the northeast have given way to the predominately southwesterly storm patterns. Since Christmas it has rained almost every day, which is typical for the Portland, Oregon metro area this time of year. So anyway, last night (New Year’s Day) my wife and I were in bed. The wind and rain were heavy and we woke up to discover a leak in the ceiling in our master bedroom. Happy New Year! I’ll update the site as things unfold with this latest mishap. If bad things really do happen three at a time, then hopefully we will not have major home repairs for 2009 … but I’m not holding my breath.

Looking Ahead to 2009 on RafterTales

Anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on the pitfalls of home ownership and unforeseen repair issues too much, but merely to share my own experience with others who may not yet have faced the unexpected costs and periodic problems that come with home ownership. Be prepared and plan for these types of things. Be sure to perform regular maintenance on your home’s roof, doors and windows, HVAC system, etc.

In 2009, we will focus more on preventative maintenance to help avoid problems in the first place. We will also focus on what to do when the roof leaks, the garage door breaks or the water heater stops working. We’ll also continue to write about home decorating and home improvement of course, but in the New Year, as we all look to cut costs and weather out the current economic storm, we’ll try and give you more information and tips on home maintenance as well. Happy New Year to you and we wish you all the best in your home ownership journey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *