Come for the Mortgage, Stay for the Repairs

The storm that swept through the mid Atlantic last Friday night brought me a reminder of a certain truth: We must keep paying a lot more than the mortgage for the privilege of homeownership.

Each time we think we are ready to proceed to the next item on our checklist of home improvements—replace the back porch roof; put a gutter on the garage to channel water to a rain barrel; paint here, there and everywhere—some unforeseen mishap trips us up for awhile and puts a big fat dent in our savings.

While we knew we'd have to take that maple tree in the front yard down someday soon (because the thing was already basically hollow from inner rot) we hadn't anticipated it happening so soon. The winds on Friday ripped a couple long branches off the top of the tree, leaving behind a snaggle-toothed remnant that is decidely unpretty to look at. So now the project we'd hoped to put off until fall, or maybe even another year, has become an emergency of sorts. Not that a pile of dead wood in the front yard necessarily offends our eyes, but it surely would bother the neighbors.

We are not the kind of homeowners who get up at dawn's early light to fire up the chainsaw, or engage in other fixer-upper projects that require mechanical know-how. So we picked up the phone and started dialing contractors for quotes. When the estimates for doing the work were in hand, we stopped for a second to rue the day that we committed ourselves to a financial reckoning far worse than the simple monthly rent we used to pay. Then we picked ourselves up and remembered that most of the time, we really love that we own our place.

So it goes with homeownership. There is always another thing that needs to be done, and if it isn't done now, it will loudly demand to be done later. I will continue to hunker down with my fix-it books, trying to do a few things myself. This will not only make me a better person, but it might even save us a few hundred dollars here and there. And so when the next mortgage payment comes due, maybe I won't complain about all the hidden costs that weren't mentioned in the real estate ad.

Photo by CaZaTo Ma, CC BY-NC-ND.

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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