Surprise Expenses: When the first bill isn’t your mortgage

Congratulations on your first home!




Congratulations on your first home! You did everything right. At least you think you did. You hired a real estate agent to ensure you got professional advice, you included a home inspection contingency, you hired a closing attorney to ensure you got clear title, and you got your parents opinion to confirm that you were making a good decision. Nothing could go wrong, correct? What about all the things that a home inspection doesn’t check for, or the kind of things that the seller is not required to tell you unless you ask, or even if you do ask? There are plenty of nasty little surprises you may not be ready for.

Here are some I have found through my personal experiences or the experiences of those in my circles.

  1. Traffic: Most open houses are on Sundays and most people who buy houses have jobs and aren’t available to go see houses during rush hour because they’re busy getting to work. This means that by the time you get to see house, everything is quiet and the roads are cleared so you don’t realize how busy your new street could be.
  2. Undesirable developments: Your seller will never be upfront about why they’re moving unless it’s for a positive/neutral reason like job, or downsizing because the kids are grown. Things like “a developer has been granted a permit to build a 300-unit complex.”
  3. Bad neighbors: Unless there is a formal legal complaint or action taken, the seller is not required to tell you their neighbor is a nightmare nor are they required to tell you that everyone in the association never agrees on anything so all decisions that require a simple majority always end in a tie.
  4. Parking: If you live in the south this might make no sense to you. But if you’re from the northeast like I am, particularly from New England and you have to contend, not only with space being a premium but also with massive amounts of snow, you understand that parking is not a joke. When you get that blizzard condition warning from The Weather Channel, you understand that it is not a drill. So when you move and you find out that parking is not what you thought it was, it could lead to a real nightmare situation. For example, I have a condo with 2 deed parking spots and what I understood was a certain amount of guest parking on a 1st come first serve basis. Turns out that the guest parking is only available when there is no snow because that’s where the plow truck maneuvers. So if it snows, no guests. Or at least no guests with cars.
  5. Home Owner Association Assessments: While the seller is required to tell you about any upcoming assessments, they are not required to tell you about anything that hasn’t been voted on or decided yet. So if a lack of agreement among the owners has managed to delay the decision to pay for major repairs and they’ve continuously kicked the can down the road, you might find yourself with a nasty surprise after you move in. In my case, 13 months after I moved in, I paid $2,000 in cash and faced a $50/month increase in dues, after a vote in favor of replacing some porches passed 3 months prior. Turns out that the owners had been talking about it for 10 years and since there are an even number of units, the vote was continuously tied and they never agreed to do the work. A few people who were against it moved out, shifting the vote just in time for me to be on the hook without sufficient warning.
  6. Upcoming Tax Hikes: Those are even worse. No one even asks and if they do, at least in my state, the seller is not required to tell you because you can do your own research. While the real estate agent will gladly advertise the new state of the art school the town is building, s/he will conveniently leave out how they’re going to pay for it. You might be facing a 2%+ override by your next tax bill with little warning.
  7. Noise: Are you near an ambulance dispatch center or the busiest fire station in the city? It may not be as active on a Sunday morning but on Saturday evenings when people are getting alcohol poisoning or setting their houses on fire deep-frying whole turkeys, you might be facing more disturbance than you bargained for.

Do you have personal stories of unanticipated sources of stress that came up shortly after a new home purchase?

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