There’s a major sense of accomplishment that goes hand in hand with buying your first home. Not only were you able to knuckle down and save money for a deposit (a feat worthy of applause), but you made it through all the hoops that buying a home requires. While it may feel like the right time to lay down and put your feet up, owning a home is no easy job - I would know.
It’s been over two years since my partner and I bought our first home and while some parts of home ownership have become second nature, there’s still plenty of things we’re both learning along the way.
From hidden expenses to housekeeping demands, it involves a lot more mental and monetary effort than most originally anticipate.
In this guide, you’ll find out the ins and outs of home ownership and how to get on top of the costs associated with owning and operating a home.
1. The household expenses you'll have to keep on top of every year
Mortgage repayments automatically come with owning a home, everybody knows that. But what about the other expenses? The ones that make sure your house has running water and is protected in the case of an unexpected event?
As a young homeowner myself, I knew owning a home meant budgeting for plenty of household expenses. However, it wasn’t until I received the first few bills that I realised just how expensive it can be.
So, to prepare you and alleviate some of the unknown, here are the common expenses you’ll have to keep on top of:
- Council rates e.g. water
- Gas (if applicable)
- Home and contents insurance
- Life insurance
- Internet and phone plans
- Car insurance, registration, and servicing
- Public transport
- Food and groceries
- Health insurance
- Childcare/school costs (if applicable)
- Pet insurance (if applicable)
…and many many more - but there’s a hefty list for you.
It can also be important to review your expenses once a year to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible. Every year, my home and contents insurance has increased quite significantly, and while I understood insurance premiums have gone up given the recent floods in Australia, I wondered whether my policy was still competitive. So, I did some online quotes to see how my cost fared against other companies then called my provider to talk through what discounts they could offer me. As simple as it may seem, the quick phone call got me a better deal than what I was initially quoted.
Moral of the story? Don’t just pay your expenses and move on. Check you’re getting a competitive deal.
Along with budgeting for all of the above, you also want to make sure you set up an emergency savings fund.
An emergency fund is money you’ve set aside – either in one lump sum or slowly over time – to help you in a situation where you need immediate access to money you might not have had otherwise. Generally, you want to save up between three and six months’ worth of expenses.
I would highly suggest not skipping past this. An emergency fund can provide you with a sense of relief that if anything unexpected was to happen, you’d have money to fall back on - you won’t be scrambling to find or make extra cash. You’ll thank yourself in the future.
2. How to save money around the house
Australian households pay some of the highest electricity prices in the world. With an average household spend of $1,645 on electricity each year, one way you can slash your energy bills is to become more energy-efficient. Below are some handy tips to getting on top of your energy usage.
Saving money on heating and cooling
Here are several ways to save on heating and cooling that don’t always have a dollar figure attached to them:
- Replace the filters on appliances regularly to maintain optimal efficiency
- Make use of sunlight for heating, and keep it out on warmer days
- Opt for carpets if you require more heating than cooling throughout the year
- Keep doors and windows closed while the air conditioner is on
- Consider lighter paint colour for your exterior to reduce heat retention on warm days
- Shade the house by growing more plants or trees
Saving money on hot water
Some of these tips for saving money on water might seem small, but together they can lead to some nice savings year-to-year:
- Take shorter showers, which should last no longer than 5 minutes
- Choose showers over baths, which often use up more water
- Use a more efficient shower head with 3-star AAA-rated or higher for a more efficient water flow
- Lower the temperature of your showers since hotter water costs more
- Wash clothes with cold water
- Fix leaking taps to avoid wastage and unnecessary costs
- Switch off the hot water heater if you’re away
Saving money on appliances
Whether it’s in your kitchen, the bathroom, the living room or the laundry, there are plenty of ways to save on your electricity bills:
- Set your fridge to about 4-5oC and your freezer to -15oC as each fridge degree colder uses 5% more energy
- Use your microwave over your stove, which uses 80% more energy
- Choose gas stoves over electric stoves, which can be less energy-efficient
- Keep a lid on pots and pant when in use
- Avoid using dryers as drying laundry outdoors can save between $40-$80 a year
- Switch off devices when you’re not using them, such as your TV, game consoles, computers, etc.
- Only use the dishwasher when it’s full
- Use smart power boards, which allow you to put multiple appliances on stand-by at once, preventing them from draining power all day
3. How to save money on renovations
The average Australian spends around $25,000 on house renovations, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), while the average reno costs between $600 to $2,700 per square metre.
If you’re on a shoestring budget or simply want to save money, these cost-cutting tips could help you save money on the costs of your home renovation.
- Refurbish and re-use: Where things aren’t broken, consider cosmetic upgrades over replacing with something new.
- Don’t move the plumbing: Moving anything involving electrical or plumbing fixtures can cost considerably more.
- Consider cheap cosmetic fixes: If your budget doesn’t extend to making structural changes, simple cosmetic changes such as installing new lighting or changing the window furnishings can instantly make your home feel new. You can also make a big impact through affordable updates like paint.
- Improve the layout: Removing a wall or two can open up your living spaces, adding value to your home. The key is to avoid load-bearing walls.
- Do it yourself: Consider DIY for jobs that don’t require any special skills, like painting or ripping up carpet. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends and family either.
- Use cheaper materials: This is an easy win as it will save you money and doesn’t have to affect the overall aesthetic of the home.
- Build a contingency into your budget: It’s important to take into consideration surprises that could incur unexpected costs such as asbestos, mould, shoddy wiring, etc. Having a buffer in your budget to account for these means you won’t need to skimp on other areas.
4. Buying a second property
If you already own a house, there are plenty of reasons why you might consider buying another property. Utilising the equity in your current home is one way you can finance that second property.
What is home equity?
The equity in your home equals the value of the property minus how much you still owe on the mortgage tied to it.
For example, if your property is worth $500,000 and you still owe $350,000 on your mortgage, your home equity is $150,000 ($500,000 – $350,000). All else being equal, if the market value of your property goes up, your home equity goes up, and vice versa.
How to access your home equity to buy a second property
There are several ways you can use your current home equity to help finance your second property, including:
- Refinancing your home loan: If your property’s value has increased, you may be able to refinance your mortgage based on this new value, which then allows you to withdraw cash based on the equity you’ve built up. If you’re considering this option, it’s best to familiarise yourself with the pros and cons of refinancing.
- Taking out a line of credit: These loans provide access to a set level of credit based on your home’s equity. You can use funds up to this set level and interest is only charged on the amount that you use.
- Taking out a reverse mortgage: Reverse mortgages allow buyers to borrow against their equity, but don’t require any repayments while they still live in the home. Instead, the interest compounds over time, and they only have to repay the balance in full after having sold the property or passed away. People under a certain age may not qualify for a reverse mortgage.
- Considering cross-collateralisation: This option allows you to use the equity in your home as security for other loans on one or more properties. It is not without risk, however. If you can’t service the debt on one of the loans, you could risk losing more than just the one property.
- Taking advantage of your home loan redraw facility: A redraw facility lets you access extra repayments you’ve made on your home loan. Each lender has different ways to redraw and different rules on when and how much you can access through this facility (if any).
5. Think it's time to sell your home: Here's what to consider
If you’re considering selling your house, the question of whether or not you should seek assistance from an agent has probably made its way onto your checklist. To help point you in the right direction, below are a few pros and cons of selling your house privately.
Pros and cons of selling your home privately
Tips on selling your home privately
If you have decided not to engage a real estate agent, here are some of the steps involved in selling your own home.
- Get the property ready for sale: Fix what’s broken, clean up and out, renovate and repaint to add value if need be. This ensures that potential buyers will leave with the best impression of your home.
- Decide on the property’s value: Research the market thoroughly to get a realistic idea of how much your property is really worth.
- Prepare the listing: The most effective and popular way to get your property in front of potential buyers is to list it online.
- Organise inspections: Arrange some general ‘open for inspection’ times when buyers can come and view your home.
- Negotiate with a buyer: Once you have received an offer, be prepared to negotiate.
- Get a lawyer to finalise the contract: Once you have come to an agreement on price, it’s highly recommended that you enlist the help of a solicitor or conveyancer to organise the contract.
Helpful tips I’ve learnt along the way
Owning a home is a lot of things - fun, stressful, rewarding, and a little scary at times.
While I’m only two years in, I’ve certainly learnt a lot when it comes to being a homeowner. Here are a few takeaways I’ve come to realise:
- Calculate an estimate of your outgoing expenses: There are more bills than you can even imagine when it comes to owning a home. Make a note of every bill you have and their rough price tags so you’re budgeting for these every month.
- If you still have a mortgage, put your money away in an offset account: As the balance in your offset account grows, the amount you save on interest also grows which could save you money and reduce the time it takes you to pay off your loan.
- Don’t be impatient: You won’t be able to do everything at once. There’s no need to always go and buy the latest household item just because you want it. Save up your money for something you think will be worthwhile in the long run. For example, I’m planning to save money to install a deck in the backyard, which may have benefits in the long run if we plan to sell.
- You need to invest time into simply taking care of your home: You’ve spent all that money, so it makes sense to take some time out of your weekend to do all the house work e.g. mopping and vacuuming, mowing the loan, cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms (boring, I know, but must be done).
- Budget for interest rate hikes: Ensure you’ll still be able to pay off your home loan comfortably while living your best life.
- You did the hard part (hats off to you!): It’s okay to feel proud of your achievements so congratulate yourself once in a while.
Ready, Set, Buy!
Learn everything you need to know about buying property – from choosing the right property and home loan, to the purchasing process, tips to save money and more!
With bonus Q&A sheet and Crossword!