How to Plan for the Hidden Costs of Buying a Home

iStock
iStock

Buying a home requires more than just a down payment. There are plenty of costs associated with buying real estate that you might not expect while you’re scrolling through listings. To know how much you can spend on a home, you’ll need to plan for not only your mortgage payment but closing costs, monthly charges like homeowners association or co-op maintenance fees, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and utilities.

These extras can tack on a significant amount to your monthly housing costs, making them important to take into account before you set your sights on a particular property—it might look affordable at the outset, but be located in a place with high property taxes or come with a hefty HOA fee.

RealEstate.com, a new site from Zillow, is designed to help you search for homes based on what you can afford when all of those hidden costs are factored in. It crunches the numbers to tell you what your total monthly costs would be.

a table of data analyzing the hidden costs of buying a home, such as monthly HOA fees, taxes, etc.
Estimated monthly cost per month for a home for sale in Nashville, broken down by mortgage payments, HOA fees, and other costs.
Screenshot via RealEstate.com

Being able to see at a glance how much property taxes and HOA fees for a particular home might cost could make you rethink whether or not you can afford to live there. For instance, looking at a $400,000 home for sale in Nashville, you could expect to pay around $1500 a month in mortgage payments with an $80,000 down payment. But your actual monthly costs would be around $2100, accounting for $80 in insurance, $377 in property taxes, and $172 in utilities per month. And that doesn’t count the $5000 you’d need to plan to pay in closing costs just to buy the home.

Other real estate markets might cause you even more sticker shock. Looking at a $359,000 listing in Brooklyn, the monthly mortgage payment would only be $1337 with a $71,800 down payment, according to RealEstate.com. But between $300 for estimated property taxes, $100 for homeowners insurance, $400 for HOA fees, and $200 for utilities, the actual cost for the home would be around $2300 a month. Plus there is the one-time closing cost: an estimated $13,550.

Remember to factor in these hidden costs when you’re looking for a home:

CLOSING COSTS

Closing costs include your broker's payment, appraisal and inspection fees, escrow costs, legal fees, application processing fees, and more. Those pest inspections aren't free, after all. Closing costs differ from state to state, but they typically run around 2 to 5 percent of the purchase price of a house or apartment.

HOA FEES

If you’re buying a condo, an apartment in a co-op, or a home in a gated community, chances are you’ll have to join the homeowners’ association. The monthly fees you pay to the HOA go toward maintenance and upkeep of the building or common areas, like elevators, sidewalks, parking garages, and landscaping. If the roof of your condo building starts leaking, your homeowners’ association fees will cover it, for instance.

PROPERTY TAXES

Property taxes can cost you quite a bit, depending on where you live. In Los Angeles County, for instance, all property owners pay at least 1 percent of the assessed value of their home, plus taxes levied by specific cities within the county. In Illinois’s Cook County, you’d be paying an average tax rate of just over 2 percent—about $5000 a year on a $250,000 property.

HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE

You'll definitely want to get homeowners insurance, which will typically cover you if your roof gets destroyed by a tornado, if your plumbing breaks and floods your basement, or if someone breaks into your house. Insurance quotes depend on multiple factors, including the value of your home, your insurance claim history, and the deductible you choose. And like other aspects of buying a home, this can vary a lot by geography, especially since some homes are naturally more likely to fall victim to hurricanes or earthquakes. According to the financial website ValuePenguin, the average cost of homeowners’ insurance in 2017 is around $166 a month in Florida, for instance, while Nevada homeowners pay an average of $60 per month for insurance.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Why Does Altitude Affect Baking?

This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’re highly skilled in the kitchen, you might find yourself with a deflated cake or bone-dry brownies if you happen to be baking in Aspen, Colorado, for the first time. But why exactly does an oven at high altitude so often wreak havoc on whatever baked good is in it?

According to HuffPost, it all comes down to air pressure. The higher you are above sea level, the lower the air pressure is. This is mostly because there’s less air pressing down on that air from above, and it’s also farther from the gravitational forces on Earth’s surface. With less air pressure keeping liquid molecules in their liquid form, it takes less heat in order to vaporize them—in other words, boiling points are lower at higher altitudes.

“For every 500-foot increase in altitude, the boiling point of water drops by 0.9°F,” Dr. Craig F. Morris, director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory at Washington State University, told HuffPost.

Since liquids evaporate at lower temperatures, all the moisture that makes your signature chocolate cake so dense and delicious could disappear long before you’d normally take it out of the oven. To avoid this, you should bake certain goods at lower temperatures.

With less air pressure, gases expand faster, too—so anything that’s supposed to rise in the oven might end up collapsing before the inside is finished baking. Cutting down on leavening agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda can help prevent this. This also applies to bread dough left to rise before baking (otherwise known as proofing); its rapid expansion could negatively affect its flavor and texture, so you might need to adjust how much yeast you’re using.

If all the ways a recipe could go wrong at high altitudes—and all the experimentation needed to make sure it goes right—seem like a lot to keep track of, Betty Crocker has a handy chart with various types of baked goods and suggested modifications for them.

[h/t HuffPost]