It’s June in Texas and we’re hot. We just bought our first home and we haven’t even finished unpacking all the boxes when the original A/C unit decides 16 years of quality service is enough and gives up the ghost.
This is the kind of thing everyone warns you about when debating the merits of renting versus home ownership.
As renters, maintenance was something we never had to deal with. There was always a maintenance crew at the ready to fix anything on someone else’s dime.
But owning a home included the “joy” of providing – and paying for – any necessary maintenance ourselves. It’s definitely something everyone looking to buy their first home should think about and be prepared for. And the best preparation is having several thousand dollars just hanging out in your savings account that is only used for emergencies.
One of the decisions we made when buying the house was having the seller pay for a 1-year home warranty to help cover the cost of any kind of significant repair that might occur during our first year of ownership. We didn’t expect to have to use it so soon after moving in, but that’s exactly why we got it.
Home Warranty companies are mostly great because they can save you a lot of money on high-dollar repairs like replacing the entire A/C system. But Home Warranty companies also kind of suck because their is a process that must be followed, and it is not quick. And did I mention it was June…in Texas….without air conditioning? I’m sweating now just thinking about it.
It was going to take the home warranty company several days to approve and schedule an independent repair company just to come out and assess our A/C unit.
Also, we were just 2 days from leaving for a week-long mission trip to Panama. (Things only break down at the most inconvenient times, right?) That meant the repairs would have to wait until we got back, which meant two hot steamy days and nights to get through. Not cool. (See what I did there?) So what we were going to save on price, we were going to pay for in sweat.
We scheduled the repair company to come out the day after our return from Panama. They did a great job diagnosing the problem and informed us the entire A/C system would need to be replaced. That was pretty much what we were expecting with a 16-year-old system.
The cost of replacing the system was several thousand dollars, but with our home warranty, we only had to pay our $400 deductible. Not a bad savings right there.
But wait! There’s more!
Saving money is a great thing about home warranty companies, but probably the only great thing. The independent repair company did an excellent job replacing our system, but they were restricted by the warranty company on what type of equipment they could install – basically the cheapest A/C system available on the market.
So instead of getting a high quality unit that could provide another 10 to 15 years of great service, we were told that the cheap unit we got would be lucky to last 5 years in our brutal Texas heat, and we should start preparing now to replace it again in the future.
And that’s what we did. We started saving every month in our budget. We had already started building up our full emergency fund before we bought the house, and had plenty to pay the $400 in cash for this first replacement. But we wanted to get our emergency fund into the $10k to $15k range as fast as possible.
We diligently saved month after month and finally hit our goal within a year.
Fast forward 6 years and 3 months (just past the warranty period, of course), and A/C unit number 2 bites the dust. But this time we were prepared with cash on hand to buy the unit we wanted that would be more efficient and last much longer.
And without the home warranty process, it’s as simple as calling a few companies to get quotes and choosing the one we liked best. The new unit was installed the next day. The total cost was $6,333…paid for in cash. Next step? Sit in our cool comfortable house as we work to refill our emergency fund so we’re ready for the next slice of “joy” that homeownership decides to throw our way.
When buying a home, your emergency fund is your best friend. It is separate from your down payment. It’s separate from your kitchen remodeling fund. It’s separate from your new furniture fund. It is a pile of cash that just sits there to smooth things out when the unexpected happens.
And if you’ve owned a home long enough, you know that home maintenance isn’t really unexpected.
What kind of “joy” has home ownership brought into your life? Did you have a cash cushion to cover you? If not, how did you end up handling it? I’d love to hear your “joy” stories in the comments.