There's something undeniably luxurious about a big house. Those huge windows, expansive lawns, and massive rooms embody the American dream in a way that few other things in this life do.
It's not cost-effective, but you've spent years—quite possibly, decades—thinking about it and driving past it. Now you're planning to move up to the neighborhood of your dreams. The question is, are you really ready for it?
- Time commitment and costs are two key factors to think about when you consider trading up to your dream home.
- Landscaping, a pool, and amenities like a patio with outdoor kitchen, can all run into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to design, create, and maintain.
- Hiring help can be another added expense.
- If you have planned for these expenses and lived with the reality of them for half a year, you may be ready to move up.
Managing a Bigger Mortgage
Big houses come with big mortgages. A mortgage of several thousand dollars a month is likely on the horizon if you plan to move up. It's a high number, but it won't come as a surprise so you can plan for it. Similarly, a bigger space will require more money to heat and cool. Once again, you know these expenses are coming and can prepare accordingly.
While the size of the mortgage and the cost of utilities are items that you are likely to take into consideration before making a move, there are lots of other factors to consider. They fall into two categories: time and money. These categories are closely intertwined.
The Time Commitment of Upkeep When You Upsize
The size of the responsibilities and the time commitment required to address them both rise directly in proportion to the size of your new home. What once seemed like a great idea can soon become a burden. For example, a big new deck needs to be stained, and a large lawn needs to be mowed. A big house needs to be cleaned. Without help, you may find every spare moment of your time filled with home maintenance chores from cleaning the grout in the bathroom and maintaining tiles to keeping hardwood flooring clean and even refinished on a periodical basis.
Outdoor Maintenance Costs
The expenses associated with a larger home start long before you get inside. Beautiful grounds are a part of upscale properties, and elaborate homes have elaborate lawns and gardens. Yearly maintenance on high-end lawn care equipment from tractors to snowblowers may set you back a few hundred dollars. While keeping a lawn green and trim may be a major effort, it's really just the baseline requirement. Trees, flowerbeds, and bushes require water, trimming, mulch, and more. And if you want to add a patio and additional trees to create a secluded back lawn, your bill may now be measured in tens of thousands of dollars.
Add in amenities like a hot tub, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen, sod, and some decorative stonework, the bill can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then you have to maintain your amenities from cleaning hot tubs to the regular upkeep having an inground pool requires.
Upscale Interior Design
Now that the exterior looks good and the interior is protected, you've got a house full of big rooms that need to be filled. Just as the scale of the rooms changes, so does the scope of the furniture. What's a coffee table worth to you—$40, or $400, or $40,000? They are available in all of those prices. What about lighting figures—$25, or $2,500, or $25,000? You can get the low-end one at the local big-box store and the other two at the boutique lighting establishment in the upscale part of town.
Don't Forget the Garage
Before you go inside to rest and figure out how you're going to pay all of your new helpers, take a quick look at the garage—or rather, what's in it. Fancy storage units, specialized oil-resistant flooring, and even flat-screen TVs can be found in the modern garage. Your upscale home might need high-end fixtures, shelves, and electronics to make a garage more than a place to store your car.
The time and effort required to keep your new home looking good can become overwhelming. After all the grass cutting, snow removal, and house cleaning, you might decide that you've had enough and want to hire some help. But help costs money. So let's take a look at some of those expenses.
Hiring help will certainly give you some time back in your day, but the cleaning person, landscaper, and pool maintainer don't work for free. Don't forget about the person who power washes the house and cleans the windows and worker who puts that fresh coating of protectant on your driveway when it starts to look faded.
Even the mailbox is going to cost you more. That $12 box at the old house? Now it's $120 for a shiny pole and fancy flag.
As Time Goes By
The basic costs in terms of time and money also apply as the property ages. Maintenance and repairs come in proportion to the size of the property. A new roof on a large home costs more than a new roof on a small home. New carpeting in a large home can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Repairs to stone and stucco can put a serious dent in almost any budget. Remodeling a large kitchen costs more than remodeling a small kitchen. Updating a large bathroom costs more than updating a small bathroom, and so on.
After you make the final mortgage payment, don't forget your real estate taxes are forever. The taxes on a big new house can be the equivalent of a mortgage payment on a smaller property. In addition, smaller homes are trending among buyers and builders, according to Zillow.
Test Out a 'Big House' Budget
Now that you're thinking about the costs associated with your move, it's time to create a "big house" budget. Before you buy the big house, live with its expenses for six months. Allocate your money accordingly (you can park the cash in your moving fund). See whether you're left with enough money to feel comfortable. This exercise will drive home the value of truly understanding your finances.
While this may seem like a lot of effort, it is really just a fiscally prudent approach to quantify the lifestyle enjoyed by some of the upper-middle class. Remember, the truly wealthy also have to pay for personal assistants, professional chefs, arborists, butlers, nannies, and sometimes even personal security.
The Bottom Line
You've taken a serious look at the costs of moving up. You've tested the theory, found it wasn't too difficult to stash the cash, and you are now ready to move. If you've planned things right, your future will be filled with cozy winter evenings sitting by the roaring fire and lazy summer afternoons relaxing poolside with your friends instead of fretting about expenses.