Monthly Archives: April 2015

Top 10 Common Repair Costs

Congratulations on buying your first house. Now, you have to learn how to keep it in good repair. To be safe, you should set aside money every year — 1% to 3% of your home’s purchase price — for repairs and maintenance.

The good news is that most repairs are simple, inexpensive, and DIY-friendly. If you can fix stuff yourself, you’ll only pay for the cost of materials and save a bundle on these common repairs and replacements.


1.  Replace Toilet Fill Valves

That annoying sound of water continually filling and draining from your toilet tank is often caused by leaky fill valve, which a plumber can replace, stopping water waste and restoring quiet. Plumber rates vary widely around the country, from $45 to $150 per hour, and the job will take about two hours — the minimum some plumbers require just to take the job.

Labor: $50 to $200

Materials: $11 to $23

Total: $61 to $223

2.  Repair a Leaky Faucet

The water torture drip-drip-drip from a leaky faucet won’t just drive you insane, it can drive up water bills, too. Depending on the type of faucet you have, fixes typically involve replacing damaged rubber washers (10 for $2), O-rings (10 for $2), or a faucet cartridge ($8 to $30).

Labor: $95 to $300

Materials: $2 to $30

Total: $97 to $330

3.  Replace Ceiling Fan

If you’ve got a ceiling fan, sooner or later the motor will burn out, the blades will warp, and fashions will change, so you’ll need to replace it. Replacing isn’t a big deal, because upgraded wiring, a reinforced ceiling box, and a light switch with ceiling fan controls are already in place. What you’re paying for is an electrician’s time — one or two hours — and a new fixture.

Labor: $50 to $200

Materials: $54 to $1,000 and up

Total: $104 to $1,200

4.  Repair Drywall

Nicks, gashes, and smashes inevitably mar your beautiful walls. You’ll have to patch and paint to make them look as good as new. A painter can do both jobs and will probably give you a flat rate that will include patching or filling blemishes, then sanding, priming, and painting.

Painters charge $25 to $62 per hour for labor or $2.68 to $4.60 per square foot including materials. Figure it will take about three hours to repair a wall, including drying time for the patching compound and paint. It’s a good idea to save up painting chores so you have enough to keep a painter busy while repairs cure.

Materials include paint at $12 to $50 or more a gallon, which should cover about 350 square feet; plus another $10 to $50 for brushes, rollers, drop clothes, and drywall patching compound.

Labor: $75 to $186

Materials: $22 to $100

Total: $97 to $286

5.  Repair Cracked Tile

Tile is hard and durable, but drop something heavy on it and it’s likely to crack — a reason to always order more tile than you need so you’ll always have spares. To replace cracked tiles, a handyman must pry out the damaged tiles, scrape away old fixative, re-glue new tiles, and spread new grout. Replacing a 2-foot-by-2-foot section of tile should take one to two hours, not including the drying time required for the adhesive to set.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $1 to $20 per square foot

Total: $34 to $430

6.  Replace Caulk Around Tubs, Sinks, and Showers

Caulk is the waterproof seal around sinks, tubs, and showers that prevents moisture from seeping through gaps and onto drywall and flooring. When caulk cracks or peels, it should be replaced immediately to prevent mold and rot.

A handyman can dig out old caulk around a tub and reseal with new in about an hour.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials:  $1 to $4 for a tube of bathroom caulk

Total: $31 to $354

7.  Fix Gutters

Gutters and downspouts carry water from rain and snow away from your house and onto the ground. Sometimes the weight of wet snow and soggy leaves puts too much pressure on gutters, causing them to pull away from the house or pitch at inefficient angles.

A gutter contractor will clean gutters, and replace or reinstall supportive hardware and hangers. To restore the correct pitch, the contractor must detach and reattach each gutter section.

Labor: $127 to $282 (depending on length of gutter)

Materials: $10 for five hangers; $6 to $9 for gutter sealant

Total: $143 to $301

8.  Fix Out-of-Alignment Doors

Over time, your house moves as its foundation settles and building materials expand and contract with changes in humidity. The movement often is noticed when doorframes shift slightly, causing hinges to creak and doors to not shut properly.

Adding wooden shims to frames and hinges can bring doors back into alignment and let them easily open and close once again. Replacing worn-out screws with longer screws helps secure hinges tightly.

A handyman can fix a door in about an hour. Materials will include shims and screws.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $5

Total: $35 to $355

9.  Repair Ice Damming

If your house isn’t insulated correctly or your roof isn’t designed correctly, melting roof snow can run off and freeze around roof edges. Eventually, this can form an ice dam that creeps up your roof, damaging shingles and forcing melting water into your home.

One popular solution to ice damming is to install a heating cable along the roof’s edge, which warms the area and prevents freezing. It’s not a DIY job. Roofing contractors will install the cable, and an electrician will install outlets that will juice up the cable. If you want a thermostat to turn the cable on and off automatically, that’ll be extra, too.

Labor and materials: $30 to $60 per linear foot

Total: $371 to $1,319 (average job cost)

10.  Fix a Faulty Light Switch

Sometimes you turn on the light but nothing happens; or sparks crackle, and the light turns on. It’s disconcerting, but most likely it’s an easy fix. An electrician will turn off the power, take off the faceplate, check and perhaps tighten wires; or replace the switch. All told, it will take less than an hour.

Labor: $50 to $100 per hour

Materials: $1 to $6 for a single pole light switch

Total: $41 to $106



What First-Time Buyers Should Look for in a Starter Home

You’ve dreamed for years of buying your first home, and now it’s time. You’ve created Pinterest boards dotted with photos of beautiful home decor, watched all the episodes of HGTV’s “House Hunters” and spent hours trolling listings online. You know exactly what you want.

But have you done the math?

home-buying-rehoboth-beach-real-estate1When it’s time to search for a starter home, many young — and not so young — people quickly discover that their budget won’t cover their dream home. That means making tough choices and doing some serious thinking about what matters: Will granite countertops make you happier than living 15 minutes closer to work? Is a third bedroom worth giving up a second car? Is living inyour dream neighborhood more important than having a yard?

“It’s not all about the house,” says Karen Carr, a certified financial planner at the Society of Grownups, a Boston group that holds seminars on homebuying in its effort to provide financial advice to young adults. “We talk a lot about buying for your life now and then the life you want in the next few years.”

Carr quizzes her clients about why they want what they want in a home, helping them drill down to what’s most important in their lives. The hope is they will realize some features, like commute time and having enough room to start a family, should be weighed more heavily than others, like the countertop material or the wall color, which might look nice but don’t really affect how they will live.

“We try to match their expectations with their budget,” Carr says. That’s a challenge in a city like Boston, where the median price of homes sold in December was $490,000, according to multiple listing service data analyzed by Signal Real Estate. Plus, Carr says, it’s such a strong seller’s market that many properties draw multiple offers.

One of the more important questions for first-time buyers is how much they are willing to compromise on location. In many large cities, for example, homes closer to town are more expensive than homes in the suburbs. That means buyers have to decide how far out they’re willing to move to get more space.

Most experts agree that if you buy a home, you need to make sure you can live in it for at least five years, and maybe longer. The needs and desires of young singles or couples without children are often different from the needs and desires of families, where schools and space matter more.

PulteGroup, which builds new single-family homes and townhomes throughout the U.S., sees two main types of first-time buyers. These newbie homebuyers want different things in starter homes, says James Zeumer, vice president of corporate communications.

Younger buyers, who may not have children, typically want to be closer to urban areas and are willing to live in attached homes, such as a townhouse community. Families, who are a little older, are more interested in a single-family home with a yard and are willing to move farther into the suburbs to get that, he says.

A National Association of Realtors survey of first-time buyers between July 2013 and June 2014 found that the median age of these buyers was 31 and that the median home size purchased was 1,570 square feet. Of those buyers, 75 percent chose a single-family home, 10 percent chose a townhouse and 10 percent chose a condo or co-op. More than half, 54 percent, were married, and 15 percent were unmarried couples. Unmarried women made up 18 percent of first-time buyers, and single men accounted for 11 percent.

More important, 75 percent of first-time buyers said they had compromised on their home purchase, most commonly on the size and price.

A Realtor in Mobile, Alabama, says many of her buyers want to keep costs low and are realistic about what they can afford. “After the economic crash, I think we’ve learned to be very frugal,” noting that many peers saw their parents struggle with mortgages during the real estate bust. “We watched how they suffered and how it declined so quickly.”

In Mobile, first-time homebuyers can get a three-bedroom, two-bath home — the size most are seeking — for $90,000 to $125,000, and the seller traditionally pays closing costs, which is practically unheard of in Boston.

She says her clients want modern appliances, fenced yards for pets and a home that requires little renovation. “They live such busy lives that the last thing they’re wanting to do is rip up carpet on the weekends,” she says.

First-time buyers also like open floor plans, flexible spaces and plenty of storage, with everything wired for technology, Zeumer says. Families like spaces off the kitchen where kids can do homework and still be seen by parents, as well as entryways with cubbyholes, hooks and cabinets. At Pulte, buyers choose their own options for the entry-level brand, and Zeumer says these buyers are very cost-conscious.

“They’re going to be very thoughtful with regard to the price point,” he says. Most buyers want three bedrooms and two baths and choose homes of 1,000 to 1,400 square feet, he says. Popular upgrades include wood or tile flooring and improvements in the master bath and kitchen.

Here are five things to consider as you prepare to buy a starter home:

Is buying now really a good idea? Take a look at your lifestyle, your job, your family situation and your budget to determine if this is the right time to lock yourself into a home for five to seven years.

Do you have enough money? Looking just at the mortgage payment gives you an incomplete picture, Carr says. “A lot of people just go straight to the mortgage payment,” she says, figuring that they can afford a payment equal to or slightly more than their rent. “That’s a gross oversimplification.” Be sure to add up the additional cost of property taxes, homeowners insurance, condo or homeowner association fees, utilities and maintenance. Every home, even a new home, will need repairs and preventive maintenance.

Drill down and separate what you need from what you want. Before you even look at homes, figure out what compromises you are willing to make. Location for space? A second bathroom for modern finishes? A great neighborhood for your own yard?

Get a good home inspection. If you’re buying an existing home, as 88 percent of the buyers in the Realtors’ survey did, accompany your home inspector and take notes. He or she will give you an excellent overview of how long the major components or your home will likely last, making it easier for you to plan for replacements during your ownership.

Know what’s easy to change and what isn’t. First-time homebuyers often have no experiencerenovating homes, so they don’t realize what features and finishes are easy and inexpensive to change and what is likely to become a major project. Real estate agents and home inspectors can provide insight on these topics, and you can also do your own research. Changing all the carpet before you move in, for example, is normally not difficult and is not nearly as expensive as adding wood floors. New kitchen counters are much less expensive than new cabinets. Rewiring a house is expensive, but changing a light fixture is not.