Of Mice and Moss: Tales of Unexpected Homeowner Expenses

beesI’ve been doing a little research lately on how much a homeowner should expect to spend on home repair and maintenance. The experts have actually come up with a number: They predict you’ll pay out 1% – 3% of your home’s purchase price amount each year.

Seriously? How can a two-bedroom California bungalow, bought for $700,000 because it’s in an area of inflated prices with a good school district, cost more than twice as much to maintain as, say, a five-bedroom mansion in Buffalo bought for a mere $300,000?

And then there’s the sheer unpredictability of homeownership. I asked friends whether their homes had thrown any surprises at them, and oh, did I get a flood of replies. Here are some choice ones, which I’ve tried to group thematically:


  • “Approximately $800 to hire a state-licensed animal trapper to capture and remove a squirrel, five raccoons, and an opossum from my backyard in urban Los Angeles. The raccoons had established a ‘latrine’ that was a horrible mess and a health hazard.”
  • “Beehive in the walls, which cost $600 to remove.”


  • “Plumbing line replacement for older home with tree roots growing into the pipes — $8,000 to replace the line from house to street.”
  • “Tree roots growing into the sewage system, sewage backs into house, must pay to replace carpet, furniture and to fix the issue into the street…$20K later….”
  • “Flat roof eventually leaks causing wood rot.”
  • “I was stunned to discover that my home in urban Miami was not connected to the sewer system but had a septic tank. It failed, and I connected, at a cost of thousands.”


  • “Undoing the stupid repairs and improvements of previous owners. Like the unpermitted second bath that cost us $8,000 to retroactively legalize (for mortgage purposes).”
  • “Added costs of normal repairs (say, replacing a toilet) and discovering the plumbing underneath is below code and has to be replaced as well.”
  • “Undoing the bad building from the first remodel – constantly finding out how the guy who did it really didn’t know what he was doing.”


  • “Moss removal from the roof cost us $1,100.”
  • “Tree maintenance. Holy cow, it’s expensive, especially if you have redwood trees.”
  • “Recurring mold on the roof that costs about $1,000 per year to power wash.”
  • “It’s costing us several thousands to get our palm tree trimmed. Now I tell my kids: You’re not just getting a house, you’re going to be responsible for everything around it.”


  • “Cast iron radiator had a crack in it and it cost us $$$ to have it replaced and a new one installed.”

Does that cover the scope of possibilities? Well, not really, because then there are situations where your own life takes an unexpected turn, as one friend’s did when her husband was hit by a car. She says, “Making [the house] accessible was a matter of ramps outside, and taking out a kitchen wall and repouring the bathroom floor inside. Well, and now we’re building a 2nd bathroom on the back . . . [and] we actually have had to hire someone to help with yardwork and minor fixes.”

There’s really nothing more to say, except, “Expect the unexpected.”