Tips to Avoid Big Home Repair Bills

One day last fall my wife was seated at the kitchen table, chatting with our son. Something caught her attention just past his right ear, which, since he was standing and reaches 6 ft. in his socks, turned out to be a water spot on the ceiling. A leak in the roof, to be precise.

And that’s how our year of major maintenance began. Or as my wife likes to call it “The Great Repair.” Or as I call it, the sucking sound of our money going down the drain. 

Literally the drain. After we had the entire house re-shingled, it rained in biblical style for quite some time. We felt pretty smug about getting the roof done, until we discovered water in the crawl space. Several inspections later, the prognosis was dire: the weeping tile needed to be completely re-done.

This necessitated lifting and replacing a considerable amount of concrete, as well as dismantling and replacing the deck. But what the heck, we’d wanted a larger deck for a while. Now was a good time. 

While rebuilding the deck, our smart young carpenter Scott discovered rot at the floor level of the family room. Bring in the big guns: our contractor Glen, who had helped us turn our aging rancher into a snug updated dream home a few years ago. Glen’s assessment: total replacement needed for all the flooring, floor boards, beams and pony wall. Oh, is that why the Christmas tree swayed last year when we walked across the floor? 

It’s now autumn. Construction is finished. It’s rained hard enough in the last few weeks for us to validate that the work is all… working. No more rivers running through the yard. No more mildew odour in the family room. No more spots on the ceiling. Did I mention the carpenter ants feasting on the soggy floorboards in the family room? No more ants.

The bad news: it can happen to you. The good news: you can take steps so the next big repair doesn’t catch you unprepared. Here's how. 

If you’re in a strata, know your strata’s contingency plan 

If you own a condo or townhouse a portion of your strata fees goes toward a contingency fund. That fund is what the strata will use to pay for those big-ticket maintenance and repair items that DO COME UP. So make sure you understand how that money is being saved, and what the plan is for spending it.

Higher strata fees seem less appealing than smaller fees in the short term, but if the fees are properly managed, they should be building up in a maintenance fund so you won’t need to worry about receiving a large assessment in the future.

If you own a house, pay yourself a strata fee

If you own a house, don’t think you’ve escaped strata fees. 

  • Take a hard look at what you expect will need replacing or updating over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. 
  • Estimate the cost, think about when the work will need to be done, and figure out how much you’ll need to save—likely somewhere between $300 and $500 each month
  • Set it aside regularly—each paycheque if you’re employed, or a percentage of your income if you’re self-employed.

Bonus points for good behaviour

Following this plan brings a few additional advantages.

  • You’ll surely sleep better knowing you’re prepared for maintenance and repair costs as they arise.
  • You can earn interest on the money you’re saving.
  • Finally, a well-maintained home is a cinch to sell when the time comes.

As your trusted real estate professional I consider it part of job to help my clients and future clients be successful, confident homeowners. So if you’re wondering where to begin with a maintenance and repair plan, I’ll be happy to come over and help you get started.


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