Need your garage door repaired? Odds are, once you account for materials, labor and unforeseen hiccups, you’ll be writing a check for a grand. Your sump pump died? A new one could cost you around $600 for parts and labor, which doesn’t seem so bad considering the alternative is a flooded basement. But then the plumber might discover that the pipe carrying the water from the house to the street is clogged with years’ of debris and needs to be flushed out. And maybe there’s a blockage somewhere. There you have it: $1,000.
In theory, the cost of building-wide improvements should be less in a condo because it is spread out across dozens of residents, and the sheer scale of the project could lower the overall price. But it does not always work out that way. Condo board members are volunteers who may not be skilled negotiators or knowledgeable about construction. They may take the first bid they get, or agree to more work than is necessary. If complications increase the cost of the job, residents won’t necessarily know. “This is one of the potential downsides of a condo or co-op scheme,” said Eric D. Sherman, a real estate lawyer and partner in the New York office of Pryor Cashman. “Lots of the time, boards are under the gun. They’re not paid for their efforts, they take the first bid from the first contractor that they see and they say, ‘sign me up.’”
While you’re at it: Any appliance that uses water has a shutoff valve. But when valves go untouched for years, mineral deposits can make them impossible to close. Before that happens, locate the valves for your washer, ice maker, water heater, etc., and turn the handle (clockwise, about a quarter turn) every year or so (more often if your water is very hard), and then turn it back. Here are some ten-minute maintenance tasks you didn’t know you needed.
The average single-family homeowner spends around $2,000 a year on maintenance, according to Bankrate.com. That is considerably less than the monthly fees for most condos or co-ops. But even though the monthly outlay for those homeowners might be lower than that of condo or co-op owners, house owners generally are not squirreling away those savings for a rainy day. Nearly half of them have less than $1,000 saved, and a third have nothing saved, according to Liberty Mutual Insurance. So when that sump pump suddenly fails, odds are, we’re scrambling to pay the plumber for a new one.
If you can say the same, that’s great! But be sure to take steps to replenish the funds quickly. Unfortunately, repairs can come at any time—even one right after another. So you’ll want to be ready. If you are thinking about doing other renovations in addition to your emergency repairs, use SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator to find out the resale value of your project.
If you have shallow scratches or nicks, hide them with a stain-filled touch-up marker. Dab on the stain and wipe off the excess with a rag. But beware: Scratches can absorb lots of stain and turn darker than the surrounding finish. So start with a marker that’s lighter than your cabinet finish and then switch to a darker shade if needed. For deeper scratches, use a filler pencil, which fills and colors the scratch. Or, try using a walnut to remove scratches in wood!
When that happens, all you can do is pay up, as happened with Jason Hark and Kenneth Larivee. In 2016, the couple got hit with a $28,000 assessment to replace the siding on their West Orange, N.J. townhouse in a condo association. This cost came on top of their $610 monthly association fee. After speaking with siding companies, Mr. Hark estimated that if his unit had been a stand-alone property, the project would have cost closer to $7,500. “But we couldn’t fight it,” said Mr. Hark, a director at WCBS-TV.
Depending on where you live, national averages can seem like a steal. Rene Artale’s four-bedroom house near Newcastle, in Westchester County, N.Y., suffered some damage during a storm last winter. A tree fell in the yard, damaging her fence, arbor and retaining wall. And heavy snow caused her roof to leak. The repair bills just kept piling up. Removing the tree, $3,800. Repairing the wall, $4,000. Fixing the roof, $3,800. Fixing the picket fence, $2,800. “It’s obscene,” Ms. Artale, 47, said.
Many people can do common household repairs. There are resources on the Internet, as well as do-it-yourself guide books, with instructions about how to complete a wide range of projects. Sometimes the fix-it skill is seen as genetic, and people lacking such skills are said to "lack the handy-man gene". One trend is that fewer homeowners are inclined to do fix-up jobs, perhaps because of time constraints, perhaps because of lack of interest; one reporter commented "my family's fix-it gene petered out before it reached my generation."
How to DIY it: Turn it off by opening the disconnect box (typically located on the outside wall near the unit) and pulling out the disconnect block inside (above). Now take a good look at the unit. If the vents are caked with fuzz from dandelions or cottonwood trees, vacuum the vents. Then rinse the unit with a hose using moderate pressure (the flimsy fins might bend under strong pressure). As you spray, peer down into the unit. You should see water streaming through. If not, the fins are still clogged, so keep rinsing.
How to DIY it: This job can be messy, so protect nearby surfaces by covering them with plastic or cardboard. Spray the springs with garage door lubricant (about $7 at home centers). Don’t use oil, grease, or other lubricants. They may be cheaper, or you may have them on hand already, but they won’t work as well and tend to pick up dust and grit—just what you don’t want on moving parts.