Where Should I Live?

Not every client asks me where they SHOULD live. But the question comes up from time to time, and often from family members who are considering jobs in more than one city.

I am answering a more complex one for a family member who hopes to purchase a home vs rent. Scenario is they are graduating with an RN and looking at:

Los Angeles $82,000 Salary
Seattle $74,000 Salary
Colorado $71,000 Salary

The issue when people ask me is usually whether or not the salary differential makes up for the difference in the cost of the housing in various places. The offered salary is $11,000 more in Los Angeles than in Colorado, but does that compensate sufficiently for the difference in housing cost? In the past the scenarios presented to me were about renting vs buying, and often the differential did make up for that difference in rental cost. But when someone is buying vs renting…not necessarily the case.

In this particular example I am looking at Entry Level housing, VA Loan with zero down and a family that already has two children and is planning to have more children. So I need at least 3 bedrooms on this entry level housing.

Starting with “Seattle”…I know that the person is interested in The Eastside Cities of Kirkland, Bellevue or Redmond. For this “entry level” example, I am going to use a home that closed on Wednesday for one of my buyer clients BUT putting in the loan scenario of the family member of mine who is asking the question.

141st House

Price SOLD is $355,000. Plenty of space and yard for a growing family. Cul de sac lot. Could use some updating, but no expensive fixes needed. Had one owner for 44 years since it was built, in 1967. A good indication that a family can live there indefinitely without needing to upgrade to a larger home.

Now we’re matching this home purchase up to the above RN Salary for “Seattle” of $74,000 for the person asking the question, vs the person who actually bought it the other day.

First we’ll use the “rule of thumb” of 3 to 4 times annual income for the loan amount. That would put the loan, based on $74,000 Annual Income, at $222,000 to $296,000. A little short based on Zero Down for this home.

I’m going to move this WA scenario over to a home I sold in Mt. Lake Terrace that is a similar home, big lot, with a one car vs two car garage, but that sold for $250,000 vs $355,000. Edmonds School District. A reasonable example for Mt. Lake Terrace or Brier.


Now we go back to our 3X to 4X Gross Annual Income “rule of thumb”. and we can fit $250,000 into that $222,000 to $296,000 equation without approaching the upper limit. NEXT we go into the actual real detail of payments, which isn’t worth doing if the Rule of Thumb = No Way, Jose.

Conservative numbers put monthly housing payment, whether that be rent or mortgage payment, at 28% of MONTHLY GROSS income. VA guidelines are usually 40/40 ratios, allowing people with no debt to put the entire debt budget on home. This Family is a Zero Down…but also a Zero Debt, so they can go somewhere between 28% and 40% as the housing payment.

I am not a Lender…so you have to check the ratios with an actual lender before making offers, but since I don’t recommend going to 40% on housing payment even if you have no debt…as you may incur debt at a later point, let’s proceed.

This family would have ZERO Closing Costs on the above $250,000 scenario as they can be included in the price with a Seller and/or Agent Credit to cover the Closing Costs entirely. So we don’t have to factor in Closing Costs on the WA scenario. That will change for the other cities.

Rates are very low today…too low to use for this scenario, so I’m going to pump the rate up to 3.75%. We are going to stack the VA Funding Fee on top of the price for Loan Amount and Payment purposes. That amount is $5,375. It can be fully or partially paid as part of the Closing Costs, but let’s assume a stack on this one taking the Loan Amount up from $250,000 to $255,375 at 3.75% is . Property Taxes are $250 a month. Homeowner’s Insurance is $50 a month.

NOTE: There are different VA Funding Fee rates for different scenarios. Putting 5% vs ZERO down can reduce the Funding Fee by almost 2%. I have used a rough scenario based on the person who asked the question. These Funding Fee rules change from time to time, are different for Refinance vs Purchase Loans, whether you were in Regular Military or National Guard and whether it is a 1st time or subsequent use of the privelege. See your local lender for specifics.

OK…back to the payment on the $255,350 Loan Amount at 3.75%. $1,182.57 for the Principal and Interest plus $250 for RE Taxes plus $50 for Home Insurance (Fire, etc.) gives us a monthly payment of 1,482.57. That happens to be pretty close to what the home would rent for, probably less than rent for this style of home in other nearby places like North Seattle or Lake Washington vs Edmonds School District. Not sure about Northshore School District, which would also be in the mix as to Bothell homes. But all in all, a good basic scenario.

Back to $74,000 Salary in WA and $1,482.57 a month housing payment. $74,000 Annual Gross Income divided by 12 gives us $6,166.67 Gross Monthly Income which puts $1,482.57 a monthly PITA at 24% of gross. At 40% of Gross Income the monthly housing allowance would be substantially more at $2,466.67. $2000 a month PITA would be a loan amount of $430,000. hmmmm.

Let’s go back to the Rule of Thumb. $430,000 is 5.81 X Annual Income vs 3 to 4 times Annual Income. Low Interest Rates do impact this rule of thumb issue, but still…going over 4X Annual Income just doesn’t look right.

Let’s go back to the first house at $350,000. That payment would be $1,679.41 plus taxes of $330 a month plus insurance of $75 a month would be $2,084.41 a month or 34% of monthly gross income. That’s really enough to spend on housing, and likely appropriate in this case as we are only using one income at an entry level salary. So the payment will become more affordable with some supplemental income from the other spouse and future raises.

So let’s say either of the above examples will work…as well as something in between.

That’s the hard part. Now let’s throw up a $250,000 home and a $350,000 home in Colorado in the Cities of preference as noted by the person asking the question.

Most Every Home in Parker Colorado fits the bill. No problem there. So Parker Colorado, even at a few thousand less in Salary down from $74,000 in WA to $71,000 in Colorado…very easy to get a house for $300,000 give or take.

This big 5 bedroom, 3,200 sf home in Parker is listed at $314,900 and there are plenty of others to choose from. Easy to see why Parker Colorado made the list of options.


Castle Rock, another choice in Colorado, is even lower priced. This new 3,530 sf new home is listed at $288,000. But Parker doesn’t seem so far out of the way, and is plenty affordable.

Castle Rock

That’s all I can say about Parker and Castle Rock Colorado, as I don’t know the area at all. It works, so it would depend on the salary offers in the various locations. WA works. Colorado works. Now to L.A.

We have a bit more room here, as the salaries are higher by $10,000 or so as the average. Using the same 34% of Gross I used above vs the 40% allowance, and using $82,000 as Gross income is $2,325 for housing payment. Let’s use $1,900 after taxes and insurance. That gives us a home price of $400,000 allowing the extra $10,000 for VA Funding fee on top of the mortgage.

What does that buy in L.A. in the specific areas of interest?

It doesn’t buy us anything in Walteria, one of my favorite not too Ritzy places. 🙁

It doesn’t buy us anything in Redondo Beach, even when I throw in 3 bedroom condo-townhomes.

There are a few in NW Torrance that would work, but they are short sales, so not sure if that price is reflective of “the going rate” for the area.

This 3 bedroom 2 bath, 1,468 sf home at $365,000

This house looks nice, but you can see a huge electrical tower behind the house.

Obviously L.A. is not as doable as WA or CO, so the salary difference would have to be higher. If the salary offer in L.A. was double that of WA and CO…well we can revisit this. But for a small difference…may not be worth it.

Let’s find an L.A. house and work the salary backward.

Well…I can’t find any for sale BUT the GOOD NEWS is I did find a few in Redondo Beach that SOLD. So the answer is there are a few…but the sell very quickly.

This one sold for $419,000. It’s only 914 sf though. 3 bedroom, 1 bath, but small. Nice sized lot and yard though…and it is warm and sunny enough to be outside most of the time year-round, unlike WA and CO.

Redondo Beach

This 3 on a lot sold for $410,000. Nice Street. 1,612 sf with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths.

BOTTOM LINE: All three are potentially doable…enough so to put out resumes in all three areas and see what kind of offers come in. WA is probably the best option for several reasons. L.A. is doable IF the salary offered is high enough…OR…if you rent for a bit until the salary improves by raises. Parker vs Castle Rock is probably an excellent option. Depends on how close to the actual work site they would be.

The purpose of answering the question “Where Should I Live?” is not to really answer the question, but to give some food for thought. There are some other considerations like schools and safety, but I already know the not Colorado options well enough to factor that in and the Colorado Cities seem to have pretty much ALL good schools. There are a couple of exceptions in Castle Rock, and I still prefer Parker for several reasons, but most Castle Rock Schools are pretty darned good except for one or two.

Shooting this link to the person who asked the question. Hope it helped someone else with the general “thought process” and work through format. No matter where your thoughts travel as to “Where Should I Live?”, it’s not to hard to do a comparison based on Salary Differences and Home Price differences. The cheapest homes are not always the best choice…nor is the highest salary.

Of course I’d have to say WA vs CO, but to compete, I’d have to throw in a nice looking house for $350,000 in Duvall. 🙂


“NOT Grandma’s House” Open Sunday – Noon to 3

8532 16th AVE NW Seattle – Ballard or Crown Hill?

In City and not “Grandma’s House”.

Recently there have been a lot of complaints in various forums and on blogs that the homes they are viewing in the prime neighborhoods of Seattle are all “Grandma Houses”. I’ve seen this phrase used both in The Redfin Forum and on Seattle Bubble. People are asking what is meant by “Grandma’s House”.

Sunday from Noon to 3 p.m I will be at this home, which is clearly NOT “Grandma’s House”. It may be a “McMansion”…but it is NOT “Grandma’s House”. 🙂


Hope to see you Sunday.

If you ARE looking for “Grandma’s House”…I will be listing one of those in Maple Leaf near the end of April for about $120,000 less than this one.

Seattle 4/3 Cape Cod with a View

Some time ago I wrote about Seattle Starter Home Styles and we talked about the value of having bedrooms up above the main floor vs down in the basement. While that would describe most any 2-Story home, before we get to 2-Story we have the one and a half story “Starter Home” Style. This one happens to be a Cape Cod…
Lakeridge front-2

with a view.

Lakeridge 3-1

I am reminded while listing this property of The Tim’s comment of another home featured over on Seattle Bubble:

“The listing agent claims that the home’s architectural style is “Cape Cod,

Toll Brothers Comes to Seattle

CamWest announced, via email to its clients and prospective clients, that they have been purchased by Toll Brothers.camwest The CamWest logo now says “A Toll Brothers Company”. I’ve long been a huge fan of Toll Brothers since my early days in Real Estate back in Bucks County, PA.

Toll Brothers made the announcement back on November 21st, and I found the comments made by Toll Brothers CEO to be interesting, spot on and less “fluffy”.

CEO Douglas Yearley Jr. said the CamWest acquisition does not represent the start of a broader expansion push by Toll, which operates in 20 states.

“We have been looking at Seattle for a decade, so this was a bit of a long time coming, and we found the right opportunity,

Starter Home Styles in Seattle – Part 1

If you are planning to buy a home in Seattle for about $350,000, it may be of some help for you to know how to generally evaluate the floor plan, before entering the home. This should make choosing homes to see from the internet photos, and other information available on the internet, a little easier and more productive.

We’ll start with the basic 1-Story w/basement, often referred to as a “bungalow”.

1-story with basement

When you see a house for sale like this one in an Internet Listing, you first note the “Style” as “One Story with Basement”. This is a required data field, so it should not be missing from the listing detail. This cross gabled style was most common from around 1917 to 1922 or so. There are several other styles of one story with basement homes, but the below information should be fairly common to all.

I happen to be looking at one of these right now in Seattle. The mls Listing says 1,550 sf. 1,550 sf sounds like a decent sized house…until you go to the house and say “too small”. In fact, let’s look at the actual comments from a client who viewed it at an open house.

(Note: In accordance with mls rules, the picture of the home is a “reasonable facsimile” from somewhere else in the Country. The rest of the detail is the actual info of a home viewed by my clients in Seattle. Mls rules prohibit identifying the actual home that is currently for sale, in a blog post.)

Actual Client Comments:

Hi Ardell,
We went to the Open House and here is what we liked:

– Beautiful kitchen, good size
– Nice modern upgrades
– nice backyard and outside area
– Neighborhood feel and street was nice and quiet

Things we didn’t like:

– two small bedrooms on main floor, master in basement.

-The setup doesn’t seem conducive to a young family. The rooms were VERY small on the main floor. Living room was small, but if we had to deal with this we could…just not ideal. No dining area or even any room for a table

– House runs on oil. Not sure we like the idea of that

Now that the client has identified some likes and dislikes…we look at the dislikes and check that info against the home’s “main floor footprint”. Not all “1,550” sf homes are alike. You need to break that down to save yourself a lot of time and trouble in your home search process.

An oddity in the Seattle Area as to how we identify square footage in the mls, requires that your FIRST step be to go to the King County Parcel Viewer to identify the square footage of the house (main floor footprint) vs the basement level.

What this client is actually saying, and not surprisingly, is that “a bungalow” may be too small for a family planning to have children.

The Breakdown of the house from the King County Parcel Viewer tells us that while the mls allows the description of “1,550 sf” for “the house”, this is really a 775 sf house with a basement.

That is how using this process for subsequent home selections can save you a ton of time and disappointment.

Let’s look at the home details and learn from both the data and the feedback from the client.

The County Record for this house, plus the mls system data, tells us:

Bungalow Description

You can use the above format as a general template. If you are lucky, you will find a little hand drawn sketch of the original main floor footprint from the County Records site, as I did here.

A few notes:

– Lot size of 4,450 sf is acceptable…but smaller than current zoning requirements
Oil heat…but forced air vs baseboard system. Forced air can be converted to gas and even have air conditioning, as long as gas is “available” in the street. A quick search of the area for neighbors with gas heat and or cooking tells me it is available, and in fact the majority of homes in the area use gas vs oil at present. Note- where is this oil TANK?
– Main floor foorprints of 800 sf are likely too small (I generally like to see at least 1,000 sf)
– Three bedrooms on one level likely preferred, but master on main and two up may work. (Note: There was no such thing as “a master bedroom” at the time this home was built. Master Bedrooms came out sometime after I was born 🙂 which would be 1954. Not common until the 70s or early 80s. “Where is the master bedroom?” may be an odd question if you are looking at a small home built in 1915.
– “dishwasher” included is often a strong indication of a kitchen upgrade, since dishwashers did not exist in 1915. However that upgrade may have been anytime since the 70s when dishwashers became more commonplace.
– an EXTRA 500 sf detached garage is a considerable feature, especially with alley access, as long as it doesn’t take up the whole yard.

Looking at the sketch, the home “as built” was likely 22 feet across and 33 to 35 feet “deep”. Assuming you need 3′ to “pass” into the rest of the home, that leaves only (22-3) 19 feet for the width of both the bedroom and living room on a combined basis. Hence the “bedroom is small” and “living room is small”.

Once you have the basics covered by seeing a few homes, you can save yourself, and the homeowner, a lot of time and trouble by checking some of these things in advance. Master in the basement is noted in this case in the mls detail. The main floor being less than 800 sf is noted in the County Record.

By checking both the mls data AND the County Record data, you can better set your expectations before going to view a home.

If the seller left their home with the baby and drove around the block for a half hour and the feedback is “I don’t like the master bedroom being in the basement”, the seller will often get a little ticked off (or a LOT) given that information was available prior to viewing the home.

Coming up with some general parameters based on viewing homes at Open Houses or viewing vacant homes for sale, can save you and the seller a lot of time, trouble and frustration.
“A House is a Box you LIVE in”.

There are really not a lot of variations as to how that “box” can be constructed, as noted in that linked post. You really shouldn’t have to visit 100 homes to find the one that is best for you.

Making some general observations, and charting them out as you go
(or having your agent do that for you)
may help to keep you from “settling” for a house that you really don’t want,

just because you are tired of “the process”.

I will cover the other “basic” home styles in subsequent posts, and link them below. This multi-part series should help make your home search process a lot more productive, and enjoyable.

Style Trends – Should You Care?

Looking back at some photos of mine taken in my home when my children were small. Those were the days of colored carpeting, wallpaper, full wall brick fireplaces and large family gatherings.


We decorated this room in Waverly Prints, from the sofa to the drapes and the wallpaper. Coordinated fabrics from the same family of prints.

13464_441406822348_577012348_6288875_1887425_n (1)

My oldest daughter, Tina in the middle in the photo above, recently said on facebook after viewing these photos, “Thank you Mom for making such a wonderful ‘home’ for us!”

Are we TOO concerned these days about being all the same? Treating our “homes” like “assets” vs a unique environment for our families?


All too often when I look at homes with clients they all blend together into one repetitive theme of BORING, same…same…same.

waverly print

Waverly is still around…and you can get contemporary themes like the one above. But you are more likely to find that in a coffee shop than a home. A little sad really.

I’m not suggesting everyone should run out and buy wallpaper and dark blue carpet. 🙂

But being a bit BOLD and allowing your personality to shine through your home’s decor is long overdue.


It gets a bit dreary in Seattle, so in the photo above I blended splashes of color with the white overall brightness. If you are one of those people who complains a LOT about the lack of sun in Seattle. You might want to reconsider your choices of interior decor.

Do you have a bit of brightness when you come home each day? Or is your decor adding to the depressing grayness outside?



It’s a lot easier to be bold with paint colors…though I don’t suggest you be quite as bold as I am. Not too many people would have Grinch style CLAWS on their coffee table.

coffee table

Given most people are buying their homes today with the intention of  living in them for at least 7 to 10 years…maybe it’s time for “personalizing” your homes to make a comeback!

Make a nice “home” for your family. Make a Happy Home to come home too. Style trends are so One Size Fits All Neutral.  Reach inside for what YOU like when decorating your home vs what everyone else’s home looks like, or what the magazines say you SHOULD do.

Let’s go back to “Home Sweet Home”. What does your “home” say about you?

Should you buy a New home or an Old one?

Education Hill RedmondLots of people want a NEW Construction home, the same way they want a new car vs a used car. However starting the home buying process at “I want NEW” is just as wrong as starting the home buying process at “I want a foreclosure”.

As I have said many times, in my experience more people HATE their “home”, and want to move to a different one, because of WHERE it is vs WHAT it is.

“…and underneath all is the land…” and land is a limited commodity. So where is that NEW home going to be built? Maybe…just maybe…on the wrong piece of land. The lot no one built on prior to 2011…for good reason. Even NEW(er) home will raise this issue. So if you have your heart set on a NEW home…the number one question you need to ask is:


So many people limit their looking to the obvious and the house itself. If you are looking at new or newer construction…begin your investigations at the land that home is sitting on. Looked at one yesterday…without going to it…via Google Maps and the Stormwater Management Comprehensive Plan for that area, and the house was built on a lot IN “The Wetlands”.

Think about that for a minute. What are the various reasons a lot might be available for someone to build homes on today…that is close in to work and good schools and shopping? It’s common sense really. Especially today…after a huge building surge from 2004 to 2008…was there really a piece of land the builders didn’t find and build on during that time? Yes…a few…but not many.

IF wanting a NEW house is your goalyou would be wise to first examine the land of it…and why no one built on it before (unless it is a tear-down lot). Oddly, the one I checked that was “in the wetlands”, well…really, you have to ask yourself. How DID it get built there? Basically one is not allowed to build a house in Wetlands. Why does it not require flood insurance with drainage basins to the north, east AND south of the house?

Think you can “see” all that? Well what about too close to underground gas pipelines? Can’t see that.

My point is you are better off listing all the things you want from a neighborhood, a location and a home, without regard to AGE of home. Then…if none that have the best location are new…well, maybe NEW Construction should not be the FIRST item on your “wish list”.

Prioritize that wish list by the where…before the what in that where. It’s common sense really, isn’t it?

If it has been a Best Place to Live for 10 to 100 years…it was likely built on before yesterday.

Curbed and Eater come to Seattle

curbed seattle

Today I excitedly Welcome Curbed and Eater to Seattle.

Curbed.com and Eater.com are well known for their fast and furious blog postings in NYC, Chicago, DC and their National Site.

I highly recommend that you bookmark both Seattle Curbed and Seattle Eater and make them part of your daily reading. Unlike other local blogs, Curbed generally has a paid staff of blog posters, so you can expect a quick flurry of relevant postings that will continue on a daily basis.

Curbed, always fun and always something new, a welcome addition to the Seattle Blogosphere!

Single Family Home Reserve Study

A Reserve Study tells you how much money to set aside monthly so that you won’t have to borrow money when something needs to be replaced in your home. While monies “in reserve” for replacement costs do not currently convey with a home, condos do. It was determined some time ago that that asking people for $10,000 all at once for a new roof did not make any sense for condos, and the time may have come to look at Single Family Homes in the same light.

Yesterday I posted a Reserve Study for a particular client’s home that will be closing next week. I also did a rough sample of a “quickie” Single Family Reserve Study that you can use to modify an offer price when purchasing a home.

In this post I will do a more generic version that you can use to prepare a Reserve Study for the home you currently own, and are not intending to buy or sell.

A Reserve Study is NOT about what you will SPEND ON your home each year, the same way that gas in your car is not counted when saving money toward buying a new car, or to repair your current car.

A Reserve Study is an EARMARKED savings plan to insure that the cost of REPLACEMENT (not repair or maintenance) is available when the item is ready for full replacement. A common rule of thumb for Reserve Studies is that you do not begin to reserve funds until and unless the item is within 35 years of needing to be replaced. Consequently if you have a 50 year item, as example, you may have to spend some money on maintenance during that 50 year period, but you will not begin saving toward it’s replacement until it is 35 years old. the remaining Useful Life is 35 years.

Single Family Home Reserve Study

While I tend to be fairly analytical, I have to say that chart (which I created) scared the bejeebies out of me! $94,300 for Replacement Costs of ONLY the “MAJOR” Components that have a relatively short “Useful Life”! Holy Caboly!

This is one of the reasons buyers are more and more looking beyond “current defects” when doing a home inspection, and rightly so.

Let’s break this down a bit, as a Reserve Study has a lot of subjectivity vs objectivity. I will give you the benefit of my thinking, so that you can adjust accordingly, if needed.

1) ROOF I used 25 years and $12,000. This assumes a 25 to 30 year composite shingle. This Reserve Study is for a five year old home, but covers most any home with a composite shingle. For the most part 20 year shingles went the way of the dodo bird in the late 1980s or so. Any home with a 5 year old roof, whether the home is new or not, likely used at least a 25 to 30 year shingle. I also don’t expect “lifetime warranty shingle” roofs to last more than 25 years. In the last 5 years, 80% of all homes sold regardless of age had this type of roof and 87% of all homes built in the last 5 years had this type of roof.

Once in awhile you see a 50 year shingle and more often a 35 year shingle. But most are 25 to 30 year shingles. If you have a tile, flat, torch down or shake roof, you will have to adjust the numbers to that style.

I used $12,000 as I have recently seen a very good roof on a large home done for that price, even though the next door neighbor paid $18,000 for his roof. I have also seen an owner put one on using experienced relatives for $4,500. Much depends on the size of the home, the type of roof and the size and configuration of the roof. But $12,000 should be doable for the average home with room to spare as to price.

(NOTE: STOP POWER-WASHING YOUR ROOF EVERY SIX MONTHS! YOU ARE DAMAGING THE SHINGLES AND VOIDING YOUR WARRANTY! There are other and better ways to remove moss from your roof and keep it off.)

$12,000 divided by 25 years divided by 12 months = $40 a month.

2) SIDING Most newer homes use HardiePlank siding, or a reasonable facsimile. This is a cement based product that can last up to 50 years, and normally has a 30 year warranty. If you have a home built in the 90s, especially the early 90s, you may have an inferior pressed wood product that looks similar, but likely has been replaced or needs to be replaced. Wood siding has about the same life expectancy as HardiePlank.

I’ve heard the number of $20,000 used often for Siding replacement to HardiPlank, but that varies based on the size of the home. If you have HardiePlank you may not need new siding at the same time as a new roof, and the siding may even last twice as long as the roof. I’m using $55 a month due to the higher cost of re-siding vs putting on a new roof, but there is some leeway there given I expect HardiePlank to last longer than the 30 year warranty by as much as 10 to 20 years.

3) PAINT EXTERIOR – If you have real wood siding, you likely need to paint it at least every 15 years. If you have HardiePlank siding and like the color, you may not need to paint it at all. Paint usually bonds differently to HardiePlank than wood, and style colors may change every 15 years or so. If you have vinyl siding, you only have to save for replacement cost, and not for painting at all, given you really can’t or shouldn’t paint vinyl siding. Lot’s of subjectivity here. If I were doing a Reserve Study for a newer HardiePlank house, I likely would have ZERO in the monthly here. If you have a brick exterior, you don’t have to paint it, but you do have to “re-point” it, which can be quite costly for large and older brick tudors here in Seattle.

4) WINDOWS Most newer homes have vinyl windows with a life expectancy of 20 years. Often people replace the glass vs the window due to a broken window seal. Some windows are better than others and rarely does someone replace all of their windows at the same time. Wood windows can last indefinitely with repairs vs replacement. Lots of variables here including how many windows do you have? For that reason I’ve skimped on the total amount in reserve for windows to insure that you have enough to do a room or two at any given time, with room to spare. Quality of windows can vary greatly, even when windows “look” about the same. Most homes have a sliding glass door or two as well, so $7,500 cap on reserves is likely about right for most homes and most people who have “newer” windows today.

5)SEWER PIPE You don’t often hear much about Sewer Pipes unless you have an older home. I have no Reserve Amount here given the life expectancy or a sewer pipe, but wanted to mention it because of Root Problems. Tree roots can damage most any sewer pipe, especially on an older home.

Roots in the Sewer Pipe are a significant issue for older homes in Seattle, and sometimes in Bellevue and other Eastside cities as well.

So while I haven’t cautioned to reserve money for replacement cost, this item is worth mentioning because a Home Inspector generally does NOT inspect the sewer pipe, and if you are buying a home you need to have a separate inspection done of the Sewer Line. If there are a lot of trees on the property and the home is 50 years old or more…having a Sewer Scope is pretty much an imperative “additional” inspection.

6) Heater/Furnace/AC The cost I used is for a pretty good furnace without air conditioning. Life expectancy of a gas heater is usually longer. Life expectancy of an electric heatpump that is used for both heating and central air conditioning is usually shorter. Many people buy a house with a $2,500 heater, but spend up to $4,000 (or more) to replace it. That has more to do with air quality in the home than heating it or cooling it.

7) HOT WATER TANK I find there is a huge variance in life expectancy of a cheap electric hot water heater and a glass lined gas hot water heater. Also the cost has skyrocketed recently due to a bunch of added bells and whistles.


Consider “resultant damage” from the tank blowing. If the tank is IN the home or in any finished and heated living square footage, just replace it when its time is up. If it is in the garage in an area that would cause little to no damage if it blows, maybe you can push the age to and past its limit. The main issue is what will be damaged if it leaks.

Often if you have an electric tank one of the coils will go before the tank itself. You can’t “see” that, but you will know if you are getting less hot water. Personally I don’t believe in replacing the coil. Just get a new hot water tank if one of the coils goes out. I’d rather see someone skimp on some of the costly bells and whistles than stretch the time to replace the tank by replacing a coil.

8 & 9) FLOORING Lots of variables here. Many homes have lots of wood and little carpet. Others have almost all carpet except in the kitchen and bathrooms. Many people replace carpet with a wood or laminate product instead of carpet. In some homes you can replace the heavily trafficked area, like the steps, without replacing all of the carpet. More people using the home shortens the life expectancy of carpet and fewer people in the home lengthens the life expectancy of carpet.

My biggest concern here is “wood” floors. There was a time when wood floors pretty much NEVER needed to be “replaced” as you just sanded them down and refinished them. More and more even very expensive homes have newer “engineered” wood products, that can’t be sanded at all or can only be sanded lightly a couple of times.

Most people prefer big, thick, wood floors that rarely, if ever, need to be replaced. But many people who THINK they have that type…do not.

10) APPLIANCES I used a fairly low amount here as “appliances” break into two categories. Built-in appliances are part of the home. Usually that is a stove and a dishwasher and a range hood or microwave. Sometimes a cooktop and one or two wall ovens. Then there are appliances that are “personal property” such as your washer, dryer and your refrigerator. Those you can move from house to house…or not…your choice. I am only including the appliances considered to be part of the “real estate” vs “personal property”. Lately people have been paying some insane amounts for Washers and Dryers! Since washers, dryers and refrigerators are personal items, they can vary greatly as to cost. Those are not counted in this Reserve Study.

11) DECKS Another tough one. I’ve seen decks cost as much as $20,000 for a fairly modest sized deck near the ground. Many homes in the Pacific Northwest, even new ones, have extensive decking. Due to rot issues in this climate, we are seeing Trex decking used more and more, but usually only for the flooring and not some of the other components. Once in a while I see a deck that should just be thrown away when it goes, and not replaced at all. I saw a particularly troublesome cantilevered balcony deck like that…just get rid of it! Decks vary to personal taste and lifestyle, and can add considerable maintenance and replacement costs to a home.

12) HOME WARRANTY This is a big catch all that can help with a lot of items not mentioned like ELECTRICAL and PLUMBING. Rarely do you replace ALL of your electrical components or all of your plumbing. Even when you see a home advertised as “all new electrical” or “all new plumbing” that is rarely, if ever, the case. In a new home, you wouldn’t expect to replace either, but a home warranty is likely a good thing to have for both of these and also includes heater, hot water tank and built in appliances. I did not eliminate the other items from the Reserve Study as who knows if warranties will be around in 20 years and rarely does an owner renew that warranty for more than a year or two. Not sure why, but many who get them the year they purchase the home, do not renew them.

As you can see, the total cost to replace these items can often hit during the same 5 year period when the home is 17 to 22 years old!

Preparing in advance, is recommended and warranted. If you are buying a 14 or 15 year old home, knowing what if anything has been replaced since it was built is important, as you likely need to have a lot more in reserves after closing if you are running into that 15 to 25 year period. While buying a 30 year old home might have these things replaced, you may spend as much or more on updating the kitchen and baths. I recently saw a home that needed a new roof that was only 14 years old, but that is rare. But maybe rare in the past tense vs the future tense, depending on the quality of the builder.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask, regarding why I did or did not include certain items. There is really no “guide” for A Single Family Home Reserve Study, as I don’t know anyone else who has done one before.

I think this one is fairly comprehensive and accurate as to the monthly of $400 for a newer home and $700 for an older home with some things already replaced, but that needs more updating in the next 10 years or so.