4 considerations when home-buying on a fixed income

Jennifer Noonan | Improvement Center Columnist | January 3, 2017

fixed income house buying

House shopping can be a nerve-wracking process. There are so many factors to consider, from property taxes, to location, to maintenance costs, and lifestyle. Those on a fixed income should be especially careful about keeping costs under control. Some homes are less expensive to maintain than others, and the following four areas can be a hidden source of cost or savings:

1. High-efficiency systems

Utility costs can create a big swing in your monthly outlay. If you're on a fixed income, try to minimize spikes in your monthly expenses. The newest high-efficiency home-building technologies can help keep utility costs down. Solar panels are more affordable than ever, and even allow you to sell excess energy back to the grid. In short, a solar-powered home may be worth paying more for, and solar can be worth installing, as well. A tankless water heater can reduce utility costs, especially where more expensive oil or propane provides the heat source. Dual fuel HVAC systems are the ultimate in high-efficiency heating, utilizing a combination of electric and gas when each fuel is the least expensive. Homes that have these high-efficiency systems in place can help you save money on utilities in the long run.

2. Low Maintenance Landscaping

There's more to home maintenance than what's within the four walls of your foundation. A home's landscaping can be costly to maintain. Grass needs to be watered regularly to stay healthy, and that can get expensive. A home with an irrigation well attached to its sprinkler system should have lower water bills in summertime than a home that uses municipal water. Low maintenance landscaping alternatives are becoming more popular than grass. A home with less grass and more hardscaping should be easier on a fixed income budget.

3. Superior Insulation

You can't easily observe insulation quality on a house tour. But it's perhaps more important than all the things you can see, such as flooring, cabinets, and appliances. Energy-efficient insulation can be worth paying more for, because it should save money on heating and cooling bills in the future. For cold climates, insulation with an R-value of at least R-49 is ideal. Hot climates and moderate climates should have R-30 and R-38, respectively. If you love a home that does not have adequate insulation, it could be worth the investment to have insulation professionally installed when you move in.

4. High Tech Windows

Vintage windows may look charming, but they may not keep you warm on cold winter nights. They can let the cold air in, and your expensively heated air out. Technology and innovation in residential windows has steadily grown over the last several decades. Replacement windows are more energy-efficient and low maintenance than ever. Seriously consider the age and quality of the windows in any prospective house. Understand that replacing those windows could cost anywhere from $120 - $800, or more, per window. Determine whether or not you'd be ready to take that project on to help keep your monthly energy costs down.

All in all, when shopping for a home on a fixed income, make sure you don't buy a money pit that requires big expenditures down the line. It can be stressful to spend large chunks of money upgrading electrical or plumbing systems, or fixing the roof. Every house requires maintenance and upkeep. But shield yourself from some major expenses if you choose carefully when home shopping.

About the Author

A confessed DIY junkie, Jennifer writes about home improvement, gardening, upcycling, and all things do-it-yourself. She lives in Delaware with her husband and daughters, where she is ardently teaching the next generation how to use power tools.