The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, Aug. 14 2013, 7:44 PM EDT

A year in the life of Canadian households:

  • Spending on water and sewer bills up 2.7 per cent.
  • Spending on natural gas for home heating up 3.9 per cent.
  • Spending on electricity up 4.8 per cent.
  • Spending on cellphone services up 10.7 per cent.

First-time homebuyers, study these numbers because they’re your future. When you own a home, your costs move ever higher over the years. That’s why you have to consider not only affordability today, but also in the year ahead.

When you buy a first home, you know the cost of your mortgage and property taxes before you move in. But the broader range of costs is unknown by most buyers, and so is the likely rate of increase on these costs from year to year. I created a Google spreadsheet to show the basic costs of owning – you’ll find a link to it in this column from back in May. Now, let’s look at how these costs might increase from year to year.

One way to estimate how much more you’ll spend is to look at the inflation rate, which was most recently pegged at 1.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis. Another is to look at how much more actual people are paying to run their homes and live their lives. A source of this data is Statistics Canada’s survey of household spending, which looks at expenditures both major (food and home maintenance) and minor (pet food and spending on movies). The freshest numbers were issued earlier this year and they cover 2010 and 2011.

To set the stage, average hourly wage increases have been running at about 2 per cent lately on a year-over-year basis. You’re ahead of the official inflation rate at that level, but what about the specific costs of owning a home?

Total household expenditures were up 3.1 per cent in 2011, but spending didn’t rise in all areas. For example, households spent 1.8 per cent less on food purchased at grocery stores, 2.7 per cent less on clothing and 2.2 per cent less on household cleaning supplies. In any given year, you will get some spending breaks as a homeowner.

More often, costs will rise from year to year. In 2011, Canadian households paid more for most utilities, notably cellphone service and Internet. Spending on property taxes rose 2.7 per cent, while home maintenance and repair spending jumped almost 7 per cent and home insurance spending rose 5 per cent. After the flooding this summer in Alberta and Toronto, you can count on more big home insurance premium hikes in the year ahead.

The survey of household spending represents the experience of just one year compared with another, but as a long-time homeowner I can tell you it’s on the money. So don’t hesitate to use the 3-per-cent overall increase in total household spending from 2010 to 2011 as a guide on what to expect from here on. Note: Financial planners often use 3 per cent as a long-term estimate of inflation. No savvy planner would use the latest 1.2 per cent rate because it reflects the unusual financial conditions of the past few years.

The most unpredictable factor in household spending is unfortunately the most important – mortgage costs. Check out what’s happened as a result of the half-a-percentage-point increase in five-year fixed mortgage rates earlier this summer. On a house with a mortgage balance of $350,000, the rise in rates would have bumped up the cost of monthly payments by 5.5 per cent, if you assume a 5-per-cent down payment and a rise in mortgage rates to 3.39 per cent from 2.89 per cent.

The average posted five-year mortgage rate over the past decade was about 6 per cent. You can cut that down to 4.25 to 4.5 per cent to factor in today’s rate discounting trends, but you’re still looking at a major cost increase over today’s rates. On that $350,000 mortgage, the jump from 3.39 to 4.25 per cent would increase payments by 9.4 per cent.

Recent trends in pay increases suggest you shouldn’t count on big pay increases to soak up the cost of higher mortgage rates and household costs down the road. This makes it imperative to buy less house than you can afford now, ideally much less. Cut yourself some slack


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