Just about everything in a home eventually will need to be repaired or replaced. Savvy owners budget accordingly.
Q. Our water heater has started to make gurgling noises, and it's taking longer to heat up the water when we wash dishes or take a shower. The unit is about 15 years old. How long are heaters expected to last?
A. The expected life span of a typical electric or gas water heater is about 10 years, according to a recent report by job-cost estimator www.homewyse.com, so you might very well need to replace it. Tankless water heaters last for about 20 years.
Homewyse says you should expect to pay between $548 and $915 (including professional installation) for a new energy-efficient model, or between $739 and $1,240 if you go the tankless route.
Many real estate professionals say that new homebuyers and existing owners alike should try to set aside about 1 percent of their original purchase price each year for their home's appliances and components that will eventually wear out. Homewyse.com is a relatively new website that provides free estimates of the average cost of hundreds of typical housing-related projects, based largely on a homeowner's ZIP code.
Aluminum windows should last 15 to 20 years, Homewyse says, while vinyl ones should last from 20 to 40, and wood windows 30 years or more. It'll cost between $348 and $469 to replace each one, but expect to pay 50 percent to 100 percent more if you choose the super-high energy-efficient ones.
Roofs with asphalt shingles should last for 20 years and should cost between $5.43 and $7.05 per square foot when it's time for a new one. Central air-conditioning systems usually don't require any major repairs or a full replacement until they're 10 or 15 years old, but likely will cost between $1,604 and $3,245 when it's time for a replacement.
Copper wiring lasts for a lifetime, but the service panel usually needs to be replaced after 20 or 25 years have passed. Expect to pay between $894 and $1,266 for a new one, Homewyse.com says.
Q. We bought our first home last year. We filed our income-tax return in January and are awaiting a big refund from all of our new real estate deductions, but the check hasn't shown up yet. When can we expect to get the money?
A. People who file their taxes electronically usually get their refunds in about three weeks, a representative for the Internal Revenue Service says. Those who mail in old-fashioned paper returns should expect to wait about six weeks for the check to arrive.
You can check the status of your refund by visiting the agency's website, www.irs.gov., and clicking the "Get Your Refund Status" button on the top of its home page. Or, you can call the organization's automated refund hotline at (800) 829-1954.
Q. My father passed away a few months ago, and now my elderly mother wants to sell their longtime home and move to a retirement facility. Will the fact that my late dad's name is still on the title to the home cause any problems?
A. It depends on how your parents held title to the property on the day of your father's death.
Most married couples take ownership of their home as "joint tenants with right of survivorship." When one joint tenant dies, the survivor automatically inherits the deceased's half-interest in the home. If that's the arrangement your parents had, selling the property shouldn't be a problem -- although your mother may be required to file a certified copy of your father's death certificate and an affidavit of survivorship with the county recorder to remove his name from the property's ownership records.
Selling could prove trickier if your parents held title through some other method, such as tenants-in-common. In a worst-case scenario, your mom might even be forced to spend several days and thousands of dollars in court to prove that she has the legal right to sell the home and keep all the profits.
Laws that govern such issues vary from one state to the next. A local real estate agent or attorney should be able to provide information about your mother's personal situation quickly. So should the closing attorney or escrow agent who will process the sale.
Real estate trivia: A standard homeowner's insurance policy won't reimburse you for damage caused by a flood or earthquake, but typically will pay if your home is damaged or destroyed by a volcanic eruption.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.