You’re house-hunting and you’ve done your homework, brushing up on such routine considerations as replacing windows or the roof, or how big a yard you’ll need and whether you’re up to the task of maintaining it.
But then the agent takes you to a house with a swimming pool in the back, and it might stop you in your tracks if you’ve had no experience with owning one.
Five things to consider in buying a home with an in-ground swimming pool:
1. Whether they’re an automatic asset or a big question mark for a home’s value can vary widely by region.
A 2003 study by the National Association of Realtors concluded that a swimming pool adds 8 percent to the sales price of a home — but that study considered homes in Philadelphia only.
In warm-weather climates, they can be a definite plus, according to Ronna Brand, who has her own brokerage in Beverly Hills, Calif., where pools are ubiquitous. She estimated pools can bring added value at resale of about 10 percent.
2. "Buyers have to ask about monthly upkeep costs, or the costs of a pool service," said Carol Wolfe, an Encino, Calif., agent with Rodeo Realty who said weekly visits from a pool-maintenance service to her own home cost about $80 a month. The maintenance company performs some cleaning of the pool, but its primary duty is to manage the chemical balance of the water.
Chlorination chemicals and other maintenance needs also may vary by region and by the size and construction materials of the pool.
Among those costs that consumers would need to research: the cost of the water itself; heating the pool; fencing required by local safety codes; eventual resurfacing (the pool industry estimates that many pools will need it every 10 years or so); regularly changing the water-filtration devices; the potential costs of replacing the heater or pump as they wear out; and liability insurance.
"Most insurers have recommended that pool owners get at least a $1 million umbrella liability policy," Brand said.
The cost of heating a pool varies widely by climate, utility fees, and just how warm the owner wants it to be, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. To cite some examples, it estimated that gas-heated pools may cost $2,136 to $3,600 annually in Miami; $1,704 to $2,880 in Atlanta; $1,621 to $2,536 in Chicago; and $1,712 to $2,504 in Boston. (All figures are for pools that aren’t covered when not in use, which usually reduces heating costs.)
"I’ve found that many people don’t heat their pools after they get that first gas bill," said Wolfe, who added that the age of a pool’s heater is probably an indication of how efficiently it works; newer models are much more efficient, she said.
3. If you make an offer on the house, you’ll need a home inspector who is experienced at checking out pools, Wolfe said. Typically, buyers ask the sellers to repair any structural issues, she said.
A visual inspection should include the pool, pumps, heater, liner, ladders, railing and diving boards, in addition to checking for cracks and leaks.
Wolfe said inspectors should look for ground-fault circuit-interrupter devices to help prevent electrocution. The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends installing them on receptacle outlets near pools and on all electrical equipment used with pools, such as pumps and heaters.
"A lot of older pools aren’t equipped with them," she said.
4. Erecting and maintaining proper fencing is critical, Wolfe said. Local requirements may vary, but most communities require them, and because codes may change, homebuyers need to verify whether they’re in compliance.
"Usually, the fence will have to be a certain height and the gates have to be self-closing," Wolfe said. Some codes require that the fencing run only along the perimeter of the property; others require that the fencing be close to the pool itself.
5. Like the house but not sure you want that pool? Maybe you could get rid of it.
Brand said she has had clients who have filled in existing pools because they wanted larger back yards for entertaining or to gain space where children could play.
She estimated the cost of filling the pool and properly grading and landscaping the lot at $8,000 to $15,000, depending on the size of the pool. Totally removing an existing pool and then filling in could cost $5,000 more, Brand said.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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