Cost of Living--Service details


This document contains details of the 6 cost-of-living areas mentioned in the previous document:

Condo Fee

The townhouse I live in is located in a development called The Villages at Princeton Crossing. The homeowner is responsible for everything inside their townhouse and their small fenced-in area at the back of the townhouse, but the development's association takes care of everything outside the house including landscaping, painting, snow removal etc.

To pay for these services, each townhouse owner is charged a monthly fee or ``condo fee''. You don't have a choice about paying this fee; that is, part of owning your townhouse in this development is a requirement that you pay this monthly fee. Between June 1997 and June 1999, this fee was fixed at $149 per month and did not increase. Different types of homes (condo, single family, townhouse) pay different amounts depending on the what type of home they are in and to what degree they participate in the services.

The service charge is determined by an association made up of volutneer homeowners from the development. I believe that the larger townhouse I have requires the largest of these monthly payments (smaller townhouses and condos pay less per month).

I'm in an end unit townhouse, which means in addition to a front and a back, I also have the entire length of one side of the house that has windows and is exposed the the outside (some townhouses are ``middle'' homes and have a home on either side of them). I believe that the condo fee is the same regardless of whether you have a middle townhouse or an end unit.

Gas/Electric

I have one of the larger townhouses in the development, including a full basement. It therefore likely costs me a bit more to heat and cool the whole house than a condo or smaller townhouse. But I do try to be energy-conscious: in the winter, I keep my thermostat at about 68 degrees during the day and about 60 degrees at night, and during the summer, I try to rely on fans more than the central air conditioning.

Our township's current sole gas/electric provider is PSE&G. The average monthly cost for me for gas and electric was $121.52. The mean cost was $119.21. Your mileage may vary.

Cable

Our township's current cable provider is Comcast. I get their ``basic cable'' service plus ``extended'' service. This gives me lots of channels; I do not currently have any pay-for channels like HBO or Showtime, and I do not typically do any pay-per-view events.

The average monthly cost for me for cable was $37.84. The mean cost was $39.76. Your mileage may vary.

Phone

Our township's local phone provider is Bell Atlantic, New Jersey. I have two phone lines at home, one for voice only and one for fax and data. But I don't make many long-distance phone calls, and when I do I try to do so at cheap rate times (my long-distance carrier is AT&T).

The average monthly cost for me for phone was $38.18. The mean cost was $31.85. Your mileage may vary.

Water

Our township's local water provider is Elizabethtown Water. I'm not a big water user: I do maybe 2 loads of dishes per week and maybe 3 loads of laundry per week, plus daily showers.

Water is cheap in this area. The bills only come quarterly, not monthly, and my average quarterly bill was $51.39 (or about $17 per month), and the mean cost was $49.99.

Sewer

Our township's local sewer provider is United Water Princeton Meadows. Like water, this utility is billed quarterly, not monthly. The cost is fixed, or at least has not gone up or down during this time period during 1997-1999. The quarterly cost has been $86.05, or about $29 per month.

The charge for sewer services in Plainsboro is based on how big your house is and the number of bathrooms, rather than usage. I guess it makes sense to do it this way, but as a single person living alone in a large house, it's a bit frustrating to have to pay more than, for example, another family living in a smaller home with 4 adults and 3 children who most certainly use more sewer services than I do by myself.

Mortgage

Mortgages tend to vary greatly depending on several factors: (1) the total amount of money you are borrowing (mortgaging); (2) the length of the mortgage, typically 30 years; (3) the rate of your mortgage. If you are a first-time home-buyer, see if your state has any programs that will allow folks with low- or mid-level incomes to get a good deal on their mortgage (I did); (4) whether your mortgage is fixed (same rate for the length of the mortgage), or varying (some mortgages allow you to pay with a lower rate for the first few years of the mortgage, with the rate increasing after 3-5 years, assuming that you will be making more money then and can afford a higher monthly mortgage).

Housing is expensive in New Jersey, and they also vary greatly depending on where you live. In general, housing is cheaper in southern New Jersey and urban areas and more expensive in middle and northern New Jersey and rural areas. You can typically expect to pay between $60,000 and $130,000 for a condo, between $80,000 and $200,000 for a townhouse, and the sky's the limit for a single-family home. In order to accurately calculate your monthly living expenses, you should know the exact amount you will be paying for your mortgage ahead of time.

PMI

If you have less than 20% equity in your home, you can expect to spend a monthly fee for PMI insurance. This is an insurance that insures your bank that if you cannot pay for your house, the bank will not lose its money. This is typically around $60 per month (ugh). I suggest you try to put as much money down on your house as you can afford, and try to pay off up to 20% as soon as is practical.

Keep in mind that it can take a long time to pay off 20% of the equity on your house, because early in the mortgage you are paying mostly interest and very little principal. For example, if you have a 30-year fixed mortgage and you borrowed $90,000, after 10 years you have not yet paid off 1/3 of that principal; in fact the first 10 years you can expect to pay off only perhaps 15% of your principal.

Plainsboro Township taxes

It is expensive to live in Plainsboro from a tax point of view also. For the townhome I live in (3 bedrooms, etc.) I pay about $4800 per year or about $400 per month. The amount of your local tax is calculated based on the value of your home, not on whether or not you have children or how many people live in your home. The lion's share (around 70%) of your township tax goes into paying for the public schools.

New August, 1999: I've scanned a portion of my tax bill for 1999. Follow this link to see a graph showing the amount and distribution of Plainsboro Township property tax.

Other Expenses and non-Expenses

All landscaping, painting, snow removal, and services external to your townhouse are paid by your condo fee in the Villages at Princeton Crossing. Additionally, garbage pick-up is also paid by your monthly condo fee. You must purchase apartment dwellers home insurance (H06), but insurance for the actual housing structures for your condo or townhouse is paid for by the association (your condo fee). IMPORTANT: don't depend on this document for home insurance information. Please check with your association to find out what kind of homeowner's insurance you need.

The Villages at Princeton Crossing also has a pool and two tennis courts. Each townhouse resident is expect to pay a ``recreation fee'' whether they use these facilities or not. In 1998 and 1999 the fee was $280 annually, to be paid in a lump sum around March of each year (or in several monthly payments).