Planning Is Key
Being a better homeowner is about more than just making your mortgage payment on time. It’s about being prepared for the inevitable surprises that go hand in hand with owning a home, and it’s about taking the necessary steps to ensure that your home and your family are safe and secure.
Set a Budget
If you’re tired of living paycheck to paycheck and never having enough money for the things you’d really like—such as that stunning living room set you saw at the furniture store—it’s time to take stock of your spending habits. For help in determining where you’re spending too much and where you can save, check out Kiplinger’s interactive budget worksheet.
Be Water Wise
Not only is using more water than you need wasteful, with rising municipal water fees, it’s also expensive. This year, plan to replace broadcast sprinklers with soaker hoses in flower beds and vegetable gardens, switch to a low-water shower head, and consider investing in a rainwater collection tank, such as the VINGLI 50-Gallon Rain Barrel (available on Amazon) that stores rain runoff from your roof so you can use it later to water the garden.
Check Those Gutters
Out of sight is too often out of mind when it comes to remembering to keep your home’s gutters free from leaf litter and other debris. It’s a good idea to check and clean your gutters twice a year—once in the spring and again in autumn after the leaves have fallen. But if you can do it only once, do it in the fall before Old Man Winter arrives so you can head off the ice buildup that can break the gutter system.
Consider ROI Before Major Renovations
Large remodeling projects are pricey. To figure out which renovations are worth the time and money, do a little research to find out which will yield the best return on investment (ROI). For instance, you may never recover the cost of installing an in-ground hot tub, but replacing your garage door could offer a 97 percent ROI. Check out Remodeling Magazine’s Cost Vs. Value before deciding on a remodeling project.
Learn Some DIY Skills
Not all home projects require professional services, and you can save big bucks on labor by learning how to perform routine maintenance and simple repairs, such as replacing a faucet, painting the house, or refinishing a staircase. As your skills increase, so will the money you save.
Start a Neighborhood Watch
Looking out for your neighbors and having them keep an eye out for you makes your entire neighborhood safer. A neighborhood watch group should involve as many neighbors as possible, and the group should work with local law enforcement to report suspicious activity. Find out more at National Neighborhood Watch.
Make 2020 the Year of Energy Efficiency
You can reduce your home’s carbon footprint and save on your utility bills at the same time. Energy Star, a branch of the Department of Energy (DOE), offers dozens of suggestions for ways to cut energy usage, such as adding more insulation to your attic and caulking around drafty windows.
Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal
Whether or not you plan on selling your house in the near future, you can enhance its value by making it as attractive as possible from the street. Appropriate upgrades could include giving your entry door a fresh coat of paint, installing a sprinkler system to keep the lawn looking its best, or trimming overgrown trees and shrubs to give the yard a clean look.
Check for Termites
These subterranean pests can do enormous damage, so the sooner you spot them, the sooner you can call an exterminator to get rid of them. Be alert for telltale signs, such as mud tubes running along interior or exterior foundation walls, small piles of tiny droppings, pinholes in drywall, and wood that sounds hollow when you knock on it.
Change Your Light Bulbs
If you’ve been holding on to those last few cartons of incandescent bulbs, throw them out and replace all the old bulbs in your ceiling lights and lamps with more efficient models. According to Energy.gov, switching to either CFLs or LEDs will save you the most on lighting costs.
You already know that you should replace the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year, but you may not know that there are additional steps you could be taking to protect your property and your family. Check out these suggestions from the National Safety Council for making your home a safer place to live.
Make Repairs Promptly
Small problems can turn into home repair nightmares if ignored. For example, if a small drip from a water line isn’t repaired, it can lead to structural damage and mold growth. Make it a habit to address problems as soon as you notice them, and in the long run, you’ll save time and money.
Have the HVAC Unit Serviced
Your home’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system is the most expensive appliance in your house, and if it breaks down, not only could you be stuck with expensive repair bills, you could be without heat or air conditioning when you need it most. Having an HVAC technician service the unit annually costs around $100, but it will extend the life of the unit and make it operate more efficiently.
Make a Home Inventory
No one likes to think about a home burglary or fire, but if one of these calamities strikes your house, you’ll need to be able to prove the value of your loss in order for your insurance company to fairly compensate you. Set aside a weekend, and make a complete inventory of all the possessions in your home. Be sure to update it whenever you make major purchases like a pricey TV, jewelry, or furniture.
Start an Emergency Fund
No matter how diligent you are, you could run into unforeseen problems—for instance, an injury that keeps you from working—that could make it difficult for you to pay the bills. The standard rule is to build an emergency fund that will cover at least three months of your household expenses. With a little money socked way, when a problem arises, you may not have to turn to credit cards or take out a loan.
Keep Good House Records
According to the IRS, the first $250,000 of financial gain on a house you sell is tax-free, but you’ll need to establish what you paid for the house and track all the money you’ve invested in repairs, renovations, and other costs in order to show the actual profit. Keep mortgage records, contractor invoices, and receipts for materials you’ve purchased to ensure you get the biggest allowable tax break.
Set a Chore Schedule
Many homeowners start out the new year with a goal of keeping their homes more organized, but by the time March rolls around, cobwebs are hanging from the corners and piles of laundry a strewn about. The key to an organized home is to establish a chore schedule that has each member of the family doing one or two chores per day. That way, no one is doing too much on any one day and no one will get burned out.
Light Up the Night
Adequate exterior lighting not only deters potential burglars, but it also adds a touch of after-dusk decoration to your yard and helps visitors navigate their way to your front door. Install motion-detecting floodlights on garages and near entryways, and use solar path lights to illuminate walkways and patios.
Register Products and Appliances
Most appliances, power tools, and expensive electronics come with some sort of warranty, and the manufacturer will usually ask you to register an item online or by mail. Once you've registered the item—even if you lose your proof of purchase—it will be covered for warranty work, and the manufacturer will know how to contact you if there’s a recall.
Start an HOA
A few established rules and restrictions can be helpful in the quest to maintain neighborhood property values. If your area doesn’t have a homeowners association (HOA), consider getting your neighbors together to establish one that will protect everyone’s quality of life. Check out Realtor.com to help decide if an HOA is right for your community.
Be proactive with your home care and maintenance, and your house will thank you.
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