Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year's Resolutions for The Home

Whether you're a new homeowner or you've been in your house for years, why not resolve to make 2007 "the year" you whip your house and household finances in top shape? It could prevent you from encountering costly problems down the road - and assist you in getting top dollar when it comes time to sell.
The first thing you should do is develop and then implement a maintenance plan.
"A homeowner who makes the necessary yearly investment will end up saving in the long run because routine maintenance can help avoid larger, more expensive repairs that can add up to the tens of thousands of dollars or more," said Mike Kuhn, director of technical services for Housemaster, a New Jersey-based home inspection company. "It is just like giving your home its annual physical."
The Insurance Information Institute, the American Society of Home Inspectors, and the National Association of Home Builders offer a host of maintenance tips - tips that you should resolve to adopt wholeheartedly in the year ahead.
Water. Check visible water pipes and sewer lines for cracks, rusting and leaking; turn on faucets to test water pressure and volume; and look for clogged or sluggish drains or dripping faucets. If pipes are galvanized or steel and the house is old, be sure to check carefully along the entire length of the pipe. Wrap your pipes with heating tape every winter and insulate unfinished rooms such as garages if they contain exposed pipes. Also check for signs of leaking or rusting on your water heater.
Electricity. Check your electrical system's load center and see if there are fuses or circuit breakers; also check its age and look for signs of wear or exposed wires.
Heat. Check your heating system for gas leaks and cracks in the heat exchanger. Maintain your furnace, fireplace, boiler, water heater, space heater and wood-burning stove and have your heating system serviced every year. Clean and vacuum dust from vents, baseboard heaters and cold-air returns.
Gas. Check smoke and fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and change your heating and air conditioning filters. Have your appliances inspected for gas leaks and adequate ventilation.
Insulation. Your attic should be five to 10 degrees warmer than outside air. Check weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors and replace or repair it as needed. Also repair broken glass and loose or missing putty on windows.
Basement/Attic. Well-insulated basements and crawl spacers will protect your pipes from freezing. Check the basement for signs of water leaking, dampness, flooding, dry rot and termites. Check the attic for signs of leaks and any rodent or insect infestation.
Exterior. Remove all debris from gutters. Maintain your steps and handrails. Inspect your roof for damaged or loose shingles; gaps in the flashing where the roofing and siding meet vents and flues; and damaged mortar around the chimney (especially at the joints, caps and washes). Inspect your home's exterior walls, looking for possible weather-related damage like cracks and loose or crumbling mortar.
You should also resolve to get your finances in order. Eric Tyson and Ray Brown in their book Home Buying for Dummies say it's especially important to build up your reserves and get your financial house in order after you buy a home.
You should begin by resisting the temptation to splurge. Refrain from using a credit card and keep your other financial goals, like retirement, in mind. You should have at least three months' salary in your emergency fund. Try to stay away from unnecessary spending until you reach this goal.
Think about E-payments, which ensure that you never pay late, and late payments can tack on an extra five percent late payment fee.
You'll also want to think about taxes and refinancing options.
If home prices have dropped in your neighborhood since you've moved in, you may want to consider appealing your assessment since the tax is based on your home's value in most communities. Also keep your financial documents organized so you'll be more prepared at tax time.
If interest rates go down, think about taking out a new loan at the lower rate to replace your original loan. Be sure to consider how much refinancing the loan will cost you. Refinancing won't benefit you unless you plan on staying put for at least five years.
Also, plan and budget for any major repair, remodeling or decorating projects you'd like to pursue in 2007. Take your time, shop around for the best prices, and if you're hiring a contractor, get plenty of references.
If you've been putting off landscaping your house, make plans to do it now. The right landscape can increase the value of your home by 15 percent, allowing you to recoup 100 to 200 percent of your investment, according to the Association of Landscape Contractors of America.
And if you do any home improvement projects, keep your receipts. You may be eligible to minimize the capital gain that may come your way when you eventually sell. The improvement must be one that permanently increases the value and useful life of the house (like a new roof).
By keeping your house and finances in order in 2007, you're sure to thank yourself at this time next year. Written by Michele Dawson

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