You are now the proud owner of the home of your dreams. You have worked hard to save money, find the right neighborhood, right real estate broker, right house, right lender and the right closing agent. Now it is time to think about how to protect your investment in your home.
These are some questions you should be asking yourself. For example:
- How should the house be maintained?
- How do the repairs get done?
- How will you pay for major repairs?
- What are the safety issues that need to be addressed?
- How do you relate to the new neighbors?
- What ways are there to make the house more energy efficient?
- What insurance coverage is necessary?
- Is refinancing a way to reduce mortgage payments?
- What should be done if it’s not possible to make mortgage payments?
Click on the topics below from more helpful tips.
The best source of information for the continuing maintenance of your new home is the previous owner. Hopefully before closing takes place you spent some time with the previous owner going through the house room by room to become familiar with all the aspects of the house. Most important would be the basic systems such as the roof, electrical, heating, and plumbing and the foundation. In addition, the previous homeowner can give you the names and phone numbers of contractors and other professional (electricians, plumbers, roofers and carpenters) who have worked on the house and what they did and when they did the work. You should try to obtain construction information such as wiring diagrams, blueprints or remodeling plans. It is important to know who picks up the garbage or trash and when. You should also know who the fuel oil supplier is and when fuel oil is delivered if you have an oil burning heating unit. You should be familiar with the location of the main shut off valves for water, gas, main electrical switch, fuse or circuit/breaker box and the operation of the hot water heater thermostat.
The pre-inspection report you requested before buying the house will give you information related to repairs that may be needed now and in the very near future. There are minor repairs to the house that you will be able to perform such as a replacing a broken window, caulking tile in the bathroom, weather stripping or painting. For typical repairs you will need to have the following basic tools:
- Straight blade and Phillips screwdriver (or combination screwdriver with interchangeable tips)
- Slip joint pliers
- Wall scraper
- Tape measure
- Plunger (one that works for both sinks and toilets)
Other repairs will require the services of a contractor. You will need to know how to find a contractor who is reputable.
Here are a few guidelines you can follow to help you make the right selection:
- Talk to people in your neighborhood to get the names of contractors suitable to do the repairs that are needed. You should also use local publications to put together a list of contractors.
- Arrange to have the contractors visit you for an interview and a discussion of the work that needs to be done. Ask the contractor for the address of a property where you can see what work has been done.
- Get free cost estimates from the contractors. Ask them to give you an estimate in writing in the form of a firm bid with a date that work will be started and completed.
- A contract specifying what work is to be performed, all material and labor for the project, when payments are due, when work is to be completed etc., should be signed by you and the contractor you selected. It’s important to hold back about ten percent of the payment until after the work is completed.
- The contractor should be required to obtain the necessary permits and make sure the work is inspected, if required by local government.
- Be sure the contractor has liability insurance that includes bodily or personal injury, and property damage.
- The contractor should provide a reasonable time of guaranteeing the work that is to be performed. Thirty days is normal but, the type of work performed should be considered. Manufactures’ warranties could apply for a product that was installed by the contractor.
Now that you own a home of your very own you want to make sure it is maintained properly. Home maintenance requires some routine inspections for maintenance. We have provided you a Home Maintenance Checklist to help you become familiar with the items and systems that should be routinely inspected and cared for.
The purpose of this checklist is to help you identify the need for minor repairs or maintenance by walk-through inspections. These should be done at least twice a year because of seasonal changes – once in the fall and once in the spring. You should be able to recognize the evidence of a need for repairs at other times during the year based on your walk-through experiences. Major repairs and their cost will be avoided if you do proper inspections and take appropriate action. The checklist indicates the parts of the home, what indicators of a problem to look for and suggests possible causes.
Basement– Dampness or water following wet weather – check if ventilation to the basement is adequate, if sump pump is working, if leaders and downspouts are working properly and if drainage on the outside of the foundation is away from the house.
Living Area – Water stains on the ceiling – check for missing caulk around the bath tub and tile.
Attic or Ceiling Under Roof – Water stains – check for worn roof or missing shingles.
Electrical System – Fuses that blow or circuit breakers that go off – check for overloads and employ an electrician to upgrade the system if the problem continues.
Heating and Cooling Systems – Inadequate heating or cooling – check for dirt and dust around furnace. Clean or change any air filters and have heating and cooling system checked by a qualified service person.
Plumbing System – Leaking faucets – check for worn washers.
Foundation– Pool of water – check leaders and downspouts to make sure rainwater flows through properly and away from the foundation.
Walls: Peeling paint or decayed siding and trim – Check for lead-based paint if the house was built prior to 1978 and take corrective measures if there is a problem. Check drainage from leaders and downspouts.
Roof– Missing or worn singles – Check branches of nearby trees to determine if they are too near the roof. Evaluate roof for replacement.
Yard– Rotted or dying trees – Check for insect infestation and soil contamination from road salt, chemicals, etc.
The money to pay for major repairs can come from home improvement or personal loans from local lenders. The contractor may provide financing or advise you where to obtain it. A home equity loan may be the approach you take. In any event, you should shop around for the best interest rate and the best repayment schedule for you. Check with community agencies to find out if money is available through special grants or loan programs.
You should perform a fall and spring inspection, since it will be helpful for you to be aware of items that may need attention before they become major repairs. Eventually it will become routine to check items that may need repair before they become a problem. This will save you money in the long run. Examples would include replacing a downspout from the gutters, scrapping and painting the outside trim of windows, cleaning or replacing the furnace filter, and draining the hot water heater.
Energy efficiency such as adding insulation without over insulating to cause dampness, having a thermostat timer and purchasing energy efficient items will result in lowering the expense of homeownership. You can contact your local utility or state agency for energy-saving tips and the availability of grants or low cost loans to improve the energy efficiency of your home. You should be aware of energy savers such as: turning out lights when you leave the room, not letting water run unnecessarily, insulating your attic, having your furnace or heat pump serviced periodically, installing storm windows and putting weather stripping around your windows and doors.
Safety issues relate to protecting your home by changing locks, installing fire extinguishers and listing emergency numbers near your phone. In addition, fire marshals recommended smoke detectors should be installed on the ceiling or hallway outside each bedroom door and in or near the living room. They should be checked periodically to make sure they are working. A chain link ladder should be considered for a way to escape from a second or third story window. It can be stored under a bed or in a closet. You can perform a fire-prevention tour of your home or have a fire inspector come to your home if the community provides the service. A first aid kit with band aids and medicines in an easy to reach place is very important for everyone in your family. Ways of making your home secure would include locking your doors and windows when you are not home.
Neighbors are a very important source of information. You should make it a point to meet with your neighbors soon after you move into your home. They will be invaluable should an emergency occur where you need their help and they will be most helpful in advising you of the benefits of being part of your community. For example, changes such as street widening, zoning changes on a nearby property and the location of a community center could have an impact on you and your home. Your neighbor can provide you with access to community organizations you may find helpful to getting involved in neighborhood activities. This might include a Block Watch or Neighbor Watch Association, child home care or play group, Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, Boys and Girls Clubs etc.
It is very important to keep hazard insurance complete and up to date. Flood insurance is also needed if you are located in a federally designated flood plain area. These are required by lenders before closing. You should make sure your hazard insurance policy contains an inflation rider which automatically increases the coverage as the value of the home increases. It is important to be sure replacement cost new is provided rather just value. Other insurance available would include a homeowners warranty and insurance from the place of purchase that extends the warranty period for new equipment. Mortgage life insurance pays off the mortgage at the borrower’s death. You may wish to consider all of the preceding insurance as good investments; however, you will have to include the cost for each in your expenses.
It is possible to lower monthly mortgage payments by refinancing the mortgage on your home. The decision to refinance a mortgage depends on the interest rate available for a new mortgage, discount points and the amount of closing costs to be paid. Typically, there needs to be at least a two percent difference between your mortgage and the new mortgage that is available. Refinancing may not be a good idea for you if you have a prepayment penalty on your mortgage.
You should contact your lender immediately if you are unable to make a mortgage payment. The main reason homeowners fail to make mortgage payments is usually due to a loss of income related to divorce or martial problems, death of a family member, job loss and/or the inability to replace income, major illness and/or large medical bills, etc. You should immediately contact a housing counseling agency for assistance in straightening out your financial difficulties and helping you deal with your lending institution.
Fall Checklist – Outside
- Check all weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors; replace or repair as needed.
- Check for cracks and holes in house siding; fill with caulking as necessary.
- Remove window air-conditioners, or put weatherproof covers on them.
- Take down screens (if removable type); clean and store.
- Check storm windows and doors; clean and repair as needed; put back up (if they are removable).
- Drain outside faucets.
- Clean gutters and drain pipes so that leaves won’t clog them.
- Check roof for leaks; repair as necessary.
- Check flashing around vents, skylights, and chimneys for leaks.
- Check chimney for damaged chimney caps and loose or missing mortar.
- Check chimney flue; clean obstructions; make sure damper closes tightly.
Fall Checklist – Inside
- Check insulation wherever possible; replace or add as necessary.
- Have heating system and heat pump serviced; have humidifier checked; change or clean filters on furnace.
- Drain hot water heater and remove sediment from bottom of tank; clean burner surfaces; adjust burners.
- Check all faucets for leaks; replace washers if necessary.
- Check and clean humidifier in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
- Clean refrigerator coils.
Spring Checklist – Outside
- Check all weather stripping and caulking around windows and doors, especially if you have air-conditioning.
- Check outside house for cracked or peeled paint; caulk and repaint as necessary.
- Remove, clean and store storm windows (if removable).
- Check all door and window screens; patch or replace as needed; put screens up (if removable type).
Spring Checklist – Inside
- Replace filters on air-conditioners.
- Check and clean dryer vent, stove hood and room fans; change or clean filters for furnace.
- Check seals on refrigerator and freezer; clean refrigerator coil; clean burner surfaces; adjust burners.
- Clean fireplace; leave damper open for improved ventilation if home is not air-conditioned.
- Check basement wall and floors for dampness, if too moist, remedy as appropriate.
- Clean dehumidifier according to manufacturer instructions.
- Check for leaky faucets, replace washers as necessary.
- Check attic for proper ventilation, open vents
- Clean drapes and blinds, repair as needed.