A Whole New Responsibility
Maybe you’ve already noticed that homeowners love to commiserate about their latest repair bills. Aside from having a mortgage, being responsible for repairs and maintenance is the biggest difference between renting and owning. Staying on top of it all is critical to protecting your investment.
There’s a lot to know and do, and it can feel overwhelming at first. But taking really good care of your home brings both peace of mind and satisfaction. You’ll see! Plus, when you maintain your home well, it becomes an asset to your neighborhood and the surrounding community. And that’s good for everyone.
We’re here to help with budgeting tips, red flags, checklists, and more.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- Protecting your investment
- How to be proactive (get organized)
- How to be a moisture warrior
- Budgeting for the known and unknown
It’s About Protecting Your Investment
Good maintenance is one of the best ways to safeguard the value of your home. If you let things slide, you can lose any equity you might be building (not to mention invite fines from your city). Keeping your home in top shape actually adds value.
Maintenance is also about protecting your budget. When you prevent problems or nip them in the bud, you avoid serious, costly issues later. What a drag it would be to tap your home equity to pay for a major repair that never had to happen. So much for the second bathroom that you really needed.
It’s even about protecting your health. Good maintenance can reduce allergens, prevent illness from things like mold, and prevent accidents.
Remember, cleaning is a kind of maintenance. You know that baking pan you never put the elbow grease into de-greasing really well, and now it will never be clean-clean again? Don’t let your house be that gunky pan. Occasional deep-cleaning helps your house age better.
(Safety and security are important too. Check out “Safety Starts at Home.”)
To Be Proactive, Get Organized
A home maintenance checklist and schedule is a huge help for being consistent about the many tasks and inspections you need to do.
The best checklist is one you customize for your own home. While some tasks are common to all homes, there are lots of variables. If you live in an area prone to wildfires, just for example, you have a whole extra set of jobs to schedule. And then there’s the matter of personal organizational style.
We suggest getting started with a checklist like ours — you may have already downloaded it from our homebuyer course (here it is again). You’ll be sure to cover the basics, many of which are seasonal. Take the time to review other checklists for things to add to it, creating a list that’s comprehensive for your own home.
The digital option
If you want to get more elaborate about it, there are a number of maintenance-tracking apps and online services out there. After checking out several, some of us at Framework who recently bought homes are into HomeBinder.
The user interface is straightforward and intuitive. It’s easy to add and edit tasks, schedule reminders, make notes, tag items for sorting, attach documents, and store contact info for your home pros. The basic service is free, and you can get more features with an inexpensive annual subscription.
Something else to consider: periodically hire a reputable contractor or home inspector to give your home a once-over and create a list of projects by priority. A professional eye will catch hidden problems that you might not.
If you go with a contractor, they should be licensed, bonded, and insured. Ask friends, neighbors, nonprofit housing agencies, and neighborhood associations for referrals. A site like Angie’s List is a good place to search too. Were you impressed by the home inspector you hired when you were buying the house? You could invite them back.
Be a Moisture Warrior
As you build your maintenance checklist, you’ll notice that quite a few tasks involve preventing water damage. Moisture just might be your home’s worst enemy.
Leaks and other moisture issues aren’t always apparent right away, but the consequences — structural damage, rot, mold — can hit your wallet hard. When you see an issue, act on it ASAP. Mold can get going within days. Some moisture problems can be tricky, so don’t hesitate to get professional advice.
- Overflowing gutters and disconnected downspouts
- Cracks in your foundation
- Water pooling near the foundation
- Deposits or flaking on basement walls
- Leaks or drips of any size
- Cracked caulking in kitchen and bath
- Any sign of mold or mildew
- Condensation on windows, walls, pipes
- Inspect gutters regularly (consider gutter covers)
- Keep rainwater away from the foundation with downspout extensions
- Make sure the ground slopes away from your house
- Keep AC drip pans clean and drain lines clear
- Run ventilation fans in bathrooms and over the stove when they’re in use
- Inspect your dryer’s hose and outside vent for built-up lint every 6 months
- Inspect all water-related appliances and equipment regularly
- Increase air movement with fans as needed
- Keep humidity between 30% and 50% (meters aren’t expensive)
- Insulate cold surfaces like water pipes to prevent condensation
- Clear everything from under sinks occasionally to inspect for leaks
- Use semigloss paint in kitchen and bath; it resists moisture better
- Keep up with snow removal
- Know where your main water-shut-off valve is and test it every year
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has some good articles on this topic:
Do you have a drainage problem?
Very likely. During home inspections, by far the most frequently found problem is poor surface grading and drainage. What did your inspector say about your house? It’s important, because over time poor drainage can result in cracked slabs and water penetration of the basement, footings, or crawlspace. Make sure the ground slopes away from the house on all sides, and use downspout extenders.
Budgeting for the Known and the Unknown
A big challenge of home maintenance is budgeting and saving not only for regular upkeep, but also for the unexpected and for periodic repairs that might come up every 5 or 10 years. The most general of guidelines is to plan on a minimum of 1 to 3 percent of your home’s purchase price every year. That’s tricky though, because so many variables can move the figure in one direction or the other.
The Balance has a system for getting more specific that considers things like the age and condition of your home, whether it’s a single family or a condo, and whether your location treats you to extreme weather or other stressors. Want to get really granular about it? Visit MoneySmarts for some very detailed instructions and advice for zeroing in on how much to save, and when. If you run on a tight budget, this might be especially worthwhile.
As you get started, remember to revisit your home inspection report. Does it call out any repairs or replacements? Start planning now how you’ll pay for the repairs.
Diligent saving can help you avoid paying interest on a home equity loan for a new roof or heating system down the line.
- Once you decide how much you need to save, spread it out as a monthly payment to your home. Don’t think of it as yet another bill: it’s an investment that will pay off.
- If something needs to be replaced in the near future, get three professional estimates so you know exactly how much to put into savings every month.
- Open a separate savings account for home maintenance. Most banks will let you open a second savings account at no extra charge.