Tightening Your Belt On Home Ownership Costs & Preventative Maintenance Pays Dividends

The calendar change to a new year can be an inspiration for resolutions that are often centered on one’s body and mind.  The start of the New Year can also be a catalyst for a homeowner to embark on pruning their home ownership expenses.  The New Year ushers in the time of tax preparation and organizing, so why not expand those activities to giving your homeownership a quick review?  The following is a list of items that one might want to consider if they are interested in saving some money and if they want to be better prepared for future expenses for home maintenance and repairs.

  1. Confirm Monthly Costs Are Necessary or Still Desired:
    1. PMI – Private Mortgage Insurance is a cost that Owners have when their original mortgage exceeded 80% of the house purchase value. If you’ve had your mortgage for a number of years, you might want to check what your mortgage balance is verses the current home value as PMI may be able to be dropped saving you hundreds of dollars per month.  Mortgage terms vary widely so checking with your lender as to how and when the PMI costs can be deleted is best.  Some Owners get the PMI dropped via their commissioning an independent appraisal and then providing the appraisal to their lender.  Check with your lender first on the process for deleting PMI expenses.
    2. Mortgage – Many homeowners with mortgages having high interest rates have already refinanced and many of those who were “underwater” (home’s value is less than the amount owed on the home) have taken advantage of refinance or modification options to reduce their mortgage costs. You might want to confirm your interest rate is competitive with today’s low rates.If you have a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) loan, you might want to look at when you took out that equity line of credit since they often have initial interest only terms of 10 years.  After that time, one has to pay off the line of credit.  Refinancing that debt or extending the term via obtaining a new HELOC loan may be desirable and help provide more time for repayment of the debt incurred on your line of credit.
    3. Electric Provider – Most homeowners in CT can select their electricity generation provider. Do you know what you are paying / KW for your electric generation fees?  You should since the providers available have generation fees that can vary by close to 100% from the cheapest to the most expensive providers.  There are fixed and variable rate plans available.  More on selecting an electric supplier can be found here: http://www.energizect.com/
    4. Communication & Entertainment – When is the last time you studied what you are spending on TV, Phone, Internet and Streaming Alternatives? Do you use all of them?  You might find savings in bundling your services OR by deleting services you don’t use.  If you haven’t used a monthly media streaming service for months, then why not cancel your subscription to that service?  The new streaming hardware devices like Roku / Chromecast / Amazon / Apple TV all tout thousands of streaming providers however they don’t really do a good job at explaining that many of these services require recurring monthly costs.I’ve seen many of my new custom home clients have even gone as far as not wanting a traditional land line for their phone.  There are also inexpensive land line phone options which use your broadband connection for their connection!  Two of these services are Ooma and Magic Jack.  A pretty good review of these and others can be found here:  http://tinyurl.com/opehu9f
  2. Maintenance Review:

    Are you putting off maintenance to the point that you are only reacting to items when they become emergency repairs? If your answer to that question is “what maintenance? I just pay my mortgage, taxes and insurance.” then you are probably costing yourself a lot of money for expensive service calls OR you are reducing your home’s resale value when it comes time to sell your home.  I wrote a quick post about recurring maintenance items back in April 2013 and you might want to review that post.  Here are the most important items that should be checked first to avoid wasting money on emergency repairs:

Exterior Inspection:  The winter months bring shorter daylight hours so vacation and holiday time gives the perfect opportunity to go outside on a nice day and take a look around your home.  Looking around your home and yard sounds like a remarkably easy task that many folks never make time for, but for those that do, they can often spot future problems before they become emergencies or before they cause structural damage that’s expensive to repair.

Checklist of what you might want to look at OUTSIDE the home:

  • Roof Condition – Roof shingles last normally 20-30 years. Often, roof plumbing vent flashing “boots” can fail long before the shingles do.  If you notice a crack in the rubber plumbing vent pipe flashing, then it will need to be replaced.  Making that repair will be much less expensive than repairs needed after water damages the ceiling below.
  • Gutters – Are they clean? Are they secure? Clogged gutters are often root causes for water getting into homes during winter storms that end with rain events.  If you notice snow on your roof except down along the gutters, that’s a sign of insulation issues that will often migrate into ice damming problems.  If your gutters are tied into underground gutter drain pipes, is the daylight end clear and unobstructed?
  • Siding and Trim – Are there any areas of siding or trim missing or damaged?
  • Ground around the foundation – Has it settled and created low areas against your foundation? Is it properly pitched so that water will run away from your foundation?
  • Driveway – Are cracks sealed? Water entering cracks in paved driveways is increases the ground movement during freezing weather and that movement is a root cause of the need for driveways needing to be replaced.
  • Decks and porches – Are they sealed or painted? Is the framing securely fastened to the building still?  Are handrails and steps all still secure and in place?
  • Trees and shrubs – Have the trees grown to the point of overhanging your home? Are tree branches all in good shape?  Are bushes all pruned and trimmed so they don’t touch the house?

Checklist of maintenance items you might want to look at INSIDE the home:

  • Heating System – Has your heating system been serviced this year? If you have a forced hot air heating system, has the air filter and humidifier pad been replaced?
  • Heating Source – A while back, I wrote a review on cost differences between Oil and Propane as heating alternatives. Currently, oil costs have dropped considerably, but I believe this price easing in oil will be short lived and oil prices will rise again over the next few years.
  • Wells – Change your sediment filter as needed.  Pressure drop is a tell tail sign that your well sediment filter needs to be changed.  Water treatment systems often need to be check to be sure that softener salt levels are correct (let them run down to minimum level before refilling).  Acid neutralizing media often needs to be replaced once per year.  If you have a water treatment system that has an acid neutralizer, not having calcium media present has potential to cause serious damage to your home’s water piping due to the aggressive nature that low PH water has.
  • Frozen Pipes – Don’t let the mild winter so far lull you into thinking that Old Man Winter won’t have is way with us at some point in the near future. When that time comes, if you find you have Frozen Pipes in your home, you can learn more about how to deal with Frozen Pipes in my post about them here:
  1. Home Improvements: If your review of your home uncovers an upcoming major repair being needed, shopping now for that replacement is a wise thing to do.  Winter weather slows down exterior construction and those contractors have more time to provide quotes on work that you might desire.  Home improvement contractors are booking their summer work now.  If you wait to book your job until when the contractors are really busy, you are not going to get the best pricing for the job.

I hope these tips and ideas help you save money and start your new year off right!  If you have any homeownership questions or problems that you would like to have my thoughts on, don’t hesitate to let me know.