Whether you’re trying to get your house in shape to sell or just to enjoy for a long, long time, these tips will keep things in check for years to come.
Heading into a new year, we feel an obligation to make resolutions.
Personal resolutions can be motivating, exciting or just plain silly. This year I will…lose weight, run a marathon, go to Paris, break the hot-dog-eating record.
As a homeowner, resolutions can also be empowering. Some are mission-critical for a solid financial year, others maybe fall in the wish list.
Need ideas? This list should get you (and your real estate clients) started:
1. Lose weight. Losing the weight of excess possessions save time (you know, like looking everywhere for your shoes in a cluttered bedroom), money (where did I put that bill?) and your mind (psychologists agree that clutter and stress go hand-in-hand).
2. Get organized. The logical next step to decluttering is to find a logical place for what’s left.
Need inspiration? Walk through a home storage store or get yourself on Pinterest for some seriously clever organizational ideas.
3. Save energy. Saving energy is good for the planet and it’s also great for your pocketbook. EnergyStar appliances are just the start.
- LED bulbs are much more efficient and now come in warmer tones and dimmable options for a more homey feel. Use a lighting calculator to measure energy and cost savings.
- Water heaters expend energy storing hot water. The Department of Energy says tankless water heaters are 8 percent to 34 percent more energy efficient than standard water heaters, depending on usage.
- Going solar no longer has to be ugly roof additions. Have you seen the new Tesla solar tiles?
4. Build green. Going green is more than energy usage. It’s also about sustainability and healthful choices in finishes.
- Change out laminates and carpets for natural hard surfaces.
- Remove asbestos (with a professional).
- Use sustainable and recycled materials like bamboo, cork and Vetrazzo.
- Need to paint? Go with a low- or no-VOC non-toxic paint.
- If you’re texturizing a wall, try Earth plaster instead of gypsum.
5. Get healthy. Create a workout space, so there’s no excuse when the weather turns. If you’re looking to move, check out neighborhoods with nearby trails, fitness centers and amenities.
6. Just fix it. You’ve walked by that broken switch plate how many times?
Go through the house like a home inspector and create a checklist of repairs that need to be done. When it comes time to sell and appraise your house, you’ll be glad these were done.
7. Set yourself (debt) free. Those who carry debt and struggle to pay it off are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, according to a study by John Gathergood of the University of Nottingham.
Paying off debt sets you free in so many ways, plus it’s great for your credit score. Think of all the things you could do in the future with the money you save on payments and interest (maybe even pay off your home early — see no. 20).
8. Remodel right. Is it time to update a dated bathroom? Replace the garage door?
If you’re wondering what improvements will lead to a better return on investment when you sell, check out Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value report. A local agent can also tell you what improvements are best for your neighborhood and house type.
9. Maximize your mortgage. A recent Zillow study showed that Americans spent more time researching a car purchase than their home loan. Since the Fed announced that it’s planning three rate hikes in 2017, it’s wise to refi sooner than later.
Have you reached the loan-to-value needed to remove your mortgage insurance? Make an appointment to talk to a lender for a mortgage checkup.
10. Learn to DIY. The more minor fixes (and if you’re really skilled, major fixes) you can do yourself, the more money you save.
Thanks to YouTube, there are a lot of great how-tos. Just be sure you watch it all the way through before you start — I recently spent half an hour watching a guy reprogram a garage door keyless entry pad, only to see it didn’t work!
Other great sites include Instructables, How Stuff Works, Do It Yourself and myriad home improvement shows/channels.
11. Plan to maintain. Create a maintenance calendar to remember those routine maintenance tasks, such as replacing furnace air filters, changing smoke detector batteries and winterizing sprinklers.
Whether it’s a paper calendar or your iCal on your phone, plan out scheduled maintenance so you won’t hear that relentless beeping of the smoke detector in the middle of the night — or run out of propane before the steaks are done (tragedy!).
12. Invest. Is this the year to buy a rental property? Or a vacation home?
This will really require you to understand your financial situation, so talk to your advisor and an agent who understands investment properties.
13. Take an inventory. That new flat screen television and 360 viewer you got for Christmas are going to need coverage. If disaster happens, do you really know what’s in your house?
14. Do the double check. The Insurance Information Institute says a standard policy covers the structure and possessions against fire, hurricanes, wind, hail, lightning, theft and vandalism.
Most other disasters are add-ons. Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have not only enough property coverage but also enough liability coverage.
15. Get a CLUE. Your homeowners’ insurance premiums are dependent on a number of factors, such as credit score and the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report of claim history.
16. Make your neighborhood better. Get involved with your local HOA, neighborhood watch or community events. The first step to a better neighborhood is your personal involvement.
17. Save water. Dry climate areas struggle for water in dense population centers. Watering restrictions can turn your grass brown and overuse can cost you with tiered billing.
Xeriscape what you can outside and look for indoor appliances that use less water. If you live in a state with conservation legislation, get those regulators on your shower heads and hoses.
18. Get dirty. Landscaping is essential to curb appeal. So this year, really plan to keep up with it or think about going to a more easy-care style.
Out back, consider a garden to save money on better produce. Get a composter for garden and food waste.
19. Plan for emergencies. Natural disasters and social disruptions are unwanted, but they happen. To be ready, you actually need to prepare (what a thought!).
Do you have a family evacuation plan? Emergency supplies? Go to ready.gov for a ton of ideas on prevention and disaster preparedness.
20. Get smart. Smart home features make your home more efficient and easy to use, even remotely. Look for these to be the “wow” factor that could make your house stand out. Who doesn’t love Alexa-enabled appliances?
21. Make extra mortgage payments. You can take thousands of dollars and years off your mortgage by putting an extra amount towards the principal each month. For a $400,000 at 4.25 percent interest with 25 of its 30 years left, you could save $21,107 and take two years off by paying an extra $100 per month.
22. Pay off your second mortgage. Whether it’s a one- or multiple-year plan, it won’t happen if you don’t budget for it.
23. Scrutinize your property tax. If you live in an area where your home value has dropped since the last assessment, you need to really look at that bill.
Is the assessment correct? Is it going up faster than the sale prices of comparable homes? You can appeal via your local appraisal review board.
24. Optimize your withholding. If you’re a first-time homeowner, you’re going to enjoy those new deductions. Be sure to talk to your tax advisor about adjusting your paycheck withholding accordingly (unless you like Uncle Sam making money off your income instead of you!).
25. Pay bills, especially your mortgage, on time. It goes a long way to improving your credit. “The longer bills are paid on time, the higher the FICO Score should rise,” says myFICO. “That’s because as recent “good payment” patterns appear on a credit report, the impact of past credit problems on a FICO Score fade.”
26. Cook dinner. You know that fabulous kitchen you had to have when you bought your home? Use it!
The USDA’s 2016-17 Food Price Outlook shows the price of groceries decreased in 2016, with a less than 1.5 percent increase in 2017, but restaurants will continue to climb beyond 2016’s 2.4 percent increase.
You’ll also eat healthier at home by controlling what goes into your body. If you own a home with a less-than-stellar kitchen, cooking will probably motivate you to make some appliance and feature upgrades that will pay off when you sell.
27. Get hip. Dated cabinets and 1980s fixtures don’t help your resale value. Evaluate your style and start looking at upcoming (not past) trends.
Although we’re still in a “sellers’ market” that will likely change in the next few years. A modern home (unless it’s a historic property) is simply more appealing and makes the buyer feel like it’s move-in ready.
Your house is your biggest asset. While not all of these resolutions are essential, aim to start out by focusing on your mortgage and personal finances.
Here’s to a healthier, happier and successful New Year!