Owning a home comes with ongoing responsibilities. Maintenance and upkeep will become a part of every homeowner’s regular routine for as long as they own a house.
But it’s important not to look at these maintenance responsibilities as onerous chores—while there is work involved in homeownership, doing necessary upkeep will make your home more valuable and prevent problems down the road. Any time or money you commit now to maintaining your home will save you more money down the road in avoided headaches.
Certain maintenance activities should be scheduled for the change of every season. The more consistent you are, the easier these tasks will be, and the less trouble you will have with your home.
Preparing Your Home for Every Season
Use the following as a checklist for your own regular home maintenance throughout the year:
- Check roof for winter damage
- Check foundation, driveway, sidewalks for cracks
- Check basement for dampness
- Check weather stripping for doors and windows
- Heating and A/C:
- Have systems serviced
- Change filters
- Adjust flues
- Clean vents
- Check outdoor property:
- Seed lawn
- Prepare plant/flower beds
- Prune bushes
- Clear away brush
- Spring cleaning:
- Wash windows
- Clean storm windows and screens
- De-clutter interior
- Clean carpets
- Clean siding
- Check exterior paint for peeling or damage
- Check refrigerator, change faulty seals, clean coils
- Check faucets and showerheads for leaks, replace faulty washers & seals
- Have drains cleaned
- Check sprinkler system
- Check batteries in smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors
- Repair deck, patio, fences
- Clear rain gutters
- Clean up dry brush-leaves, branches, etc.
- Check furnace, adjust flues for winter
- Clean fireplace and chimney
- Clean and service humidifier
- Store outdoor furniture
- Check for infestations; wasps, termites, wood rot, etc.
- Inspect for plumbing leaks
- Remove window a/c units
- Prepare for ice and snow—get sand, de-icer, snow shovel, etc.
- Inspect sump pump
- Drain and turn off outdoor faucets
- Check home insulation
- Oil door hinges and locks
- Change batteries in smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors
- Put away outdoor furniture
- Seal holes and cracks to prevent rodent infiltration
- Check temperature of water heater and drain sediment if necessary
Depending on where you live, there might be other home prep and maintenance tasks you need to add to your list. If you live where hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, or other hazardous weather is prone to happen, then there will be special maintenance you need to do on things like shutters, generators, and emergency supplies. Check out Ready.gov for a comprehensive list of advice on preparing for different kinds of disasters and emergencies.
Hiring a Contractor
Many of these annual maintenance tasks are best handled by professionals. If you’re hiring someone to do maintenance for you, take steps to ensure you’re getting the best possible service:
- Ask around. Check with family & friends, or ask your neighbors if they have any service people or contractors they can recommend.
- Go online. Check Yelp, Angie’s List, or Nextdoor and look for recommendations.
- Ask your real estate agent. If you’re a new home owner, your real estate agent will likely have some trustworthy service providers to recommend. Getting this kind of referral means your contractors are accountable to more than just you if they want to keep getting referrals.
- Get multiple quotes. Talk to at least three different contractors, and don’t automatically jump on the lowest-price offer. Remember that the better a contractor is, the more s/he will be too busy to get back to you right away, so plan well in advance if you intend to hire someone really great.
- Check national associations. The National Association of Home Builders and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry maintain online databases where you can search for members in your area.
- Verify with the Better Business Bureau. Check out any contractors you talk to with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
Saving Money on Maintenance and Repairs
- DIY—whenever you can, do the maintenance work yourself. Even when doing extensive remodels or repairs, you can split the work with a professional. For example, if you’re remodeling a bathroom, you might be able to learn to lay tile yourself, and save the handyman budget for a licensed plumber. Any part of the work you can learn to do will save you a lot of money; labor is the most expensive part of remodeling and home maintenance.
- Rent/Trade/Borrow Tools—If you’re only going to use a tool once, think about renting instead of buying. Or, if you know people with the equipment you need, check with your friends or neighbors and see if you can borrow or trade tools until your project is done. Another option is looking for a local tool lending library, where you can check out tools just like you’d check out a book from your public library. Search at localtools.org to see if there is a tool lending library near you.
- Get organized—If you’re doing lots of work around the house, it’s common to need special tools and supplies that you might already have on hand. If your garage or workshop is organized, and everything has a home, you’ll be less likely to spend money on a duplicate tool you don’t need.
- Beware of Property Taxes—any improvements you do to your home could make it more valuable, and that’s a great thing. But certain kinds of improvements could cause your property taxes to go up. So do some homework before enclosing a porch or adding a room to your home—that extra square footage could cost you extra at tax time.
- Buy quality supplies—if you buy the cheapest paint brushes, you’ll get bad coverage and will end up having to do a lot more work. Ditto if you buy cheap, thin paint. Investing a little more up front for better quality materials will mean you will get a better result the first time, saving you time and money.
- Get grants or loans—there are special programs to help people update their homes. Single Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants offers a loan of up to $20,000 for low-income homeowners to improve their homes, and elderly low-income homeowners can get grants of up to $7,500 to remove health and safety hazards. You can also talk to your local HUD office to see if there are any other special programs available in your area.
- Plan well in advance—knowing what kind of maintenance and improvements you plan to complete will give you a “shopping list” that you can be thinking about over the long term. If you know you’re going to need a lot of certain supplies, then you can check out the local hardware store, Sunday paper ads, and online offers for sales and short-term deals. Even if you don’t plan to do the work right away, you can snatch up the supplies you need at a steep discount if you’re on the lookout well in advance.
- Don’t use credit—if you resort to credit cards to pay for maintenance and repairs, you’ll wipe out any savings you accomplish by paying steep interest over the long term. Don’t use plastic to pay for this kind of work—plan ahead and save up what you need.
- Use household budgeting—learn to budget and practice sound budgeting in every area of your household. Conserve energy, practice smart shopping, and track your spending. These habits will help you reduce debt and set aside the money you need for home maintenance and improvement.
- Establish an emergency fund—work to save up 3 to 9 months’ income in an emergency fund. This money should be set aside for sudden loss of income or emergencies that interfere with your ability to work and provide for your household. This can include things like a failed water heater, or other emergency home repair expenses that could disrupt your life.
- Don’t let small problems become big—go back up to the list of tasks above, and start marking your calendar now. Use your computer or smartphone’s calendar app to schedule some weekend days during the year to do this crucial maintenance. Don’t ignore any problems, even if they’re currently small. A small plumbing leak today could turn into expensive water damage tomorrow. Doing the regular maintenance we recommend above will save you a lot money over time.
If you’re new to homeownership or considering becoming a homeowner, don’t let all of these responsibilities discourage you. Home Buyer Education can help you prepare not only to buy a house, but to own one as well.