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Whether you plan to stay in your home forever or are on your way to becoming a real estate magnate, keeping a home in good working order is critical to maintaining its value and avoiding huge headaches down the road.
Home maintenance includes the many tasks involved in keeping your home up and running: repairing or replacing your roof, painting and repainting, maintaining your water heater, replacing light bulbs, pruning your trees—the list is lengthy.
Though it's tempting to ignore the need for a dedicated home maintenance budget, it's better for your peace of mind to create a maintenance checklist and set aside money to fund it. Along the way, you may be able to reduce your costs by mastering certain skills yourself, finding good contractors and learning which projects can be deferred (and which absolutely can't be).
Here's how you can get a handle on home upkeep.
What's on Your Home Maintenance Checklist?
Creating a home maintenance checklist will help you identify routine tasks and create a budget to pay for them. Though your home may have a slightly different list depending on where you live and other factors, here are some tasks to consider:
- Roof maintenance, repair and replacement
- Exterior and interior painting
- Heating, air conditioning and dryer vents
- Water heater regular maintenance and replacement
- Major appliances
- Landscaping: lawn care, snow removal, tree pruning, fencing and hardscape
- Flooring cleaning and replacement
- Electrical work
- Windows and doors
- Termite inspection and treatment
- Chimney sweeping and repair
- Rain gutter cleaning, repair and replacement
- Light bulbs, smoke detector batteries and cleaning supplies
How Much Does Home Upkeep Cost?
According to research from home improvement website Angi, homeowners who engaged in home maintenance projects in 2020 spent an average of $3,192 over the course of the year. You need funding to pay for unglamorous maintenance items like rain gutter cleaning and termite inspections, as well as things that break or wear out, such as your water heater or furnace. By setting aside some money for these costs each month, you'll have the resources available to keep your home in running condition.
How much do you budget for home maintenance? Angi's $3,192 average—equaling $266 per month—is one place to start. Alternatively, some experts suggest putting 1% to 4% of your home's value into a separate account each year for home maintenance. If this seems like a lot of money, consider typical costs for common home maintenance projects, according to the HomeAdvisor True Cost Guide: A new tile roof will set you back around $15,391; exterior painting averages $3,042; installing windows throughout your home could be $5,973 or more.
Here are a few variables that may add to or reduce your projected needs:
- Your region: Homeowners who contend with harsh winters, potential flooding, wildfires or desert heat, for example, have different maintenance needs than homeowners in relatively temperate climates.
- Your home's size: A 3,500-square-foot home on an acre of property has different maintenance needs than a condo, for instance. In fact, if you live in a condo, many of your exterior maintenance costs may be covered by homeowners association fees.
- Your home's age: Older homes are more likely to need repairs, replacements and upgrades. Also consider how long it's been since big-ticket items like your roof or flooring have been replaced.
- Your home's operating system: Part of getting to know your home is learning about its condition and its working parts. Do you have a traditional water heater that needs flushing once a year? Or a tankless water heater that needs routine cleaning every few months? How long until you may need a replacement?
How to Save Money on Home Maintenance
Skipping home maintenance to save money often backfires. A little bit of dry rot becomes a collapsed deck; the dryer vent you forgot to clean catches fire. Don't skip needed repairs, but do consider these tips for saving money.
Do It Yourself, But Don't Overdo It
Learn how to do routine home maintenance tasks like changing the filter on your furnace, snaking out a clogged sink or tackling small paint jobs. If you're not innately handy, check the internet for videos that can guide you step-by-step through the process. Also look for home repair courses at your local community college or adult school.
Be motivated, but know your limits. A botched repair job could wind up costing you more than hiring a contractor in the first place. And if you hurt yourself while cleaning out your rain gutters or ripping out your bathroom tile, you'll add injury to insult.
Learn What You Can Defer and What You Can't
If this isn't a good time to spring for new flooring, you can probably live with shopworn carpeting for the time being. But if a water spot appears on your ceiling, don't wait. A minor leak can be a sign of larger troubles. And even a slow leak over time can cause mold. Water damage and termites are among the most time-sensitive repairs.
Invest for the Long Haul
Get multiple estimates and check references when you're hiring someone to work on your house. Compare pricing as well as the scope of work and proposed materials to get a gauge on the quality of the repairs: A poorly executed fix may need to be redone or could lead to even bigger problems. Also consider the value of upgrades. Replacing your broken thermostat with a smart thermostat, for example, could save you money on energy bills and make your home more marketable in the future.
Create Relationships Where You Can
Knowing a great plumber—or electrician or arborist—is nearly as good as money in the bank. When a problem arises, you won't have to wonder whom to call for a trusted opinion and a well-done repair. Bringing contractors you like back for regular maintenance can be helpful as well. Having your roofer reseal chimney and vent openings and inspect your shingles every few years, for example, may help prevent leaks and extend the life of your roof.
What's the Best Way to Pay for Home Maintenance?
In a perfect world, you could squirrel away $266 a month for a few years and accumulate a sizable maintenance fund. In real life, however, your plumbing may fail unexpectedly and cause thousands in damage before you have a chance to save even $100. One way to hedge against this is to allocate savings from the start. Set aside 1% of your home's value if you can, though even a few thousand dollars may at least put you on the right track.
If setting aside a large chunk of money isn't possible, you can plan to use available credit on a credit card to fund an emergency repair until you've built up your fund. Just beware of high interest if you carry a balance and try to pay down your balance as soon as possible to avoid hurting your credit. Planning a project? You can shop for a personal loan and take advantage of lower interest rates and a predetermined payoff schedule.
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) can stand in for savings while you build up a fund. A HELOC gives you access to a credit line that's like the available credit on your credit card. You don't incur any debt unless you actually use the money. You may pay a modest annual fee, but your interest rate will be relatively low because your HELOC is secured by your home. The downside: You need equity to open a HELOC, and you're using your home as collateral on the line of credit.
If you need urgent home repairs you can't afford, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may be able to steer you toward government loan or grant programs. Also, check with FEMA or your insurance company if your home repair is the result of a natural disaster or other emergency.
Maintaining Your Investment
Though performing and paying for home maintenance lacks the fun of, say, renovating a home with the help of an HGTV crew, it's an inevitable part of homeownership. And ultimately, keeping your home in running order makes living in your home more enjoyable while protecting your long-term investment.