Homeownership comes with an immense source of pride. It can also be the cause of considerable financial strain. This is especially true when certain types of home-related issues are left unaddressed. Americans spend nearly $9,400 in “hidden” costs to own and care for a median-priced home, according to the real-estate website Zillow and services marketplace Thumbtack. Preventative maintenance is the key. It can help you diagnose certain commonly overlooked problems before they bite you in the bank account.
Here are 7 issues that are often overlooked and easy to avoid:
1. Foundation issues
The foundation is your home’s backbone. It’s also often taken for granted. Major foundation repairs can cost in the neighborhood of $10,000. That’s a pricey neighborhood. It’s also one that can be avoided if you’re vigilant and know what to look for.
What to look for: If your home’s floors are uneven, the foundation should be inspected. Other telltale signs of foundation damage may include doors and windows that don’t close securely, cracks in the drywall, and chipping or flaking in the foundation itself.
2. Drainage issues
Nothing has the potential to rain on a homeowner’s parade like drainage woes. The trouble with standing water is how harmless it can seem. It’s just a puddle! The fact is any pool of water can pose a major threat to both the inside and outside of your home. Removing and draining standing water isn’t exactly inexpensive, but it won’t break the bank and it is considerably cheaper than the alternative — catastrophic foundation damage.
What to look for: Standing water! Cracks in the sidewalk, retaining walls, fences and foundations can also be signs of drainage issues. (They might have been caused by pooling water.) If you spot the latter or have ongoing problems with standing water anywhere on your property, don’t take any chances. Have a professional look into it.
Our homes shelter us from the elements. They occasionally shelter things that have no business being inside. Insects such as termites take up residence in our homes imperceptibly, and once they’re inside it can be difficult (and expensive) to eradicate them. Fumigation costs vary, but your best bet is to catch the critters early and eliminate the problem.
What to look for: Termites won’t ring the doorbell when they arrive, but they will bang their heads on your walls. If you hear what sounds like a subtle knocking noise emanating from inside your wall, it’s time to call a pest control expert. Other signs to look for include peeled paint that resembles water damage, mounds of tiny, wood-color pellets, stuck windows or doors, discolored or sagging drywall, or trails of mud climbing your home’s foundation. (Termites don’t cover their tracks very well, do they?)
4. Roof replacement
Many people don’t think about the roof over their heads until it’s too late. Our advice? Look up! A sagging roof is one that surely requires immediate attention, but the signs of trouble aren’t always that apparent. Neglecting your roof repair can lead to water damage, structural damage or even collapse. That’s when the real costs begin.
What to look for: Grab a ladder and a spotter and head for the roof. Inspect the shingles. If you see cracking, bald spots, or if the shingle edges are curled, it’s time to contact a roofer. If there’s evidence of moss or fungi growing, it may be a sign there’s moisture trapped beneath the surface. A roofing expert will be able to tell you for sure.
5. Boiler repair
It’s not uncommon for homeowners to wait until their boiler completely blows a gasket before they replace the unit. This typically happens in the dead of winter when the boiler is needed most and your disposable funds have already been spoken for. (The ski vacation, remember?) The disaster-averse homeowner should inspect their boiler system least once a year. If your boiler is over 10 years old, you’ll want your inspections to be especially thorough.
What to look for: A boiler that leaks is a boiler that’s near the end of its life cycle. Yellow flames on gas burners and black soot on the oil burners are two additional signs that fuel is not being burned properly. Finally, if you’ve noticed an increase in your energy bill, this could be another sign that your boiler’s working condition is less than optimal.
6. Homeowners insurance
Let’s shift our focus to two other home-related issues that can cause unexpected expense. The first is homeowners insurance. If you own an older home, your homeowner’s insurance can skyrocket in a hurry. Factors that can lead to higher rates may include outdated plumbing, obsolescent wiring, even that impossibly cozy wood-burning stove. Your rates may also increase if your home is located in an earthquake zone (hello, Bay Area!) It’s always worth reaching out to your insurance agent to be certain you have the coverage you need, and that you aren’t overpaying for coverage you don’t need.
7. Property Tax Increases
You’ve surely added property taxes to your household budget, but what about those pesky tax increases? In California, your home’s assessed value increases every year by the rate of inflation, with a cap on increases of 2% (courtesy of Proposition 13). The state’s overall property tax is actually below the national average, but you still have to allow for those annual increases, which, believe it or not, not every homeowner does.
Homeowners aren’t detectives. At the same time, there’s something to be said for a little old-fashioned sleuthing when it comes to targeting a potential problem with your home before it becomes a full-fledged catastrophe. Preventative maintenance can literally save you thousands of dollars. It also allows you to dictate the how, where and when of any maintenance-related expense you may incur. Welcome to the driver’s seat.
Cracks in the drywall. Standing water in the driveway. Flaws in the masonry. Get them checked out. Do it today. Home ownership can be a glorious thing — wise investment, source of pride, greater sense of privacy — but it’s not without its share of responsibilities. If your house triples in value, the windfall is yours. If it collapses into a heap, the buck stops with you, too.