Are You Ready to Graduate From Renting to Owning a Home?

With graduation season in full swing, many may be pondering a change in their living quarters. Some may be moving out of Mom and Dad’s house into dorms, or maybe out of dorms into their own apartments.

But what if you’re ready to take an even bigger step—moving out of a rental into a home you can call your own?

Buying a house, after all, is a great way to put down roots and build wealth (since homes tend to appreciate so you can sell later for a profit). But purchasing property isn’t a simple process, so you should make sure you’re prepared.

So, how do you know if you’re ready to move from an apartment to a house? Ask yourself these questions below to get a sense of where you’re at—or what you have to do to transition easily into home-buying mode once the time is right.

jacoblund/iStock

Can you afford to buy a home?

For starters, let’s talk money. Buying a home is a hefty purchase, probably the largest you’ll ever make. So, you’ll need a down payment (typically recommended to be 20% of the home’s purchase price) and steady income (i.e., a job) to pay your mortgage.

There are other costs also associated with homeownership:

  • Closing costs (typically 2% to 5% of the home’s purchase price)
  • Home insurance (cost varies by state)
  • Maintenance
  • Utilities
  • Budget for unseen repairs and emergencies

While renting might seem more economical than owning at first glance, that’s not always the case; our rent vs. buy calculator can help you compare the costs. You might be surprised by the results!

Another good first step to figuring out whether you can afford a house is to enter your salary and town of residence into a home affordability calculator, which will show you how much you’d pay for a mortgage on a typical house in that area. Or talk with a loan officer about whether you would qualify for a mortgage, and how much you can spend comfortably. Such consultations are free, and will give you a concrete dollars-and-cents sense of where you stand.

Are you settled in your job?

Your job situation is not only important in terms of income to buy a home, but also whether you’re happy where you work and plan to stay put. Because once you own a home, your career prospects do narrow somewhat, purely because a home anchors you to one area.

“Homeowners tend to have fewer job opportunities compared to renters, since renters can easily accept a job in another city or state,” says Reid Breitman, managing partner at Kuzyk Law, in Los Angeles. “A homeowner may decline such an opportunity because they don’t want to go through the cost, time, and expense of selling their home. So, it may be better to wait to purchase a house until after you’re firmly established in your employment situation.”

Do you know where you want to live?

Since moving once you own a home is not as easy as just packing your bags (which, let’s face it, is a hassle in itself), you really need to make sure you’re picking a home in an area where you’ll be happy.

“It’s not easy to just sell a house and move to a new one if intolerable neighborhood issues come up, since the transaction cost to sell—up to 8% to 10% of the sale price for brokerage feesescrowtitle, and other costs of sale—would be relatively very expensive,” Breitman says. “So you need to really scope out the neighborhood.”

When in doubt, try renting for a few months to make sure you like the area before you start shopping for a home to own for good.

How much home maintenance are you willing to tackle?

If you love the challenge of fixing a leaky faucet and figuring out which shrubs will flourish in your yard, homeownership may be right up your alley. But if the idea of mowing a lawn or messing with the HVAC makes you depressed, then you may want to stick with renting, which gives you a roof over your head without the work.

“Apartment renters don’t have many home-related responsibilities,” explains Brian Davis, director of SparkRental, in Baltimore. “If something breaks, they call the landlord. Often, they don’t even need to worry about setting up utilities; they either come with the building, or the process is merely changing the name on an existing utility account.”

Living in a house you own is a different story. There’s no landlord to call if anything goes wrong; it’s all up to you. So you have to be either adept as a handyman, or willing to find and pay someone else to do such tasks. Or else consider buying a condo or co-op, where the lawns and public areas around your home are maintained by hired help.

Bottom line: Owning a home is a big commitment. So before you jump into it, you should have confidence that it works for your circumstances.

“No one should feel like they have to follow a template, that by reaching a certain age or having a certain number of children they need a house in the suburbs,” Davis says. “So forget the clichés and movies, and decide based on you.”

 

Posted by Julie Ryan Evans on realtor.com

Ready to buy? Visit our website to get started with one of our agents!

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How to Love Your Home Again

If you’re not “feelin’ the love” for your home that you did when you first moved in, that doesn’t mean it’s time to “up anchor” and find a new place to live – often all it takes is a few changes to make your house feel like home again.

Start by remembering where it all started.

Think back to when you first moved in. What was the first meal that you cooked…you know…the one you made after all of your dishes, pots and pans were put away and the new place finally started to feel like home?

Or the first birthday party or anniversary? Then ask yourself…what’s changed?

Once you’ve figured out what’s different, you can do what you need to do to love your home again.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Banish clutter and disorganization

You might not realize it, but clutter adds to stress and can impact the love you feel for your home in a big way.

Are your closets stuffed to capacity? Do dishes try to slide out of your cabinets when you open the doors?

How much time do you waste looking for things that you’ve misplaced?

Clear out the clutter and you go a long way to feeling more affection towards your home.

Baby steps

Don’t let the idea of decluttering and organizing your home add to your stress. Set aside as little as 15 minutes each day to tackle your mess and it will be done in record time. It’s better to do a little every day than overwhelm yourself getting it done over a weekend.

Decorative storage

Once you’ve rid your home of things you no longer need or love, it’s time to organize what remains. Decorative storage (e.g. a wicker basket or vase) serves double duty as both a place for your things and a beautiful piece that makes you smile.

Use aromatherapy

Use a mister or scented candles in a fragrance that you love to wind down after a long day. While you might be tempted to save them for only those times you have company, don’t – when you bathe your senses in beautiful scents you’ll reduce your stress level and feel more affection for your home.

Put wasted space to good use

Have a spare bedroom that’s filled with clutter or a back entryway that’s sitting unused?

Repurpose those areas of your home that aren’t being used or that can be repurposed. For example, if your dining room table is also home to your computer, reclaim the table for family dinners (instead of eating in front of the tv).

Place a beautiful centerpiece and/or placemats and keep clutter from reclaiming it and you’ll be surprised just how much you’ll love having your dining room table back!

Revamp your existing furniture

Nobody said you had to spend thousands of dollars on furniture to give you warm fuzzies about your home.

Once you know how to do it, it’s really not that hard to change the feel of your home by modifying your existing furniture. Products such as chalk paint and milk paint work wonders and can really breathe new life into a tired (boring) piece of furniture.

Finally, remember that your home is your escape from the stress and pressures of everyday life. All it takes is a few small touches of colors, textures, lighting and beautiful fragrances to help you fall in love with your home all over again.

 

Posted on HomeZada

 

Don’t Put a Freeze on Home Maintenance! Your Handy Winter Checklist Is Here

Robert Kirk/iStock; realtor.com

Ah, January. The time of new beginnings, new resolutions, and, in most of the country, a seemingly endless stretch of cold and gloom. We get it: You just want to hibernate, catch up on “The Crown,” and scroll Instagram. But before you take up permanent residence on the couch (or treadmill, if you’re on that kick), take heed: This is the absolute worst time to have a major home maintenance problem.

“Catastrophic issues tend to happen in the winter—and when those occur, nine times out of 10 it’s due to failing to plan,” says Janet O’Dea, owner of Powers Plumbing in San Diego. “Taking some time to anticipate and be ahead of maintenance issues throughout the year takes a lot of pressure off.”

We couldn’t agree more. And that’s why we’ve done the heavy lifting for you, season by season, so you can avoid the pain (and expense) of costly home repairs. Now that’s a resolution we can get behind!

1. Get ready for (more) winter storms

In most parts of the country, ’tis the season for freezing rain, sleet, and blizzards. Ensure you’re ready for the next big storm before it strands you.

DIY: First, make sure you have a working generator, and keep a stash of batteries for flashlights and lanterns at the ready. 

“Heavy snows and ice can take down power lines and leave you in the cold and dark,” says Krystal Rogers-Nelson of home safety and security company SafeWise.

Also a must-have: a solar-powered or battery-operated radio to keep you up to date on news in case cellphone reception goes out. Check the condition of your snow shovels, gloves, and window scrapers, and store snowy weather supplies near the door where you can access them easily.

We also love this novel tip from home maintenance expert Laura Gaskill: Mark the sides of your driveway and other key places with reflective poles, to help snow plowers see where to go.

Finally, a buildup of heavy snow on tree limbs can make them more prone to breaking, Gaskill notes, so brush snow off tree limbs after each big snowfall, using a broom to extend your reach.

Call in the pros: If a limb is buckling, have it removed as soon as the weather permits—expect to spend $75 to $150, depending on how much of the tree you lost.

2. Clean your oven

Now we’re cooking! Clean your oven to make it more efficient.powerofforever/iStock

“Homemade food can really contribute to winter coziness at home, but unfortunately, the oven and its vents can easily turn into the dirtiest feature in the kitchen because they collect a lot of grime and grease,” says Jasmine Hobbs of London Cleaning Team.

And over time, built-up grease can cause your appliance to use more power while turned on.

DIY: To clean your hood filters, fill a sink or a bucket with boiling water; add a quarter-cup baking soda and some liquid dish soap. Mix well and submerge the filters. Let them soak for a couple of minutes and rinse thoroughly. If your oven has a self-cleaning function, use it at least once a month. If not, apply a paste of baking soda and water, then scrub.

Call in the pros: If you never clean your oven and the thought of all that stuck-on grease is putting you in panic mode, you can call a reputable cleaning service. Most pro cleaners will charge a flat rate for whole-house cleaning and will include the oven; you’ll spend between $115 and $236 for the whole kit and caboodle, depending on where you live and your home’s grime level.

3. Inspect the property

Yes, it’s cold and the last thing you probably want to do this time of year is walk around outside. But trust us, it’s time well-spent.

“Home issues that are more susceptible in the winter—such as frozen pipes, window and door drafts, and the condition of a home’s gutters—can be easily detected during this time of year,” says Patrick Knight of WIN Home Inspection.

DIY: Most big inspection issues are best left to a pro, but while you’re taking stock, check off this easy to-do: Change the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. You should be doing this regularly, but it’s even more important in the winter months, when windows tend to be closed and heaters are running overtime.

Call in the pros: Consider spending some of that Christmas cash on a professional inspection, especially if it’s been a while. Strong winter winds and cold temps help inspectors detect drafts and insulation failures. Plus, winter gives inspectors a better idea of how the home structure and roof holds with the extra weight of snow and ice. And fireplaces and heating systems are more active during the winter months, making identifying problems easier.

It’s also a great time to check out crawl spaces and attics, which can easily reach temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more in the summer months, making safe inspections nearly impossible.

Expect to spend upward of $300—and be sure you select a licensed, insured, and experienced pro for the job.

4. Take care of your wood floors

Woodwork: Clean your wood floors to protect them from winter’s wear and tear.seb_ra/iStock

Winter can wreak major havoc on wood floors: Rock salt can stain wood (and its rough crystals can scratch floors), while indoor heaters can dry it out, causing problems like shrinkage and cracked floorboards.

DIY: Avoid using vinegar to remove stains, advises Dave Murphy of N-Hance Wood Refinishing. Instead, place rugs and mats in the highest-traffic areas. To lock moisture in the air and prevent heat-related damage to your floorboards, run a humidifier. And, of course, engage in routine sweeping, dusting, and mopping.

“This will also prevent particle and salt buildup,” Murphy says. “And remember to mop with the boards, and not against the grain.”

Call in the pros: In the end, winter’s effects may be too harsh to manage on your own. Consider professional refinishing, which averages between $1.50 and $4 per square foot.

5. Block drafts

With temperatures down and indoor heaters working overtime, you’ll know if your weatherstripping isn’t up to par. And over time, all that unwanted cold air can increase your energy bill in a major way.

DIY: If the cold air is getting in under a door, pick up a door sweep at a local home improvement store. This doodad is typically made of hard plastic and attaches to the bottom of your door, sealing any gaps.

Call in the pros: Feel like you’re wasting way too much energy during the winter months? Conduct an energy audit. A trained auditor can assess your home’s current energy efficiency and give you a list of recommended improvements. You can also find instructions for a DIY energy audit at Energy.gov.

6. Alleviate allergens

An estimated 50 million Americans live with allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and many of their conditions are exacerbated by indoor allergens such as dust mites and animal dander.

The main sources of indoor allergens? Pets top the list, of course, but other culprits include wall-to-wall carpet, soft furniture, stuffed toys, bedding, damp areas, indoor plants, mattresses that aren’t in allergen-resistant covers, and pillows and bedding that can’t be washed in hot water.

DIY: Clean dust from your blinds and ceiling fans using your vacuum’s attachment kit, and make it a regular practice to vacuum all upholstery and carpets.

Once a week, wash your bedding in hot water (at a temperature hotter than 130 degrees), and consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter, which can filter almost 98% of allergen particles in the air, according to the AAFA.

Another good buy?  A zippered allergen-resistant cover for your mattress, which the AAFA says is even more effective than an air purifier at removing indoor allergens.

Call in the pros: For your living room upholstery and other soft furniture, consider professional steam cleaning. Expect to spend upward of $200.

 

Posted by Holly Amaya on realtor.com

This Checklist Is the Key to Taking Care of Your Home (Without the Stress)

2018 is going to be your home’s cleanest, most organized year yet.

Here’s an easy way to get on top of your home maintenance checklist in the new year: Take it one small chunk at a time!

Little steps add up to big results. And if you dedicate some time to home maintenance — two hours a week, an afternoon per month and a couple of days a year — your home will remain in tiptop shape this year.

Here’s our easy-to-follow checklist:

Weekly home maintenance

Your weekly home maintenance ritual will be largely determined by the features of your home, but may include some of the following tasks:

  • Give all your carpets a thorough vacuuming. Or, if you have hardwood floors, give them a good once-over with a large dust-mop.
  • Plan to spend 30 minutes performing one small maintenance task in your yard, such as pruning a tree or shrub, painting a mailbox, or blowing leaves and debris from a garden path or sidewalk.
  • Do some bathroom maintenance. Again, we’re talking about biting things off in small chunks here! Some examples:
    • Pick a drain used by a person with long hair, and clean it out with a Zip-It tool.
    • Spend some time repairing damaged tile grout in a shower or tub.
    • Clean the mineral sediment out of a showerhead.
  • Freshen up your garbage disposal. Run a tray of ice cubes through it, along with some baking soda or lemon rinds, and voila! It’ll be clean and fresh again.
  • Clean the outside of all appliances and the inside of one appliance per week. For instance, if you clean out the refrigerator this week, run a cleaning tablet through your dishwasher next week, and wipe out your dryer the following week.

Shutterstock ID 683730031; Requester Name: Cat Overman; Project: blog post; Client/Licensee: ; Other:

Monthly home maintenance

These are the projects we all know we should do regularly but often don’t get to. Just pick an afternoon, and go for it!

  • Clean the range hood and filter. This is one of those areas that we often forget about, but if you don’t take care of it on a regular basis, it will become unmanageably greasy and dirty over time.
  • Clean the furnace filter, and replace it if needed. This will help your furnace run efficiently, keeping utility bills down.
  • Polish wood furniture, dust light fixtures and wipe down baseboards.
  • Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re functioning and don’t need new batteries. If you have a fire extinguisher, make sure it’s fully charged.
  • Visually inspect the outside of your home for problems or issues, such as loose shingles, damaged siding, insect nests, or overgrown trees or shrubbery. Make a note to correct the problems!

Shutterstock ID 281534546; Requester Name: Cat Overman; Project: blog post; Client/Licensee: ; Other:

Yearly home maintenance

Schedule these tasks in a way that makes sense to you. You can do them on a seasonal basis or just schedule one or two days per year to knock everything out.

Here are some bigger tasks to take on once a year:

  • Clean and organize your garage, basement or attic. This is a maintenance task that everyone dreads doing, but it feels so good once it’s done! Plus, you’ll most likely discover some forgotten treasures to either donate to charity or sell online.
  • Wash windows and window screens, and let the sunshine in! While this task is often done in the spring, you can do it any time of the year.
  • Take on one major outdoor improvement project per year, and schedule a day or two to complete it. For example, you might want to install a fence, refinish a large deck, patch up an asphalt or concrete driveway, or install raised garden beds.
  • Clean out gutters, check under the eaves, remove trees or shrubbery that are encroaching on your home, and install wire grates in any holes to keep pests out.
  • Freshen up one room in your home. Pick any room, and give it a mini makeover. For instance, you can repaint it, switch curtains, move the furniture, and add plants and knickknacks to give it a whole new look. If you do this with one room per year, in a few years, your whole home will look terrific!

By following this easy checklist, you can have a wonderfully maintained home with a minimal investment of time and energy.

 

Posted by Jane Drill on Zillow

3 Ways to Get a Whole New Look With Just a Coat of Paint

Itching for a new look? Paint can transform so much more than just your walls.

Paint is easily one of the biggest home design tools at your disposal. It has the ability to take a room from dark and dingy to light and bright — and from small and cramped to spacious and airy.

To find out exactly how to change the look of a room with paint, we asked house-flipping pros and owners of Seattle-based Urban Squirrel, Lora Lindberg and Debbie Cederlind, for some pointers.

“Paint can lend a feeling you want to evoke,” says Cederlind. “The walls are the biggest surface for the biggest impact.” But you can get a new look without committing to painting a whole room.

Here are Lindberg’s and Cederlind’s tips for transforming your space with just a little paint.

1. Paint your furniture

Your first instinct may be to look at the walls for a drastic change in your home, but painting your furniture can pack just as much punch — if not more.

Not only is this a more renter-friendly solution, but it’s also a good way to break up the monotony of furniture that came in a set or that matches the flooring.

Photo courtesy of The Design Firm.

“It’s definitely more interesting to mix in a painted piece of furniture rather than have everything wood,” says Cederlind.

If you’re a renter and aren’t allowed to splash any color on the walls, go for a bold color on your furniture that will brighten up the room — particularly if you have white or off-white walls in your rental home.

2. Don’t be afraid to paint paneling

If you live in an older home that has been blessed with the gift of wood paneling, it may look dark, outdated and cavernous. Although it might be tempting to rip it out and start over, Lindberg and Cederlind suggest painting over the woodinstead.

“We see so many houses that haven’t sold because of paneling. Painting the paneling is one of the most dramatic changes you can make,” says Lindberg. “Some people say it’s a sin to paint wood, but a paneled room can look incredible with a lighter paint.”

Photo courtesy of Tyler Whitmore.

When you choose the paint color for your wood paneling, Lindberg and Cederlind suggest painting it a muted color and saving the pops of brighter color for artwork and area rugs.

3. Limit bold color choices to a room or two

Painting a dramatic color in one or two smaller spaces, like a powder room or a dining room, will make them stand out and be more memorable to visitors.

Photo from Zillow listing.

Although adding bold color to your walls is a great way to change up your space immediately, don’t go overboard with dramatic colors.

“The thing that drives me the craziest is painting every room a different bold color. Paint the whole house the same color, then pick one or two special rooms to get an accent, like a dining room or powder room or den,” says Lindberg. “A trend I’ve been noticing a lot is dark walls. You definitely don’t want to do that everywhere.”

This tip is especially important if you live in a home with an open concept living or dining space. The house will seem bigger and flow better when there’s continuity in the paint color throughout the home, Lindberg and Cederlind say.

Remember: Finding the right paint color takes time

Whether you decide to paint your walls in just one space or all of them, make sure you choose the right color before you tape off the baseboards and prep the room to paint.

“Picking out colors is the hardest,” says Cederlind. “We spend a lot of time getting samples and trying them physically in the room, but it’s worth every penny. Don’t go and get the paint chip and then buy a gallon of $60 paint. The chances of getting the color right the first time are pretty slim.”

 

Posted by Jamie Birdwell-Branson on Zillow

No Second Chances: Our 7-Step Plan to Making a Dazzling First Impression on Buyers

hikesterson/iStock; realtor.com

Studies show that we make up our minds about people within seconds of meeting them. So it stands to reason that prospective buyers are doing the very same thing with your house, especially in a red-hot real estate market. More buyers these days are sizing up your space and making lightning-quick decisions about whether it’s worth investigating further—or whether they should hop back in the car and move on to the next house.

So if you want to be sure buyers don’t scurry out the door moments after they arrive, you have to create a fantastic first impression.

Not sure where to begin? It all starts with looking at your home with fresh eyes. Luckily, we’ve broken down seven simple steps you can follow to put your home’s best face forward.

1. ‘Break up’ with your house

If you want to sell your property, you’ll need to distance yourself from it first, says Ronique Gibson, an associate architect and lifestyle expert at Stagetecture.com in Jacksonville, FL. Cut the cord!

“Once you put your home on the market, it’s time to let a professional come in and market it,” Gibson says. “If you stay emotionally attached, the process will be harder and longer.”

2. Focus on curb appeal

You wouldn’t wear soiled sweatpants on a first date—you’d go out of your way to look presentable. So why would you approach the process of selling your home any differently?

Your home’s first impression starts with the exterior, so take a good look at what you’re presenting to the world: What’s the first thing you notice? If it’s peeling paint, dirty windows, and dead plants, you have work to do, says Michael Rosenblum, a broker with Koenig Rubloff Realty Group, a division of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Chicago.

“Ask yourself: ‘If I was buying this home now, what would my expectations be?'” he says.

Remove debris such as fallen tree limbs and leaves. Keep grass and shrubs trimmed, freshen up the mulch in your flowerbeds, and clear away lawn clutter such as yard ornaments, garden tools, and that circa 2007 Big Wheel.

“Putting out some flowers in front of the house or by the front door always makes people smile; it creates the warmth before they even get inside,” says Rosenblum.

Invest in a new doormat, and consider replacing old address numbers and your mailbox if it’s worn or rusty. Patch cracks in the driveway and, while you’re at, give the front door a fresh coat of paint.

3. Ditch as much of your stuff as possible

So now that you’ve addressed the outside, you have to work on your home’s inner beauty. Decluttering is your first priority. So start clearing out the junk and depersonalizing the space—toss or hide mementos, kids’ drawings, and most knickknacks.

“If the seller has all their personal photos out, then the buyer usually gets distracted,” Rosenblum says.

The main goal is for potential buyers to envision themselves in your home, and they can’t do that if your crap is everywhere they look. “All signs of you should be gone,” Gibson says.

That said, take care to find a balance; you don’t want the home to feel sterile—and you’ll want to make sure that none of your rooms are completely empty, a tactic that tends to make a space actually look smaller.

4. Fix the broken stuff—all of it

This should be obvious, but perhaps even you’ve forgotten about that faulty light switch in the upstairs hallway. The thing is, buyers will notice it almost immediately.

So here’s a mini to-do list to tackle those minor issues fast:

  • Check for leaks throughout the house. A drip may not seem important, but it suggests lousy maintenance elsewhere.
  • Check and repair loose door handles and cabinet hinges.
  • Caulk around tubs and sinks.
  • Replace lightbulbs that don’t work. Yes, every single one.

Bottom line: Meet and exceed a buyer’s expectations by paying extra attention to the fine details.

5. Plan a small makeover that packs a punch

You might not want (or be able) to do major renovations before putting your property on the market. But if you focus your attention on the kitchen, bathrooms, and flooring, you can boost a tired home’s overall appearance without completely busting your budget.

“Homeowners can easily change out countertops and appliances, or paint cabinetry,” Rosenblum says. You may want to restain the floors or repaint the walls.

Keeping your carpets? Make sure to splurge on getting them professionally cleaned, especially in high-traffic areas—it’ll immediately brighten a room.

6. Appeal to all the senses

Once your home is clean and decluttered, think about how you can engage potential buyers through other senses, Gibson suggests.

Play soft music during showings, or have a nice water feature outside if you live in a noisy neighborhood,” she says. “Soft throws and textured fabrics will warm up a space. Brewing fresh coffee and baking cookies makes your house smell great.”

Remember not to clean your house the day of a showing; harsh chemicals can be overpowering, and may turn off potential buyers.

7. Keep up appearances—indefinitely

Unless you’re in a red-hot market, your home might not sell immediately after it’s listed. Remember that every week, you might have potential buyers traipsing through—sometimes without much notice from your agent.

That means keeping up all these changes you’ve implemented—and not dragging out the massive toy bins, dog beds, and other daily life items you actually use.

While it might not be easy keeping your house in tiptop shape for days on end, try to remember that the effort you put in now will pay off later—when that one buyer is so wowed by her first impression that she makes an offer you won’t want to refuse.

 

Posted by Wendy Helfenbaum on realtor.com

Ready to sell? Visit our website to get started with an agent today!

6 Ho-Ho-Home Maintenance Tasks You Should Tackle in December

Maudib/iStock; realtor.com

So you’ve finished the last of those turkey leftovers and just about thrown in the towel on your workout regimen until some undefined time after the first of the year. (We get it— the holiday party circuit is rough.) It’s high time for relaxing and merriment! Certainly your house can wait for a little TLC until 2018, right?

Alas, we don’t have the answer you want to hear. The truth is, if you squeeze in a smidgen of time to do some routine maintenance chores this month, you’ll save yourself a load of potential trouble—and repair costs—down the road.

So down a big glass of eggnog, and take a swing through this short, painless checklist of tasks to tackle in December. We promise they’re so simple, you might just be done before you can sing the chorus to “Jingle Bells.”

1. Protect your pipes

When temps dip below freezing, unprotected pipes can burst from exposure. The risk of frozen pipes is actually highest in southern climes, where colder temps are less common and pipes are less likely to have the insulation needed to protect them from bursting. (Temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit pose the greatest threat to pipes in unheated areas.)

You can guard against burst pipes by wrapping them in foam insulation, closing foundation vents, and opening cabinet doors under sinks to allow warm air to flow around supply lines. You should also keep your thermostat at 60 degrees or higher overnight. And make sure you’ve drained all your exterior hoses—if you’re following our monthly maintenance checklists, you did this back in October. Nicely done!

In the event of an emergency, you should know where your main water shut-off is located; it’s usually in the crawlspace or basement, where your water supply enters your house, or inside a water meter box outside your home.

DIY:  If your pipes have indeed frozen, leave the affected faucets on and turn off your water supply, says Jenny Popis, a Lowe’s Home Improvement spokeswoman. Then locate the freeze point; if none of the faucets work, the culprit is probably the main supply line.

Check all areas where supply lines enter your home, and feel the length of frozen pipes to determine which area is coldest. You can attempt to thaw it using a hand-held hair dryer. Another option: Wrap the frozen section in washcloths soaked in hot water—then thaw until you have full water pressure.

Call in a pro: If you can’t locate the freeze point or your pipes have burst, call in a licensed plumber, which will run between $150 and $600 on average (depending on the severity of the leak).

2. Give your oven some lovin’

Improperly sealed ovens can result in a loss of more than 20% of the machine’s heat, leading to longer cooking times, lost energy, and (most importantly) delayed gingerbread cookie gratification.

DIY: Check the seal around the oven door for breaks or cracks, and replace the seal for optimal oven performance. If you choose to tackle this yourself, be sure you disconnect power to the oven before digging in, and consult your manufacturer’s instructions to find the correct replacement part.

Call in a pro: Not the DIY type?  A typical oven fix takes less than an hour and will cost between $50 and $100.

3. Check your insulation

Let it snow…BanksPhotos/iStock

Improve the efficiency of your pad by checking your attic’s insulation—and save up to $600 a year in energy costs.

DIY: Examine the insulation in your attic to see whether it’s flattened or sagging.

“If the insulation is level with the attic floor joists, you should be in pretty good shape,” says Krystal Rogers-Nelson of ASecureLife.com. “But if it’s below the joists, you’ll need to add more to make sure you keep the warm air in and the cold air out.”

Call in a pro: If your insulation is lacking, you’ll need a pro to get it up to snuff, at an average cost of around $1,350.

4. Suss out—and prevent—potential fire hazards

“Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you giant box of tinder.”  

It turns out that the gorgeous Douglas fir you’ve so painstakingly decorated could pose a huge fire risk. In fact, Christmas trees account for more than $13 million in property damage per year, according to the American Christmas Tree Association (yes, that’s a thing). Throw in Hanukkah candles, unswept chimneys, ancient space heaters, and faulty strings of lights, and you’ve got a recipe for holiday disaster.

DIY: If you can’t live without a live tree, be sure to keep it well-watered (seriously, do this every day). Keep it at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, turn your tree lights off at night, and toss damaged lights. (Extra credit: To save energy, use LED lights for your holiday decor. They use 80% to 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 100,000 hours—as opposed to 3,000.)

Similar rules apply for space heaters: Keep them away from drapes or furniture, which could catch fire from direct contact and radiant heat; plug them into their own outlets (without extension cords); and never leave one running overnight.

Of course, other common sense precautions apply: Blow out all of those candy cane–scented candles before bed (or just use battery-operated ones), never use paper or flammable liquid to start a fire, and use a screen to keep embers where they belong.

Call in a pro: We’ve said this before, but rule numero uno of fireplace safety is having it professionally cleaned at least once a year. Expect to spend between $125 and $250.

5. Prevent ice damming

Ice what-ing, you ask? It turns out, an ice dam—a ridge of frozen water that forms at the edge of your roof—is even more fearsome than the average run-of-the-mill icicle. Left untreated, ice dams can prevent water from running off your roof, resulting in leaks and damage to walls, ceilings, and insulation.

DIY: Ice dams will begin to form if snow (and ice, obviously) builds up on your roof. So the easiest way to prevent a problem is to clear your roof of that white slush—pick up a snow rake, grab a ladder, and get to work. While you’re up there, trim any branches hanging over your roof: Under the weight of snow or during a windstorm, these can break and cause damage to your shingles. Finally, keep gutters clear of leaves and other debris so melting snow can flow freely.

Call in a pro: Installing heating cables along the edge of your roof can keep snow runoff from freezing. Expect to spend between $600 and $900.

6. Get secure

The holidays are prime time for burglaries and break-ins (those daily Amazon Prime deliveries are just too tempting for package thieves). That’s why you should be extra-vigilant, especially as the days get shorter—and you head out of town or dance off to holiday parties.

DIY: Illuminate the area around your house, lock doors and windows, and trim bushes to deter intruders. You might also look into installing security cameras around your door.

“The six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are prime for packages being delivered to your home for the holidays,” says Emily Longof SafeWise.com. “That means burglars are more likely to swipe your packages if they are left outside.”

A security camera you can monitor with your smartphone allows you to have eyes on your home anytime, from anywhere.

Call in a pro: Professionally monitored security systems will sound ear-piercing alarms and call the police if an intruder enters your space. Options abound here, so do your research before committing to a system (and a monthly service fee).

 

Posted by Holly Amaya on realtor.com