All homes need maintenance – even new ones – and homeowners need to budget for this so that small problems don’t get out of hand and become big ones.
Some home maintenance and repair projects are easy, of course, and require your time rather than much money, such as clearing a blocked kitchen drain, cutting back a tree that threatens to break a window or de-rusting and repainting a garden gate.
Others are definitely bigger, however, and you may well be tempted to put them off either because you don’t have the expertise to tackle them yourself or because you fear that calling in an expert would be too expensive.
But this will usually just lead to even bigger problems and more expensive fixes, not to mention possible increases in your insurance premiums, so as a homeowner, your best course is to open a maintenance savings fund as soon as possible, and more importantly, to create a maintenance schedule for your property.
This should enable you to find and address most common maintenance issues yourself, before they develop into major problems that will deplete your savings. Here are some examples of tasks to put on the list – and what the results could be if you ignore them:
Check your roof regularly. Especially if you’ve had strong winds, hail or heavy rain lately. Check for loose tiles and flashing, loose roof nails, damaged waterproofing and blocked gutters and downpipes. All of these problems are relatively easy and inexpensive to fix, but if left unattended, can quickly evolve into holes in the roof, major leaks and very costly damage to roof timbers and ceilings and dreaded damp as a result of water getting into wall cavities.
Don’t forget about the plumbing. Just because most of it is out of sight in the ceiling void or walls does not mean it should be out of mind. Fix any dripping taps or running toilets immediately to keep your water bills down. Lag all exposed pipes to stop heat loss and prevent winter freezing that can cause pipes to break. Check your geyser regularly for any leaks or corrosion. And if a pipe suddenly starts banging or gurgling, or you notice a patch of damp that might indicate a leak, call in professional help immediately. A broken water pipe can cause thousands of rands worth of damage to your home and could even cause part of a wall to collapse if left unattended – which would undoubtedly cost far more to fix than a plumber’s callout fee.
Take electricity seriously. Even if you have an electrical certificate of compliance for your home, you should have the whole electrical installation checked by a professional about every two years – or sooner if you are having any problems such as lights or switches only working intermittently. Rodents can get at your wiring at any time, wear-and-tear can cause overheating and short circuits, and overloading or water in the system can cause the power to keep tripping, and it is more than worth it to have an electrician find and fix such problems if it prevents a fire in your home or someone getting a serious electrical shock.
Remember, even if your home owner’s insurance (HOC) policy did cover most of the serious problems mentioned above, you would still have to pay the excess and most probably higher premiums going forward. There is also a risk that you might not be covered if the insurance company decided that the damage resulted from a lack of basic maintenance.
In short, putting in a little work or money on the front end means you stand a good chance of avoiding major expense down the road. Better still, it will pay off when you want to sell your house, because you are not likely to have to make a lot of costly repairs all at once, or drop your asking price to account for what the buyer will need to do.
Getting a bonus or “13th cheque” at this time of year (or a tax refund from SARS) may make you feel like a lottery winner, but if you want to stay in the pound seats, you’re going to have to resist the temptation to go on a holiday spending spree.
Instead, consider the following alternatives for balancing your budget, and/ or improving the value of your home:
- Reduce your debt. Total up the interest you paid on credit cards and store cards this past year and see how much you could save over the next 12 months by using your bonus to reduce – or even eliminate – the balances due. Then restrict use of the cards to emergencies.
- Try to set part of your bonus aside for home maintenance and repairs. This will help you meet home ownership costs in the next 12 months without wrecking your household budget.
- Reduce the capital portion of your home loan. If you pay R10 000 off a R1m home loan this December, you will cut a whole six months off your 20-year repayment period and, at the current home loan interest rate of 9,25%, save more than R52 000 worth of interest. Reducing your loan also helps create a “cushion” against interest rate increases, and gives you room to manoeuvre if you need to borrow against your home in future, to pay university fees, for example.
- Increase your home’s “curb appeal”. You may not be planning to sell right away, but using additional income now to improve the exterior appearance, the security measures or the garden at today’s prices could translate into significant savings – and a quicker sale – when you do decide to put your home on the market.
- Start making your home improvement dreams a reality. If your budget is free of high-interest debt and you’ve set aside money for regular maintenance and emergency repairs, it may be time to think seriously about that sunroom you’ve always wanted, or the remodelled kitchen you keep promising yourself. Get some estimates of what your pet project will cost, set a time goal and start saving determinedly so you can pay cash for it.
Are you having trouble convincing sellers to let you list and market their properties in the holiday season? And are you half-persuaded that potential buyers will be too busy eating, entertaining and soaking up the sun to visit your show houses?
Well, you might like to know that several studies have now shown that homes listed in November, December and January are more likely to sell, more likely to sell quickly and more likely to attract offers at close to the asking price.
Agents are divided on the reasons for this but some of the factors in favour of a holiday-time listing are:
- There is less competition from other listings;
- Those who are looking at properties during the holiday season are more likely to be serious buyers and not “browsers”;
- Families looking for a new home have the opportunity to visit show homes together during the holidays;
- Most of those relocating for work reasons do so at the end of the year, and they are generally keen to find a new home before their new job starts or before the new school terms starts for their children in January – especially if they have already sold their existing property in anticipation of the move;
- Those who are buying property as an investment often wish to complete a purchase transaction before the end of the financial year in February for accounting or tax purposes.
So the message is clear: Don’t stop looking for listings now, even if it feels like the rest of the country is already on holiday. At the very least, your efforts will pay off in January when you already have stock to sell on your books and everyone else is just getting back to work and scrambling for listings.
And even better – and very likely – is that you will notch up some sales in the next six weeks and make the season extra festive for both the sellers and yourself.
There’s nothing worse than leaving for your holiday and wondering whether your house will be safe while you’re gone. Even if you’re not one to worry about such things, take these steps to leave your home safe and your holiday stress free.
Cancel your post
Nothing is more obvious than a pile of newspapers in the driveway or an overstuffed post box. Pause your newspaper subscription for the duration of your trip and let your post office know to hold all your mail until you get back.
Avoid the dark
Don’t give intruders dark places to hide on your property. Install motion sensitive lights outdoors to deter people from stepping onto your property, while putting timers on indoor lights to go on and off at scheduled times.
Tell your security company
If you’re paying a security company, it’s always good to let them know that you’re going to be away. Ask them to do regular checks of your property a few times a week to see if everything is alright.
Hire a house sitter
Hiring someone you know to stay at your house while you’re away is a great way to take your mind off of worrying about it. If you can’t afford to do that, ask a friend or family member to pop by every now and then to do a quick check up.
Once you’ve done the above, all that’s left is to enjoy your holiday.