Winter is an excellent time for what I call an annual personal “housing audit.” For many folks, winter provides the breathing space between the holiday season and spring’s arrival. Tax filing deadlines and busier outdoor activities are ahead. Now is really the very best time to evaluate your housing needs, your housing finances and for homeowners — the condition of your property. In the event you decide to buy or sell this year, you still have time to plan for your “next chapter” before you are overwhelmed by the calendar. If you are staying put, you should still take a long hard look at the maintenance tasks and desired projects for your home and budget accordingly.
If your household is two people, and you live in a 4,000+ square-foot home, you may be thinking about when to downsize. Part of the housing audit is to look at your expenses (taxes, utilities and maintenance) to make sure that you are intentionally spending that money. Looking at the potential for major repairs (HVAC, roof, siding, windows and floor coverings) on the horizon should be considered before you start spending money on redecorating. If you do decide to sell the big family home, you will get your best price in the spring and early summer market. Families with school age children like to get their kids situated before school starts in the fall. If the likely buyers of your house are military families with a VA loan, the house may require attention to some needed repairs to meet VA requirements.
Conversely, if you are needing space for a growing family, you may need to move to a larger home. Do you have a house to sell first? If renting, when is your lease due? Do you have enough saved for a down payment and closing costs? Now is the time to get your loan prequalified, and (if you first need to sell) get a market analysis on your current house.
Home ownership has its benefits and drawbacks. In general, single-family homes require the most attention (and dollars) for maintenance and upkeep. Making sure that your needs and budget are aligned with the housing type you desire will allow you to decide whether it is a year to “make a move” — or not. Depending on the individual, a townhouse or condo (or a rental) may be a better option than a single-family home.
Would you buy a car and try to drive it for 50,000 miles with no oil changes? Unfortunately, that is the equivalent of what a lot of people do with their homes. Whether you are thinking about getting your house on the market, or planning on staying in place for a long time, an important part of your housing audit should be to take a careful look at the condition and maintenance needs of your property.
A pre-listing home inspection can be a worthwhile investment of about $350 — and potentially prevent a home sale from falling apart over unknown problems. If you plan on staying in your home, it can still be a worthwhile investment. And if you don’t currently have an annual termite contract in place, now is the time to get a full inspection (equivalent to a home sale termite/moisture inspection) for less than $100 — and get signed up for an annual inspection contract at the same time. This is very inexpensive home insurance.
Landscaping can get overgrown in less than 10 years. With the leaves off, it is much easier to see where you may need to cut foundation plantings back and to trim trees that have gotten too close to the sides and roof of your house. Have your gutters been cleaned regularly? Do you need to have the siding power washed?
Make a commitment to an annual housing audit. Intentional tasks, expenses — and moves — will always be easier on your wallet and your peace of mind than the alternative. For those thinking about buying or selling in 2020, the current low mortgage interest rates are expected to prevail through mid-year. That is good news for sellers and buyers alike!