Preventive Home Maintenance: 3 Things You’ll Be Glad You Did When the Time Comes to Sell

Preventive maintenance isn’t glamorous. There’s no instant gratification or fun, new piece of equipment. There’s just time, money, and exactly what you had before you started the maintenance except with less dirt and a new filter.

You can always hit snooze on routine maintenance, and in fact, without a calendar alert and the threat of disaster, you might be tempted to. But just like rotating the tires on your car every 5,000 miles, if you push it too far beyond, you’ll eventually end up on the side of the road with a flat, dumping more money into a tow or new tires than it would have cost to rotate your dang tires in the first place.

So as unexciting as it sounds, preventive maintenance will save you a lot of frustration and headaches (and coincidentally, time and money). J.D. Roth, author of “Your Money: The Missing Manual” and critically acclaimed personal finance resource GetRichSlowly.org, says: for every dollar you spend on preventive maintenance around the home, you save approximately $100 in future repairs.

Here are a few home maintenance tasks that can keep your house drama free. HomeLight even provides a transferable Google calendar and reviews of various maintenance apps to keep you accountable! When you’re ready to sell your home, you’ll mitigate bigger problems, manage buyer doubts, and have a better grasp on your home inspection.

Red roof on home maintained.
Source: (tamara321/ shutterstock)

1. Don’t let drainage and grading issues become a water-related crisis for your house.

You bathe in it. You drink eight cups of it a day (or at least you’re supposed to). You water your beautiful garden with it. Yet it can be the most destructive force in your home. The Insurance Information Institute reports nearly 30% of homeowner insurance losses come from water damage.

Prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast, basements are particularly susceptible to water damage—thanks to gravity—but water damage isn’t a risk just for those with rooms below ground. Pipes freeze (and burst), storm damage causes loose shingles and leaky roofs, and water heaters don’t last forever.

Renee Christman, a top-selling real estate agent in Madison, Wisconsin, says stopping unwanted water from entering the house is the single-most important preventive home maintenance task you can do.

Worst case scenario if you don’t maintain:

A tiny leak from your backyard into your home can at best, ruin your carpet; worst case, cause rot, mold, structural damage, and of course, if it’s aggressive enough, extensive flooding, and maybe even fire if you have gas or electric appliances.

Fixr, a site estimating repair costs says, “a basement that is full of standing water or water more than an inch deep covering the entirety of the room will cost around $4,000 to clean up.”

Don’t have a basement? It’s bad for you, too. When water runs toward your home, siding, clapboard or even brick can rot from the outside in.

What you need to do:

  • Walk around the yard and make sure the grade is sloped away from the property. If it’s not graded properly and you witness drainage problems, call a landscaper who can properly grade your yard.
  • Clear out the gutters.
  • If there’s a crack in your foundation, arrange to have an epoxy injection. This will seal the crack and not let water in.
  • Check the roof for broken or missing shingles.
  • Don’t let your pipes freeze in the winter. Keep your thermostat set—even when you’re not home—so pipes don’t burst.
  • Install a French drain around the house.
  • Install downspouts and make sure they are pointed in the right direction (away from the house).

Preventive home maintenance costs to avoid water damage:

This will cost a ladder, a bucket and a Sunday afternoon, seriously. You can DIY much of this maintenance. If you physically can’t, hire a teenager (or a handyman) in your neighborhood for a few hours to walk your yard, clear the gutters and climb up on the roof.

If you must pay to regrade your yard, you’ll pay somewhere between $976 and $2,933, according to HomeAdvisor, which is nothing compared to the $7,500+ you might spend to repair drywall and carpeting in the event of water damage (and if you have damage, you’ll have to regrade the yard anyway otherwise it’ll just happen again).

Install a French drain around your house. These are a lot like underground gutters. In addition, be sure your gutters have downspouts, providing a place (besides toward your house) for water to flow.

How it will help you with home inspection:

Preventing water damage seems like a no-brainer because most buyers don’t feel good about water issues when they’re looking to purchase a home. Christman says it’s a “big concern” because it’s not an easy one to fix once the damage is done. Prevent it before there is damage.

Your home inspector will have eagle eyes for water damage. It’s better not to have damage at all, but if you have it, call in a professional ASAP.

Air conditioning fan maintained outside home.
Source: (vchal/ shutterstock)

2. Give your HVAC system a tune-up and keep it in good working order.

The filter in your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system is the barrier between the air that enters your house and your lungs—so changing it monthly is ideal, but changing it yearly is critical. Servicing your furnace and your air conditioning unit is an annual task.

An HVAC system needs to be checked yearly because:

  1. It’s more efficient when it’s clean, saving you money and energy. According to the Building Efficiency Initiative, poor maintenance can increase energy use by 30% to 60%, affecting energy costs anywhere from 5% to 40%.
  2. It will last longer. With proper maintenance, a system should last 15 to 20 years.
  3. It won’t pump carbon monoxide into your home.

Worst case scenario if you don’t maintain:

Angie’s List reports 75% of “no-heat” calls in the winter are because homeowners didn’t do preventive maintenance. We’re not just talking about having to bundle up next to the fireplace though.

The stakes are higher for the “H” part of HVAC because heat can mean fire. By not maintaining your furnace, you are literally playing with fire. With maintenance, you can catch a gas leak early. Miss a gas leak and BOOM. Suddenly selling your home just got a lot more complicated.

If you don’t want to spend $6,000-$10,000 to replace your HVAC system right before moving, maintaining regularly is your best bet.

What you need to do:

As a homeowner, the best thing you can do is stay up to date with your “wellness visits.” The same way you go in to the doc for your flu shot, call a tech to come out every year before your cold season to ensure all is in shape.

According to Trane, a trusted name in HVAC, a professional will check the flue, the vent connector, the return air duct connections, and the physical support and structural integrity of the furnace. They’ll check there’s no blockages or obstructions and change that filter.

Maintenance costs:

HomeAdvisor states a routine annual checkup will cost you between $80 and $150. If you have to replace a unit completely, it can cost you between $2,500 and $5,900. This means you can service your unit about 25 times for the cost of a new one!

How it will help you with home inspection:

If a homebuyer is already paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, they’re not going to be very excited when they find out they have to replace large, expensive items like the roof or the HVAC system.

Home inspectors will check for the following HVAC system defects:

  • Dirty air filters
  • Rust
  • Open seams in flues
  • Slopes up to chimney connection
  • Combustion gas order
  • Cracked ductwork
  • Asbestos

Finding these types of repairs during a home inspection gives buyers fuel to negotiate. Christman estimates buyers will double the cost of repairs (since they’re concerned about all the things they can’t see) and subtract that amount from an offer. “Don’t get to this point,” she says, recommending instead homeowners keep up with regular maintenance.

Windows in home maintained and cleaned.
Source: (Maxime Amoudruz/ Unsplash)

3. Keep the windows clean, defogged, and in top condition.

Windows have a lot of jobs—they let light in, they work as insulation and toward energy efficiency, they keep the elements out when you want them out (snow, for example), and let the elements in when you want them in (summer breeze) and they add to the overall look and feel of a house.

Potential buyers remember the house with the big bay window in the front or the roll-up glass garage door. They also remember the house that looks haunted because of all the broken windows with spiderwebs.

Though understated, windows play a big role and therefore deserve some regular preventive maintenance.

Worst case scenario if you don’t maintain:

Old, inefficient windows are likely to hurt your energy bill. HomeAdvisor estimates good windows can save an average of 25% on your energy bill. But that’s just the beginning, if you don’t maintain your windows and they all need to be replaced before you put your home up for sale, you’re looking at an average of about $500 per window. HomeAdvisor says replacing the windows in a three-bedroom, single-story home with ten windows can cost between $3,000 and $7,000; a price that could double for a two-story home.

What you need to do:

  • If you have wood windows, check the paint and stain. Chips might mean the pane isn’t protected from water. You might also have water damage if any of the exterior surfaces are cracked. Check the seals. Caulking around the windows is easy to replace if needed (and you already know the damage water can cause from the first item on this to-do list).
  • Weep holes allow whatever moisture gets trapped to escape. Make sure these holes are clear from debris.
  • Make sure windows open and close nicely. Use a wax or oil lubricant on the seals, and tighten the locks.

Steve Anderson, a home inspector for National Property Inspections, recommends taking advantage of the slew of YouTube videos available for home maintenance tasks. Check out these YouTube videos about how to maintain a sliding window, inspect your wood windows, or recaulk.

Maintenance costs:

Maintaining your windows is a minimal cost—a cup of touch-up paint, a can of lubricant, a little soap and water. And you can do much of this preventative maintenance yourself. But these costs add up fast when you have to replace a window, as it’s difficult to DIY.

How it will help you with home inspection:

A buyer can walk into a beautiful house and dirty windows can ruin it all. Buyers often assume that if one area of a home is neglected than all the areas are neglected, says Christman. Windows are easy to maintain, easy to clean and show a lot of care in just a little bit of work.

According to TotalHomeInspection.com, an inspector will look for cracks, rot and decay. They’ll make sure caulk and seals are in good condition. They’ll check panes, insulation, glazing, and that drip caps are installed.

If you’re starting to think about selling your home, don’t let the easy maintenance tasks get out of hand. Neglecting little things will catch up with you. You can avoid a lot of drama and save a lot of money by simply setting up a calendar alert and setting aside a Sunday afternoon for some basic home preventive maintenance.

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