A Financial Plan for Your Home

A Financial Plan for Your Home

Published: December 31, 2012

Your home is probably your biggest investment. To manage it, create a financial plan that takes into account repairs, upgrades, mortgages, insurance, and taxes.

Do you pay each home-related expense as it comes? If so, you’re missing opportunities for upgrades, or much worse, heading into a financial crisis when a slew of surprise maintenance items hit. So take a holistic look at what it costs to operate your house and set up a home financial plan.

Use our home financial plan budget worksheet, and start by writing a list of expenses, such as:

  • Mortgage
  • Taxes
  • Home insurance, including liability
  • Repairs and maintenance, such as new furnace, roof, painting
  • Voluntary upgrades, such as a swimming pool, a premium range, a new powder room

What will you learn from this home financial plan weekend exercise?

  • How much you have to spend
  • How much you need to allot in the short- and long-term for necessary maintenance and voluntary improvements

With this newfound grip on your home’s expenses, you can create a home financial plan that’ll help you there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety.

Here’s how to manage other aspects of your home finances:

The mortgage: Pay it — and then some
Insurance: Protect your property
Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity
Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

The mortgage: Pay it—and then some

Yup, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up to an earlier payoff. Let’s say you have $200,000 in outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you’ll save $14,887 in interest.

Run the numbers yourself for your home financial plan.

Advantages of an early payoff, says Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y.:

  • Less debt means more money to spend later.
  • It feels darn good to own your house outright as soon as possible.
  • Minimal tax loss. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment goes to the principal, not the interest, so you’re getting only a small tax break anyway.

Of course, if you’re still saving for retirement, put the 100 bucks elsewhere:

  • A retirement plan
  • An account for the inevitable home repairs
  • An account for discretionary improvements, which can raise your home’s value

Insurance: Protect your property

Your vegetable garden is pointless without a fence to keep out rabbits; likewise, your home financial plan will come to nothing without an insurance “fence”:

Homeowner’s insurance. Basic coverage for your home and everything in it. The average cost is $636 per year but this varies widely by state.

Liability coverage. Protects you from a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your property, for example. Your best bet: An umbrella policy.  For about $300 a year you can by a typical $1 million policy.

Various disaster insurance policies. Optional policies cover flood, earthquake, and hurricane damage. As part of your home financial plan, you have to research to see what disaster coverage, if any, you need in your area, and what your standard policy already covers. For $540 a year you can buy flood insurance, for example.

Don’t under- or overbuy insurance

For your basic policy, get homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage in case your house burns to the ground.

That sounds simple, but heads up on calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this. This difference will vary widely by region.

Another heads up: Don’t make the common and potentially disastrous mistake of thinking that because your home has fallen in value you need less insurance. If you bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom, it’s true it now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn’t changed much, so you can’t improve your home financial plan by cutting insurance costs that way.

Other ways to cut your insurance budget:

  • If you make structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, your insurer may give you a break.
  • If you belong to certain groups, such as AARP or veterans’ organizations, your premiums may be lower.

Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity

You own a home, so you’ll be spending money on everything from a new faucet to — surprise! — a new roof. Freddie Mac and other authorities say as part of your home financial plan, you should be prepared to spend 1% to 3% of the market value of the home annually on maintenance. To be extra-prudent, open a savings account and make regular payments until your account reaches 1% to 3% of your home’s current value.

To help you budget:

Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? A new furnace in 10?

Keep a log of your major appliances’ age so you can estimate when they’ll need replacing. Some estimated life spans:

  • Roof: 20-25 years
  • Heating systems: 15-20 years
  • Range/ovens: 11-15 years
  • Water heaters: 8-13 years

Then get estimates on what replacements will cost and start saving.

Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance, too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services.

Resist the siren call of the home equity loan to take care of everything. That just defeats your efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

Separate out what you want from what you need. Does it make more sense to do a $50,000 to $60,000 kitchen remodel, which recoups about 69%, or a minor remodel, which recoups about 75%, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report?

If you can afford to redo, go for it. Just don’t confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace — about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range — $6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

Even if your lender handles your property taxes from an escrow account, you need to budget for them in your home financial plan. They creep up almost every year, it seems. Take responsibility for tracking the changes in your area: Look over past tax bills to get a sense of how quickly they’ve risen in the past.

Or if your lender handles escrow and you haven’t saved your bills, ask for an accounting. The median annual property tax payment is $1,812, but that hides the enormous range in medians from state to state.

You can generally deduct property taxes on your federal return. A tax pro can tell you how much of a tax break you’ll get, to help you fine tune your home financial plan.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first: Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. You can challenge the assessed value and get yourself a rollback.

If you’re in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what’s available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.




By: Richard Koreto © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

Is Antibacterial Soap a Friend or Foe to Your Health and Home?

Is Antibacterial Soap a Friend or Foe to Your Health and Home?

By: Cristina Santiestevan

Published: December 21, 2012

Studies suggest antibacterial product claims, at least for products with triclosan, are hype. Are you safe?

Here’s an ironic twist for all you germ-a-phobes: The products you buy to overpower germs in your home may be seriously affecting your health. And not doing much germ-fighting to boot.

Triclosan, a hospital-strength ingredient that became the most common antibacterial ingredient in consumer products like dish and hand soaps, children’s toys, and cutting boards, has been linked to thyroid problems, developmental disorders, and cancer. One recent study even suggests that it could be slowing the beating of our hearts.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the antibacterial ingredient, in part because of animal studies showing that it affects hormone regulation. But for now, the FDA categorizes triclosan as safe.

So that leaves the is-it-or-isn’t-it-hype decision squarely in your court.

What products include triclosan?

Beyond Pesticides offers a list of triclosan-containing products, but says the list is incomplete.

OK, so can you just find out from a label? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. Triclosan (and triclocarban) is listed as an ingredient in any product, like lotion and toothpaste, that requires ingredient lists. But cutting boards, children’s toys, and carpets don’t have ingredient lists, and their packaging rarely specifies what type of antibiotic it includes other than to say “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.”

So if you’re concerned, play offense and avoid all products labeled “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.”

Where’s the “anti” in antibacterial?

Health risks aside, triclosan doesn’t even live up to marketers’ promises. Studies and analysis by the American Medical Association, the FDA, and others confirm that antibacterial products clean no better than regular soap and water.

Hello, progress? Grandma wants her remedies back. We think there’s still a lot to be said for green cleaning alternatives, such as:

  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Castile soap

A Dozen Foyer Ideas for Under $100

A Dozen Foyer Ideas for Under $100

Published: November 19, 2012

When you open your front door, do you step into what looks like a lost-and-found? Here’s how to organize the jumble and avoid a bad trip through your foyer.

If there’s one place in the home that cries out for organization, it’s the foyer. Navigating it can even become a safety hazard, not to mention other dire consequences: Lose your car keys? Be late for work. Missing homework? First grader’s tantrum. Can’t find the dog’s leash? Uh-oh, puddle on the floor.

Whatever the size of your foyer — whether it’s a grand, two-story space with commodious closets or barely a space at all — here are the essentials for a more functional foyer that’s also more fun.

1. Wall color

Conventional wisdom often dictates that the use of white paint creates the illusion of larger space, but unless you have a really tiny vestibule, you can afford to go bold in a room you pass through quickly. So go ahead and wow visitors with a pop of something fearless. Orange? Scarlet? Teal? Washable high-gloss paint makes short work of scuff marks and fingerprints. A gallon should do it. $36

Do keep the ceiling white, though, to head off claustrophobia.

2. Easy-clean flooring

A foyer needs a floor that can handle the wear and tear of comings and goings. Sure, ceramic or marble are nice, but self-adhesive 12-by-12-inch vinyl squares go down easy, can be laid on a diagonal for a diamond pattern, and cost only 69 cents a square foot. Black and white checkerboard is classic and graphic, but you can also create stripes, a contrasting border, and any color combo you like. Just make sure you choose something that works with the colors in the next room.

3. Room divider

Don’t have a dedicated foyer? Create one — or the illusion of one — with a room divider to ensure the foyer and all the stuff that ends up there doesn’t leak into the living area. It could be a bookshelf, a screen, or a couple of IKEA’s new vertical 3-pot plant stands for a welcome-home filled with greenery. $40

4. Boot tray

Providing one or more trays for wet boots and shoes is a game-changer if all you’re used to is a pile in the corner. Go decorative if you like, but a large aluminum baking sheet with a lip, available online for $7, works just as well.

5. Bench

You need something to sit on while taking off those muddy boots. If it’s built-in and hinged for inside storage (think soccer balls, ice skates), so much the better. But a less-expensive option is to gussy up an old blanket chest or old camp trunk with fresh paint. Find one on eBay or in a thrift store or flea market and you’re good to go.

6. Key rack

Make it an ironclad family habit: When you come in, hang keys immediately on a dedicated key rack on the wall just inside the door, like this one. $12. DIYing one with the kids makes it fun.

7. Coat hooks and shelves

Be as generous with coat hooks as wall space allows, but don’t let things get out of hand. Stash anything not currently in season or in use in the nearest closet. If you need more space for hats, bike helmets, and items only the grown-ups need access to, add a shelf. A continuous shelf running around the room just a foot or two short of the ceiling makes use of vertical space and keeps less frequently used items out of the way.

8. Umbrella stand

Another must: a spot for umbrellas in a corner near the door. Buy a pretty one, or repurpose a tall wire wastebasket.

9. Table or console

If you have room, go for a narrow table or console for library books that need returning, outgoing mail, a lamp. Many available online for around $100.

10. Lockers or cubbies 

Really squeezed for space? You can still give each kid his or her own little cubby for books, homework, gym gear. Cubbies are available at all price points.

11. Mirror

A wall mirror for last-minute hair check and tie-straightening is vital. Bonus: It reflects additional light into the room.

12. Good lighting

The all-important entry area needs ample illumination. Did you know that outdoor lanterns tend to be much less expensive? Nowhere is it written you can’t use one indoors. Styles vary from rustic to traditional to Arts and Crafts. $50



By: Cara Greenberg © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®


How to Make Your Home a Soothing Sanctuary

How to Make Your Home a Soothing Sanctuary

Published: February 4, 2013

Give your home some love this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), and it will love you back.

Your home may never be a castle, but it can definitely be a haven — your own private refuge (at least after the kids are asleep) from the mayhem outside.

Creating a stress-free and soothing home environment can mean hiring a contractor to install serious soundproofing or a spa-worthy steam shower — pricey upgrades that are likely to add property value. But just as often, it’s about simple things you can do without laying out a cent.

Start by remembering to take advantage of features your home already has, suggests Gretchen Rubin, author of Happier at Home.

“Take time to light a fire in the fireplace, have coffee on the patio, take a bath,” says Rubin.

Ready to boost your home’s relaxation quotient? Here are some easy ways to do it:

Clear the Decks

One of Rubin’s “secrets of adulthood” is that outer order contributes to inner calm. She advises clearing open surfaces of extraneous stuff, cleaning out closets, and generally straightening up. “These may seem trivial,” says Rubin, “but this kind of orderliness really helps people feel more energetic and cheerful.”

Go on a TV Diet

Here’s a radical notion: Take the TV out of the main living space. There’s nothing tranquility-inducing about blaring commercials or the evening news. Consider eliminating all but one TV for the household. Put it out of the way, where flicking it on won’t be an automatic gesture, and feel your home’s peace vibe rise.

Listen to Music

Music soothes you. Of course, it depends on the music. Find a commercial-free radio station you like and keep it at low volume. You’ll be surprised at how the strains of cool jazz and classical music in the background soothe jangled nerves. A whole-house sound system costs as little as $400 for a wireless unit.

Muffle Irritating Noises

If you’re serious about blocking out noise — such as traffic noise — you can soundproof walls and ceilings by doubling up on drywall and caulking gaps where sound enters.

Carpets, drapes, and other soft materials help absorb sound. For walls, a quick, cheap, sound-muffling solution is Homasote, a recycled cardboard material that costs about $25 for a 4-by-8-ft. sheet. It doubles as a pinboard, making it especially suited for children’s rooms and home offices, and takes paint like a dream.

Soak Out the Stress

A prefab steam shower can run you $5,000 or more, but there are less pricey ways to take your bathroom in a spa-like direction. Hot baths have been used for frayed nerves and sore muscles since Cleopatra’s day. If your existing tub isn’t deep enough, a 30-inch-deep soaking tub starts at around $500 (plus installation, of course). Don’t forget the bath salts.

Color Yourself Calm

Blue is considered a restful paint color, which is why decorators often choose it for bedrooms. Followers of the Chinese art of feng shui believe pink calms a room, while green — because it symbolizes nature — is serene and refreshing. As luck would have it,emerald is the color for 2013.

Light it Right

Overhead lighting can be glary and unflattering, whereas light at lower levels creates warmth and intimacy. Balance an overhead fixture with wall sconces and table lamps — and be sure to put that ceiling fixture on a dimmer, especially over a dining table.

Flickering Flames

Sitting by a crackling fire has nurtured souls from time immemorial. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, use it to create relaxing ambience.

No fireplace? Make the most of candlelight for a mid-winter mood boost. Plain, long-burning candles from the supermarket are so inexpensive ($7 for a box of 72), you’ll feel free to use them in abundance.

Flower Power

Freshly cut flowers provide measurable uplift, a new behavioral research study shows.

“People who live with flowers report fewer episodes of anxiety and depressed feeings,” says Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., a psychologist who conducted the study.

Chrysanthemums last longest; they can go up to three weeks in a vase, with alstroemeria, roses, and lilies a close second.

Want more tips on how to spice up your homestead? Check out:

How to Turn Your Home into a Romantic Retreat

Romancing the Home: The Sexy Kitchen


By: Cara Greenberg © Copyright 2015 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®


5 Smart Home Products

5 Smart Home Products

Published: January 28, 2013

Would you buy any of the wow products HouseLogic’s intrepid reporter spotted at the home builder show?

After hiking miles of aisles past thousands of products (you’re welcome!) displayed at the 2013 International Builders Show in Las Vegas, I found a few designed to make your life easier, cooler, more efficient, and more fun. (Of course, many come with a steep price.) Come on, wouldn’t you want these?

Music in Your Showerhead


Credit: Kohler

Closet crooners, rejoice! Kohler’s Moxie shower head features a Bluetooth-enabled speaker so you can pipe your favorite playlist directly into your morning shower. The waterproof (obviously) wireless speaker attaches with a magnet to the shower head so that — even if you can’t carry a tune — you can detach it post-shower and carry the little speaker with you while you decide which socks to wear. The lithium-ion battery gives 7 hours of play and is rechargeable via USB. List price is $199.

Music Inside Your Bathtub

Can’t help but give innovative Kohler another shout-out for its VibrAcoustic hydrotherapy technology that lets you transfer your music directly into your tub via an MP3 device. Plug in your iPod, pick some mood music, and VibrAcoustic makes the walls of your tub — and the surrounding water — gently vibrate to the rhythms of your tunes. Talk about an immersive musical experience!

VibrAcoustic technology adds $2,400 to the price of your tub. Need even more fun? Include chromatherapy (colored lights) for another $600.

Solar-Ready-or-Not HVAC

Solar HVAC

Credit: John Riha for HouseLogic

Sure, you’d like to go solar, but maybe you’re not sure how to go about it. No worries — Lennox SunSource solar-ready air conditioners and heat pumps are ready when you are. When you decide to go solar and save on your utility bills, an HVAC pro simply plugs compatible solar panels into the unit — there’s no need to fool around with your breaker box or add a power converter.

If you’re not using your HVAC, the unit simply routes the juice from your solar panels into your home to power your appliances, lights, and other electrical goodies.

A high-efficiency unit runs $2,500 to $3,500 installed, depending on its capacity. Solar panels available through Lennox are $1,200-$1,500 per; a typical house uses at least eight.

You may be eligible for a federal tax credit of up to 9% of the cost of “solar-ready equipment.” If you also invest in solar panels, then you may be able to claim a federal tax credit of up to 30% for the whole kit and kaboodle. Check with your tax pro.

Don’t forget: Many states offer additional credits and rebates for solar installations.

Is Your Refrigerator in Hot Water?

Hot water refrigerator

Credit: John Riha for HouseLogic

Your refrigerator wants to be so much more to you than cold. The GE Café series has a touch-control, on-demand hot water dispenser that serves up H2O at four pre-set heat settings. You can get warm water for baking or piping hot water for instant oatmeal. Yup, you can get chilled water and ice cubes from the door-mounted dispenser, too. The sleek fridge retails for $3,299.

Even More Keyless

Fob lock

Credit: John Riha for HouseLogic

Biometric locks have been on the market for a while now, but Simplicikey takes high-tech security one step further: a handheld key fob locks and unlocks your door from up to 50 feet away.

Add the new Keycloud technology and you’ll be able to lock your door using your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. Use the Keycloud app to check the status of any of your exterior doors, even at a second house or rental property. Cost: $199-$279 (the app is free).

Private Screening

Bamboo curtain

Credit: John Riha for HouseLogic

On the low-tech end of things, I saw this at a booth and thought it was pretty clever. No, it’s not an actual product, but part of a booth design. Take a large planter, fill it with polished rocks, and stick some bamboo stalks in it to create a tres modern fence. Use it as an indoor partition or outdoor privacy screen.