If you’re new to owning a house, townhome or condo, right now’s a great time to think about home improvement. Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies forecasts double-digit gains in home improvement spending for 2014, according to its Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity. Third quarter spending in 2014 on home improvement was estimated to hit $158.9 billion — a jump of more than 14 percent from the same time in 2013.
And if you’re not yet there, you’ll likely arrive soon. Harvard statistics show that in 2013, while half of 20-24 year olds lived at home, that number dropped sharply to about 9 percent once young adults hit 30. So if you’re thinking over the jump from renter (or living at home with the ’rents) to homeowner, it pays to remember that, yes, decking out the new space ranks as one of life’s joys. But there’s also a responsibility to keep track of all the must-do tasks before things break, splinter or fall apart.
In my time as a homeowner, I’ve been both proactive (replacing an old front porch long before its time) and just plain lazy. (My garage has rotten boards and I wonder when, if ever, I’ll get to them.) That’s why online tools such as HomeZada can play a key role in keeping you organized and ahead of the maintenance curve.
This kind of work, previously done on spreadsheets and CD-ROMs, now puts everything that’s needed in one place. As a cloud-based solution, HomeZada allows homeowners the ability to track home inventory, maintenance and home improvement projects — along with the finances associated with everything, says Elizabeth Dodson, a co-founder of HomeZada.
For Dodson, creating HomeZada was an act of necessity. She worked for a company that produced software for commercial construction project management. And while she could manage multi-million or multi-billion dollar projects, she couldn’t manage her home. “My home is one of my largest assets and there were not tools that helped me take care of it and maintain its overall value,” she says.
Launched in January 2012, HomeZada has two tiers of pricing. The free “essentials” account allows you to keep photos, receipts, warranties and manuals in a home inventory folder, for example. At the “premium” level ($5.95 per month or $59 per year), you can automate your maintenance schedule, keep to-do lists, and integrate your projects onto an iCal calendar. Right now, HomeZada has tens of thousands of users worldwide, with 85 percent in the United States, according to Dodson.
HomeZada also has apps for iPhone, iPad and Android, and reviews of the product have been very positive. The website DIY on the Cheap says that HomeZada “make(s) it 100 times easier for you to organize your ideas and tasks.”
But it’s certainly not the not the only way to organize home tasks. While not as sophisticated as HomeZada, the BrightNest app (free, optimized for iPhone 5) allows users to create personal schedules, with articles and information on jobs ranging from inspecting your attic and basement to changing air filters. It also has a bit more of a domestic touch, as it gives tips on how to clean your microwave with lemon, for example.
For Android, there’s House Maintenance Schedule Pro ($1.99), rated a top choice by the website AppCrawlr. This app breaks down home maintenance tasks into yearly, semi-annual and quarterly categories, with due date reminders.
If you’re hoping to get your home in tip-top shape or keep up with the expenses before you fall into the money pit, here are some rules of thumb to remember:
1. Figure 1 to 4 percent of your home’s value for annual maintenance, depending on the age of the home.
The older the home, the more the maintenance, Dodson says. Even with newer homes, you may have to pay if there’s a flood, or other damage from unforeseen events.
2. You can save money doing DIY repairs — but remember to be careful.
Aside from the extra time it may take, you could run into problems you don’t know how to undo. “My rule of thumb is if you have to ask how it’s done, you should probably leave it to a professional,” says Bert DeVries, a home repair contractor based in Grand Rapids, Mich. “If you have to ask the people at Home Depot, or go to Google or YouTube to learn, you really want to consider having a professional do it for you.”
3. Be sure to check even those items that work well to avoid costly repairs later on.
If you have a hot water heater in an area of the country that has hard water, you need to flush the system periodically. Otherwise, “the sediment will build up and cause the unit to break prior to its full lifespan,” Dodson says.
4. If you hire a contractor for a large job, see if you can agree on a flat price beforehand.
Paid by the hour, contractors can stretch out a job — not necessarily for dishonest reasons — and you might wind up spending twice what you budgeted, or more.
5. Pay attention to annual maintenance.
For young and first-time homeowners, the basics of home maintenance include changing air filters quarterly; bi-annual or annual checkups of your HVAC systems; checking for roof leaks; cleaning your gutters to prevent water damage; and fixing sidewalk areas that might cause someone to trip and fall, Dodson says. You can find out more via a HomeZada infographic.