As the calendar flips from December to January each year, so begins a new year, full of new optimism, hope and opportunity. So also begins the annual ritual of New Year's resolutions. According to USA.gov, losing weight, getting in shape, drinking less, eating better, quitting smoking and saving money perennially top Americans' lists of resolutions.
Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent of us will fail to keep our resolutions, particularly those that revolve around quitting or giving up something.
This year, try something different by making resolutions for your home (or the home you'd like to own by the end of the year). Whether you're a homeowner or you're planning to become one soon, here are four real estate-based resolutions you can make - and maybe even keep - this year.
- Make extra mortgage payments. Paying extra on your mortgage now will pay off later. How much? According to Bankrate.com, the monthly principal and interest on a $150,000 mortgage with a 30-year term at 5.5 percent, making just one extra mortgage payment a year will take five years and nearly $31,000 in interest expense off your mortgage. Can't make one lump-sum extra payment? Split it up and add a little to each monthly payment.
- Maintenance. Take a look at your "to do" list (assuming you have one). How long have some of those home repair projects been on there? It's high time you took care of business and crossed them off. Not to pile on extra work, but it's also a good idea to take a walk through and around your home with a pen and pad, noting any small things (like a ceiling crack) that could potentially turn into big problems. Also take note of anything that could stand some regular maintenance, such as a furnace or boiler.
- Energy efficiency. Making your home more energy efficient isn't just good for the environment; it's also good for your financial well-being. In this post, we detailed several things you can do to cut your heating costs, and there are many other ways to approach energy efficiency. You can start small by replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents or LEDs. If you'll be buying or replacing an appliance this year, choose one that's energy efficient.
- Renovation. How long have you coveted a new kitchen, bathroom, sunroom or something else? Make 2013 the year you get it done. OK, so a full remodel probably isn't possible for everyone, but you can start with something more manageable (and affordable), such as tiling your kitchen backsplash or installing a new bathroom mirror.
- Check your credit score. This one's simple. Under Maine law, each of the three major credit reporting agencies - Trans Union, Equifax and Experian - are required to provide Mainers a free copy of their credit report annually.
- Shop around. Before you apply for a mortgage, it pays to research your options to find out what's out there and determine what's best for you. It's a good idea to talk to four or five lenders, including a small local lender, a credit union, a mortgage broker and an online lender. Once you've gathered information from each, you can use it to negotiate the best deal for yourself.
- Talk with pros. A home is the biggest purchase most people will make in their lifetime, and it can be difficult to understand many of the facets and intricacies involved with a real estate transaction - each of which has to be handled precisely. That's why it's important to find and work with qualified professionals who deal with home purchases and sales every day. A good team starts with a real estate agent, and may also include a mortgage consultant, a licensed and certified inspector or appraiser, and an accountant.
- Get organized. As you prepare to get approved for a loan and buy a home, your agent and lender are going to require a lot of paperwork from you. To make things easier on yourself, have all your financials, employment records, assets and any other relevant paperwork ready - as soon as possible.