Fear of home maintenance? How to keep repair costs down with regular maintenance

Juli Adelman of Northeast Portland should feel confident about home ownership now. Since converting a property 16 years ago, she has sold each of her last three properties at a profit, moving her up the property ladder.

A year ago, she bought a century-old house in her target neighborhood: Beaumont-Wilshire. Despite her proven DIY repair skills and her contractor father’s assurance that she wasn’t buying a money pit, Adelman still feels nervous.

She wonders: What precious mystery might lie ahead?

“It’s a perfectly sound investment, and I’ve been pretty lucky with this so far,” she said, “but it’s still kind of a gamble. What if the sewer goes sideways?”

She is not alone in fearing home repairs.

A survey by Seattle-based real estate marketplace Zillow found that 75% of pandemic-era homebuyers, struggling with record low inventory, rapidly escalating prices and brutal bidding wars, wish they had done things differently.

Many of those surveyed discovered that one of life’s biggest financial investments, their home, needs more work or maintenance than they expected. In a panic to get an offer accepted, some buyers agreed not to ask the seller to make repairs.

However, uncontrolled repairs can be a big drag on savings or even create the need to take out another loan, said Andrew Emerson, vice president of mortgage lending at OnPoint Community Credit Union.

“Denial is not bliss,” he said, adding that preventive maintenance is a way to reduce unnecessary expenses. “You get the most bang for your buck by looking after your home.”

Repairs and major renovations can put a strain on home finances, especially if budgets are already stretched to pay for a larger mortgage along with rising property taxes, home insurance premiums, homeowner association fees and utility bills.

Skyrocketing inflation and rising labor and building material costs for even small repairs can quickly turn a functioning budget into a sinking one.

But simple fixes can sometimes keep components large and small in a home working efficiently and extending their usefulness, often without bringing in a professional, said Carol Eisenlohr, who directs the Building Toward Better program for members of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland.

She knows few people enjoy vacuuming refrigerator coils to keep the air flowing, but everyone wants kitchen appliances humming along when company comes.

“Things that don’t work properly cause more damage, devalue the home over time and drive us crazy,” Eisenlohr said. “A little maintenance can make them last a lot longer.”

Saving money is the big incentive, she said. Replacing clogged furnace filters keeps motors running with less effort, reduces monthly utility bills, and extends the time before replacements are needed.

But there are also safety benefits. Stopping water leaks prevents mold growth. And a smart solution early on can put the brakes on a budget-busting disaster like a clogged drain flooding new carpet.

Dividing routine maintenance tasks over time and involving the whole household can make chores less of a pain, Eisenlohr said.

Money saved by reducing preventable repairs can be used to take everyone out for pizza or buy another treat, she said.

“I get pleasure from not being dependent on a technician to fix something that I can take care of if necessary. time,” Eisenlohr said.

She often finds solutions, like replacing a belt on her washing machine, by watching YouTube videos. “It’s empowering,” she said. “To change the filling valve on the toilet is very simple.”

Juli Adelman of Northeast Portland does much of her own home maintenance and improvements.July Adelman

Portland homeowner Juli Adelman teaches her twin teenage sons the rewards of tackling home improvement and maintenance projects.

“I’m really proud to own my home and want to take good care of it,” said Adelman, who was encouraged by his father to develop mechanical skills and fix things around the house. “I react immediately when I see something wrong and I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it.”

She and her then-husband bought their first home 2006. The distressed property on Portland’s Northeast Alberta Street had fungus growing on interior walls. No down payment was required and equity grew as the market improved and their hard work paid off.

They parlayed that property into a nicer house in the nearby Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood.

After a divorce, she bought a more affordable house further east, which she improved and then sold for more than she paid for it. By January 2021, she was able to “catapult,” she said, back to Beaumont to a Craftsman-style house.

“I’ve always admired how my parents took care of their home and garden and I want to instill that in my boys, so that’s what keeps me motivated,” she said. “Plus, I like to learn new things. Two weeks ago I drained my shower again and it looks great.”

Adelman and her sons also work together outside, moving the lawnmower, raking, pulling weeds and pruning to fill up the dumpster.

“Sometimes a boy has to jump on yard waste to compact the leaves or clippings to make room for more,” she said. “Making sure the bin is full every week ensures we stay up in the yard working together as a family.”

During Eisenlohr’s 25-year career in the construction industry, she has helped home buyers troubleshoot warranty issues. Her advice: Read the frequently asked questions about the product on the manufacturer’s website or in the user manual.

A furnace can stop working because the door is jammed, or an air conditioner can freeze up from a clogged filter that doesn’t allow air to flow to the coils.

If you can’t fix it, at least you can explain the problem better to the repair service and make decisions to prevent the damage from getting worse, Eisenlohr said.

“Your learning curve will improve over time,” she said, “and you’ll know your home better.”

Peace of mind comes from making simple repairs, she said, adding, “By being proactive, you can’t avoid everything, but you can prevent a lot of things.”

Home does not like to be ignored. Rust, strange noises, musty smells, pests or discolored spots signal a problem. Don’t wait until a part breaks or is damaged beyond repair.

For expert advice, Portland-area contractors participating in the Home Builders Association’s 2022 Tour of Remodeled Homes 21-22 May, explain the benefits of using resilient, weather-friendly products.

Visitors walking through five remodeled homes can hear about composite siding and newer, longer-lasting paint products, scratch- and water-resistant floors like luxury vinyl planks, and energy-efficient upgrades.

Electrical and plumbing inspections require a professional, but a lot of maintenance work – such as cleaning leaves out of gutters and downspouts to ensure proper drainage from the roof and foundation, and sealing air leaks around windows and doors – is not expensive if you do it yourself.

Here’s a starter list of home maintenance tasks that can be done over time and won’t rob you of your weekend free time.

Most basic home maintenance tasks can be done with an Allen key, box cutter, five-in-one painting tool, adjustable wrench, pliers, tape measure, screwdriver set, hammer and drill.

“The life of your home depends on making sure it’s properly constructed to keep moisture and weather out,” said the Home Builders Association’s Eisenlohr, who wrote a downloadable home maintenance checklist for Oregon Home Builder Legend Homes, that contains these tips.

Water

  • Keep sink, bathtub, shower, toilet, washing machine, dishwasher and refrigerator drains clean and check valves and pipes for leaks that can cause mold, wood rot and other damage and increase your water bill.
  • Condensation on windows and other signs of excessive moisture levels can cause damage over time and pose serious health problems. Use an air conditioner with a clean filter or a dehumidifier to keep the air dry in basements and damp rooms.

Air quality

  • Open windows when the weather permits and turn on exhaust fans at other times to remove indoor pollutants.
  • Remove dust to improve airflow from heaters, dryer vents and kitchen and bathroom exhaust filters. Vacuum inside the ducts of forced air systems.
  • Clean or replace air filters every three months or more often if it’s smoky outside.
  • Remove cobwebs and dust from carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and security alarms and replace batteries if necessary. “I’ve seen people take down the smoke detector instead of putting a battery in it,” Eisenlohr said. “People put off maintenance and don’t feel it’s important, but it could be a bad choice.”

Outside

  • Inspect weatherstripping around doors and windows for proper sealing and make sure doors to the outside are closed tightly. Caulking helps keep warm air in in the winter and cool air in the summer.
  • Remove mud and dirt from the garment and check for holes and tears. Repair side and wall surfaces as soon as possible.
  • Inspect exterior siding and trim for peeling or peeling paint. “Paint protects the siding and caulk plug holes that could allow water into the wall,” Eisenlohr said.
  • The south and west sides of your home may need more paint care, while the north side may need to be cleared of moss growth.
  • Inspect your roof for problems that lead to leaks and possible dry rot and structural damage from water. Secure any loose shingles or siding. Treat pests that can cause roof damage.
  • Inspect the foundation walls for cracks, leaks or signs of moisture. Cracks in the foundation or masonry are normal, but changes in the size of the cracks may indicate a more extensive problem.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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