Your biggest investment is in this age of economic meltdown likely still is your home. Sure, it may have lost value since 2007. But you can protect it – in ways that go beyond staying current on the mortgage.
A home is more than a financial investment. It is an emotional investment. The feeling of owing your dream house is the experience of a lifetime. You relish having something that’s all yours – a place where your own style statement tells the world who you are.
If you are a cash-strapped consumer, debt relief must be your first step to secure this prize. Pay down your home loan, with the goal of being debt-free.
Beyond that, however, hazards lurk that are not strictly financial. They are physical. Failure to protect against them can turn your dream into a nightmare. Only through careful consideration of threats and a systematic approach can you protect your home.
There are three crucial areas to focus on: access control (security), fire prevention-response and maintenance.
Access Control. Break-ins are down in the U.S. by 3.7% last year, the latest in a multi-year slide, according to Justice Department statistics. Nevertheless, in terms of raw numbers, burglaries and home invasions still happen often. By the tabulations of SecurityBase.com, using federal numbers, 2.2 million break-ins occur annually in the nation or one every 14 seconds.
Keeping out criminals and other unwanted persons is very important. Security measures, from locks to alarms, determine who has access to what and when. They range for sophisticated to traditional, from door handle locks and deadbolts to electric or magnetic locks. You also can protect the home with adequate lighting system, near entry areas, to dissuade burglars from busting in. Then there are alarms, which alert the police or security companies that intruders are on the premises.
Crooks aren’t the only ones to worry about. Babysitters and maintenance people also have combinations for your alarms and locks because they have legitimate business in your house. But they won’t work for you forever. What if they – or someone they know – later look at your home as a target?
Keep changing your lock codes frequently in order to prevent a wanted guest from becoming an unwanted one later.
Fire Prevention and Quick Response. Fire is the single largest cause of property loss in the United States. The National Fire Protection Association says that, in 2010, the nation had 482,000 building fires, causing 2,755 civilian deaths, 15,420 civilian injuries and $9.7 billion in property damage.
Property insurance pays for replacing or repairing fire damage. But the better idea is to stop a fire from spreading and seriously harming your dwelling. Alarm systems linked to fire departments or security services are a big help, especially when you are away. In addition to smoke alarms, consider installing carbon monoxide sensors in the home, and heat sensors in the attic, as well. It gives an alert to dangerous heat levels in the home.
Maintenance. Little things can get out of hand: mildew, termites, drainage. Your house must be maintained from time to time to bolster its value in the market. It’s good to fix problems sooner rather than later.
You can arrange sprinkler systems to ensure proper landscaping and water consumption. Master control computers can remind you of repetitive maintenance, such as when to clean gutters and change HVAC filters.
Your home is your castle. But it needs a good moat.
Kimberly J. Howard, CFP, CRPC, ADPA, is the owner of KJH Financial Services, a fee-only practice located in Needham, Mass. (781-413-4879). Please visit her at www.kjhfinancialservices.com .