Homes are places to live - but also investments

Paying a mortgage for most people is way better than paying rent. But that doesn't mean that all the associated costs that we get from home ownership are equally embraced. There are lots of costs in owning and running a home. Here are my top ten tips for controlling those costs.

#1 - Get MassSave out to your home ASAP. MassSave is structured on an interesting concept. Get the utility companies to pay a fee into a general fund that is then used on home consultants and processes to save that homeowner money. How much does it cost to have MassSave out to your home for an energy audit? NOTHING. And you'll almost certainly get free light bulbs out of it. I got over $70 in light bulbs (that will probably save me $10/month) for free, plus $1500 in discounts for certain upgrades on my equipment. They'll also come out -again, for free - and plug up holes in your house, and weatherstrip doors and windows. There is generally no cost to the homeowner for the basic service, and the savings add up every year.


#2 - Get good at yard work. Having the pros come to your house will help your lawn looks its best - but that cost comes at a price. A few years of doing it yourself can add a lot to the bottom line, even after you've bought all the tools for the job. Of course, lawn and leaf clean up is another story - the cost/value matrix is more favorable here for those who have a lot of leaves and not a lot of time.

#3 - Learn to paint. Buy nice brushes, good quality paint, and you are halfway to being a successful painter.

Learning how to paint yourself saves money AND can

build equity.

Learning how to be a good painter can keep your house looking fresh, and it's a fairly easy skill set to pick up, with inexpensive tools to help do the job. With a cost that can be $300-900/room, a little practice painting can make your house more valuable, and save on expenses. I don't recommend complicated paint jobs for homeowners, like painting cabinets and changing from oil paint to latex paint, but room colors and the exterior painting is pretty easy.


#4 - Check your assessment. Make sure you aren't over assessed. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, those tax dollars are coming from you unnecessarily. Keep an eye on your assessed value, and make sure you know what your biggest asset is truly worth.


#5 - Refinance. If there's a drop in rates and you can take advantage of a re-fi, you should.

Controlling both PMI and Financing

Costs is a huge step to improving


Anything more than 1/3 of a point should be considered, or anything with a 6-9 month payback after charges.


#6 - Drop PMI. With home prices going up, many people will be able to shed their PMI payment. My clues as to how the system works will help you drop it as soon as you can. With PMI payments often hundreds of dollars a month, shedding it as quick as possible can be very helpful.


#7 - LED Bulbs. Prices are dropping every six months now, and these bulbs are game changers when it comes to electricity consumption. Buy 'em during sales when they are less than $10 a bulb, and put them in the highest use areas first. Here's why!

These little bulbs can add up

to big savings.


#8 - Pre-pay 65% of your oil in August, when prices are low. Right now, I see oil prices at almost 20% cheaper than they were in February last year. Pre-paying for oil can save you hundreds of dollars if you time it right. No caps, no contracts - all of which are pretty expensive right now for the protection they offer.


#9 - Stay on top of water damage. Don't ignore wood that needs paint, or places where you know the flashing isn't working. Wood that gets wet rots, and the more it rots, the more it costs to fix it. This is a cost that grows exponentially over time - so don't ignore it.


#10 - Bid, Bid, Bid. Time to get some work down? I know Joe the plumber is a good guy, but just to be sure, call four of his plumber friends and compare estimates.

Get those bids in writing!

Be clear about what you want,

and have them be detailed about what

you get.

It is common for contractor charges to vary as much as 100%, and while I'm not a fan of picking the lowest bid (in the 'too good to be true category'), multiple bids gets you a chance to meet the person who'll stand by the work, and learn about the problems your job may entail. You work hard for you money - and so do they - so keeping the dialogue open in the beginning is huge to control costs AND getting what you want the first time.