Earlier this week, I published an article comparing a half-ass homeowner to a Money Boss homeowner. While the piece made some important points about maintaining your home, those points were clouded by overly emotional (even petty) comments on my part. This article is a revision of the previous piece with the negativity removed.
When Kim and I bought our new house — which was built in 1948 — we knew we’d have a lot of work. The inspection report revealed that most of the major systems were victims of deferred maintenance. For one reason or another, the previous owners hadn’t bothered to upgrade or maintain the roof, the siding, the floors, the decks, or the ductwork under the house. The electrical system was wonky and the windows had issues.
After moving in, we realized that we had even more work ahead of us than expected. In addition to the big stuff, there was lots of little stuff that needed attention. Knobs and screws were loose pretty much everywhere, the walls need painting, shelves need to be reinforced, the furnace is more than thirty years old, and so on.
Now, there are plenty of reasons the previous owners might not have addressed these issues. Maybe they experienced illness or accident. Maybe they were busy with their work and lives. Maybe they couldn’t afford the routine maintenance. (Maybe they were lazy or didn’t think the repairs were necessary — but that’s just one possibility.)
Because Kim and I love this place, we want it to shine. We want it to be a home we can be proud of. Right now, we have the enthusiasm all new homeowners get when they move into a place. Plus, we’re fortunate to have profited $59,000 from selling the condo and buying our “English cottage”. All of that money can be used for repairs and upgrades. (And we don’t mind dipping into savings, if needed.)
Before we become too settled, we’re tackling as many of these projects as possible. We’re putting the Money Boss ideals into practice with our new home.
The Money Boss Homeowner
The primary theme here at Money Boss is that you should manage your personal finances as if you were managing a business. By taking a rational approach to earning and spending, you can boost your profit in order to better pursue your goals. Being a money boss homeowner is a huge part of this process.
Note that I’m not one of those who blindly advocates homeownership. Owning makes sense for some people, but not for others. Generally speaking, I believe the choice is a financial wash and the decision comes down to other factors. (The financial implications differ based on where you live, of course.) Still, much of this advice is applicable whether you’re renting or buying.
According to U.S. government statistics, housing is the largest expense for the typical American family. It represents, on average, one-third of household spending. Nothing else comes close. Naturally, it makes a lot of sense to treat your home with care, to perform maintenance and upgrades that reduce future costs while also sustaining the building’s structural integrity.
A lot of people get distracted or forget about the importance of ongoing home improvement. A money boss makes it a priority.
How to Stay on Top of Home Improvement
In order to balance continual home maintenance with the demands of daily life, you need to have a plan.
From my experience, the best approach is to use your home inspection as basis from which to work. Your inspector probably documented tons of issues (both major and minor) as he examined the property. His report makes an excellent source to start your to-do list. But that’s just the beginning.
Here’s my recommended approach to maintain your home like a money boss:
- Keep a central list of jobs that need to be done. How you keep this list doesn’t matter so much as that you do keep it and reference it often. At our hundred-year-old farmhouse, Kris and I kept a hand-written log of future work. Today, Kim and I have an active Basecamp project devoted to our new place. Whenever something new comes up, it gets added to Basecamp. Because we just moved in, we’re adding to this list every single day.
- When you notice a problem, whether it’s a minor repair or a major project, note it immediately. I’m not saying that you must always take care of things right away — although sooner is better — but you absolutely ought to keep your to-do list current. Forgetful folks like me should be especially diligent about getting stuff out of their heads and onto the project list.
- Dedicate a regular time to maintain your home. Just as I advocate setting aside a specific chunk of time to maintain your finances, I think you should do the same for home improvement. Even one Saturday morning a month is better than nothing. If you’re able to devote more time to upkeep, that’s even better. Plan in advance to tackle specific tasks. Buy any tools or supplies you need before the time you’ve set aside to perform the work.
- Take time to do things right. Don’t rush your projects. Use the interwebs to research how to do quality work. As most of us have learned by now, you can find almost anything on YouTube. If, as sometimes happens to me, you find that you’ve made a mistake, don’t be afraid to go back and redo things the right way. It’s better to spend a few minutes making a correction than it is to continue down the wrong path. That’s the road to half-ass homeownership.
- Choose quality tools and materials. Yes, quality costs more upfront. That’s okay. In the long run, quality will save time and money.
- Keep a curated list of quality contractors. As you work with folks you like, add their names and numbers to a spreadsheet or contact database. Better yet, pool resources with your friends and family so that you have a shared list that everyone can rely upon. My brother, for instance, thought the folks who repaired his siding did terrific work. They’re not cheap, he says, but they’re worth it. I plan to call them when we replace our siding. Meanwhile, my friend Emma (who owns rental properties) recently shared her spreadsheet of trusted vendors. When you don’t want to do work yourself, it’s helpful to have a catalog of reliable workers.
- Create a dedicated home-improvement fund. I’m a fan of targeted savings accounts, and think it’s wise to have one devoted to home maintenance and improvement. The rule of thumb I’ve always heard (and which has worked for me in the past) is that each year you should count on spending about one percent of your home’s value on necessary maintenance. So, because our place cost about $450,000, Kim and I should budget around $4500 per year (or about $400 per month) for ongoing projects — once we’ve taken care of all the deferred maintenance left by the previous owners.
Finally, here’s a general Money Boss principle, not just for homeownership but for all financial matters: A money boss doesn’t do things half-ass. She does them right. She doesn’t mind that it might require more time or more money. She doesn’t mind that it might mess with her current plans. She understands that doing something half-ass today leads to years (or decades) of frustration. Doing it right means she never has to think about it again — because it’s right.
The Bottom Line
It’s important to note that there’s usually not one specific “right” way to get something done. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, so long as you pursue quality instead of taking shortcuts. Shortcuts in home improvement lead to problems down the line — for you and for future owners.
It’s also important to note that while doing things right is sometimes more expensive than taking the easy way out, that doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune to obtain quality. For example, last weekend it took me $48 and 30 minutes to upgraded some closet shelves from sloppy to solid. Yesterday, it took $7.98 and an hour of work to modify a second closet to be better suited to my needs.
It comes down to is this: A money boss is a proactive homeowner. He doesn’t procrastinate until a minor problem becomes a crisis. He doesn’t constantly defer maintenance until his home falls into a state of disrepair. He doesn’t cut corners on upgrades and improvements, but chooses options that will last for years — or decades.
Note: Some of the comments below might not seem to make sense. That’s because they refer to the original version of this article. Rather than remove them (or edit them), I’ve opted to leave them as-is.