Maintaining And Protecting Your Home

From insurance to landscaping, caring for your house will increase its value

Johnsons put the most expensive year-round grass in the yard,” McDaniel says, “which now looks great. Installing a new garage door also helped to make their house more attractive.”

Hire quality workers. If you have to hire a contractor for your home improvements, it’s best to get a referral from friends or family. “I work for the building and safety department of the city of Los Angeles,” says Cora, “so I asked my friends there for leads. They knew contractors who have been hired frequently, and they gave me leads to reliable workers. It has worked out very well.”

McDaniel says the buildings department in your local community may supply leads to contractors, but you should also look at the work they’ve done. The general contractor will be your key hire because he or she most likely will hire subcontractors, such as electricians, to help with the work. “You’ll want to make sure the general contractor pulls all the required permits on your job,” says McDaniel, “otherwise, a follow-up appraisal won’t reflect the value you’ve put into the job.”

Take care of your investment. If you make major improvements to your home, you must provide routine care. In terms of maintenance, McDaniel says you need to make sure your plumbing, electrical system, and roof are in excellent condition. “Everything else can wait. Once those basics are in place, you can move onto other projects, such as stripping and refinishing your hardwood floors.”

Of course, taking care of plumbing may be easier said than done. “I’d have leaks every time it rained,” says Johnnie Mae Atkins, a hospital technician in St. Louis. “I kept calling plumbers every two months. It was very expensive and nothing really got accomplished.”

Fortunately, Atkins, 40, qualified for assistance from Beyond Housing/Neighborhood Housing Services, a local affiliate of the National Insurance Task Force (NITF) that offers affordable insurance coverage to low-income and minority homeowners through a loss prevention program. Atkins received counseling and a forgivable loan of $10,000 for much-needed home repairs (If she stays in her home five years after improvements are made, she owes nothing). “Not only did they discover the problem with my plumbing and install a new drain to help, they also installed a new roof and upgraded my electrical system,” she says. “That work definitely increased the value of my home.”

Todd Pittman, national director of NITF, says his group works with the NeighborWorks network of community-based organizations to help homeowners with housing issues. “At the NeighborWorks Website (www .nw.org), you can find a directory of local organizations. The one in your area can provide you with educational materials for keeping your home properly maintained. Key items include the care of your foundation, basement, electrical systems, roof, and the grounds surrounding your home.”

Get the right insurance. There’s always the chance that your home’s value can decrease due to unforeseen events. “You should have replacement cost coverage — enough to completely rebuild your house, if necessary,” says Jeanne Salvatore, vice president of consumer affairs at the Insurance Information

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