Home maintenance ranks low on many homeowners’ priority lists. When the washing machine breaks, you might fix it to keep from having to go to the Laundromat. But, if there’s no pressing need, home maintenance chores are often put off.

In the current soft real estate market, homeowners may be less inclined to pay money to make repairs around the house. However, the key to preserving the value of your home is keeping it in good condition.

Home maintenance is a necessary part of home ownership. The cost varies depending on the age of the home, its overall condition when you buy it and the climate. For example, in coastal California the alternation between fog and blistering sun takes its toll on exterior paint. Houses with a western exposure may need painting more often than those that face east.

Homeowners can have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they can’t recoup the cost of home maintenance when they sell. Home maintenance is a cost of ownership, as are property taxes, homeowners insurance and mortgage expenses.

Even though you can’t tally your home maintenance expenses and expect a buyer to reimburse you, you do benefit when you sell by keeping your home well maintained. Buyers tend to pay more for homes that are in top condition, particularly in a buyer’s market.

Also, if you don’t take care of deferred maintenance, buyers are likely to adjust the price they’ll pay for your home accordingly. The burden of making the repairs will be on them, so they will factor this into the cost of the house.

You can cut down on home maintenance by buying a condominium or townhouse in a planned-unit development where the homeowners association dues cover some of these costs. If you rent, your landlord is usually responsible for making repairs.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: As a homeowner, you can keep your home maintenance costs down by staying on top of correcting minor problems before they become major. For instance, if a threshold is cracked and showing signs of wear, it’s best to have it replaced before it causes water damage to the framing underneath. With the escalating cost of lumber, it would be a lot cheaper to replace the threshold now than to repair major water damage later.

Summer is an ideal time to take a serious look at your home in terms of getting it ready for the winter months. Track down leaks in windows, doors, roofs, foundations, drainage systems and basements. Have these and any related damage repaired.

Water is a homeowner’s biggest headache. Too much in the wrong place can lead to dry rot, fungus and mold problems that can be very expensive to repair. Ideally, your home should be dry inside underneath the house during the rainy season.

Some homeowners can make repairs themselves. Others have little or no experience, and can’t even spot a problem when they see one. If you fall into the latter category, plan to hire a home inspector, contractor or handyman to inspect your home annually for defects that need to be repaired. Many small repairs like installing weather-stripping, sealing French doors or windows, or caulking sinks and tubs can be done by a handyman.

Ask your inspector to prioritize the needed repair items. If you’re short of funds, at least take care of the most important items.

Set a schedule for taking care of home maintenance items like having the furnace and fireplace checked, trimming trees and clearing drains.

THE CLOSING: Keep copies of invoices for work performed on your home. It will serve as a good reference for you and for the next owner of your home.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide," Chronicle Books.


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