Written by Rebecca Graham | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Rebecca Graham writes to empower readers to make sound financial decisions based on thorough research. She loves creating engaging and informative content to benefit dreamers of all sorts, including families, students, career changers, and small business owners.
If your walls could talk, they would definitely have interesting stories to tell. But could they also tell you what projects you’ve been neglecting around the house?
Sure, you can just live with the things you hate about your home until it comes time to sell. Or, you can fix it up this year and actually enjoy the improvements yourself!
We’ve teamed up with Utah realtor Laurie Stauffer (@MsLKS) to identify the top New Years Resolutions your house wants you to make this year as well as a panel of productivity experts to share their best motivational tips for making changes happen.
Goals your house wants you to set
Make an extra mortgage payment
Weight loss is one of the top goals for Americans in 2020 and weight loss can be a great paradigm in which to view your mortgage. “To take some of the weight off of homeownership, make one extra mortgage payment this year — and every year,” Stauffer advises.
Consider this: If you can pay half of your mortgage payment every two weeks, rather than paying monthly, that results in 26 half-payments — which equals 13 full monthly payments each year. That extra payment can knock eight years off a 30-year mortgage, depending on the loan's interest rate, saving you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage.
Stauffer explains that it may not sound like a lot up front, but any direct principal payment is basically putting equity directly into your pocket. It’s a big return on a small investment.
To switch to biweekly mortgage payments, first make sure your loan doesn’t have a penalty for prepaying your mortgage. If it doesn’t, switching your payment schedule may be as simple as asking your lender or loan servicer to alter your current payment plan accordingly.
If there’s not a biweekly payment option, you can make an extra mortgage payment each year by dividing your monthly mortgage payment by 12 and adding that additional amount to each of your monthly payments to amount to an additional full payment by the end of the year. Or, you can make one lump sum mortgage payment, perhaps with a tax return or bonus.
Check easy-to-do tasks off your list
Stauffer recommends prioritizing simple, safety-enhancing maintenance tasks such as replacing smoke detector batteries and purchasing separate C02 detectors.
“So many smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are conveniently combined into one device,” Stauffer explains, “but the problem is, smoke rises, and C02 falls.” For optimal safety, place your C02 detectors no higher than bed level.
Here are a few other simple tasks you can complete in less than an hour:
- Change air filters
- Install weatherstripping on doors and windows
- Apply WD-40 to squeaky hinges
- Update cabinet and drawer hardware
- Paint or update outlet and switch plate covers
- Shampoo carpet in one or more rooms
- Wipe down cabinets and appliances
- Vacuum and wash baseboards
Service your HVAC system
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the most expensive home systems to replace, so it’s imperative to have it checked and serviced regularly. Stauffer advises ensuring it’s working at full efficiency to get the best performance and to get the most out of it for years to come.
In addition to changing filters monthly, make sure your air conditioner compressor is sitting level to avoid wear and tear.
Schedule a time to have a professional clean, service, and test your system annually. This will run you anywhere from $59–$150, depending on your area, a small price to pay versus replacing components or even your whole system. Plus, your annual check-up may even be free with a certain provider, depending on the purchase agreement of the homeowner who bought the system.
Make simple DIY upgrades to rooms
In the kitchen, consider organizing your pantry, which may include installing a new shelving system. This will minimize clutter, making space for the foods you actually want to eat and cook with. You might also update light fixtures and install a backsplash.
In the bathroom, you can frame your bathroom mirror and update the lighting. In a bedroom, consider accenting one wall with fresh paint or wallpaper. Do a closet renovation by installing new lighting, double rods, and new shelving.
Turn your hallway into a mudroom or add storage to your entryway by utilizing hooks, installed shelves, or a furniture organization system.
Give your home exterior and yard some attention
Curb appeal is king when you’re selling a home. But why should you wait until you need to sell to spruce it up? There are several things you can do this year to improve the aesthetics, function, and longevity of your home exterior and yard.
First, check the direction of your downspouts and water drainage. Rain gutters and downspouts do a fine job in their own respect, but often we don't consider the water once it's off the roof. “It is best to divert the water away from the house with gutter extensions, pushing it out to five feet away from the foundation,” Stauffer advises. “There is no greater enemy to a house than water.”
While you’re taking inventory of your gutter situation, take a close look at your roof and make a habit of checking it periodically, especially after a big windstorm. In the spring or during mild weather, go up on your roof and do a walk around inspection.
Look specifically for curling or missing shingles, soft spots, or any flashing that may have pulled away. These are very minor things that should be taken care of immediately, so they do not turn into the monster that roof replacement can be. Stauffer explains that she sees most roof replacements starting around $8,000 but has seen them cost homeowners up to $20,000. Properly maintained, an asphalt shingle roof should last you around 30 years and a metal roof can go much longer than that when installed correctly.
Here are a few other outdoor projects you may want to tackle this year:
- Paint your front door a color that you love
- Power wash your walkway
- Build a raised garden or flower bed
- Add or update outdoor lighting
- Wash window exteriors
- Plant sod
- Service your automatic garage door
- Build a shed or shop (in accordance with property lines and local building codes)
How to get and stay motivated to complete your projects
1. Batch small projects
Focusing on non-urgent tasks such as simple home improvement projects should not be part of your daily planning cycle. Instead, schedule a day to handle these all at once.
As my executive coach Stever Robbins once told me, these projects, while often low priority in the grand scheme of things, create psychological drag. Being reminded of these unfinished projects and tasks, whether that's seeing the burned-out bulb when you head down to the basement or the unmended pair of pants in your laundry room, pull you out of your flow and introduce little bits of stress in your day that build up over time.
Scheduling a day to take care of all these often smaller projects helps remove the psychological drag and makes you more effective overall, even if the individual tasks and projects don't have a huge impact.
― Trevor Lohrbeer, founder of time management app Day Optimizer
2. “Eat the frog”
This is a paraphrase of a quote attributed to Mark Twain, ‘If you eat a live frog every morning, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,’ which was then made famous by Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog. The tip is to do the hardest thing right away. It makes the rest of the day go more smoothly and eliminates all of the wasted anxiety and stress we create when we procrastinate and worry about all that we have to do. . . even when we’re not doing it.
― Sharon Danzger, productivity consultant and founder of Control Chaos
3. Reward yourself
When there is a project you have been avoiding, create an incentive for doing it using an ‘if/then’ statement. For example: If I vacuum the house, then I get to watch a show on Netflix
4. Start small
We often put off things that seem difficult, big, or overwhelming. The hardest part is getting started. So, rather than tackling the entire project, start with something small and manageable. For example, instead of committing to organizing your entire house, decide to start by cleaning out one drawer.
5. Set a timer
When I have items to finish around the house that I don't really want to do, or the project is dragging on longer than I thought, I create one-hour periods where I work fast and furious on it, then I come back a different day and do another hour. Quickly, that project gets done by breaking it into smaller pieces.
― Camille Finan, licensed contractor and host of Remodel Your Life podcast
6. Display a picture
If I'm remodeling something in my own house but not sure how to start or get find motivation, I will rip out a magazine page and tape it to the wall or area that needs to be fixed. Seeing the finished version often will propel me to find the motivation and do the work
7. Banish perfectionism
If you’ve been putting off renovating your kitchen or writing that book because you’re worried that you’re unprepared to do it exactly right, try to let go of that fear. Wanting to do a task perfectly can hold you back from accomplishing the task at all.
―Mitch Chailland, president of Canal HR
8. Visualize the future
Visualize how you will feel when the task is complete. Some tasks are simply not enjoyable. But imagine how you’ll feel once you’ve finished the task. Visualize the specific positive benefits that this finished task will provide in the long-term. This tactic can increase your positive feelings towards even the dullest or longest of tasks.
9. Write it down
In our experience and research, most people procrastinate doing their home projects because they keep that list in their head. You walk by that bathroom that needs a remodel or the appliances that need fixing and you say to yourself “I really need to tackle that project.” But two minutes later your brain is off to more immediate issues around work, family, travel, etc. and those projects get quickly forgotten.
The practice of writing those projects down in either a list or a digital organizing app helps many people stay motivated to do those projects, especially if once you document the project, you get reminders to yourself that you really need to tackle it. We have observed this behavior with our users who use HomeZada’s projects and tasks features to document everything they want to do in their home.
―John Bodrozic, cofounder of digital home management system HomeZada
10. Hire out
If you find that you can’t harness the motivation to do a project yourself, it may be time to make a call and hire out the task to someone else.
Licensed general contractor Shannon Battle of All American Construction & Restoration suggests DIYers first outline the project phases and create a schedule for completion — then don’t take on another project until finishing the one they’ve already started.
But her top tip for homeowners lacking motivation? “Stop watching YouTube and seek professional help, paying skilled people to do it the right way.”
However you approach house projects, don’t neglect your home as you set your resolutions for the coming year. Your home will thank you and you will thank yourself for the renewed pride of ownership.