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Considering a Major Home Improvement Purchase? Read This First.

Whether you have just signed your mortgage papers or you’ve lived in your home for years, major purchases (and home improvements) are an inevitable part of homeownership. In the best-case scenario, these are fun purchases that not only improve your home’s value but also increase your enjoyment of it.

Regardless of what you are shopping for—whether it’s a refrigerator or a roof—informed decisions begin with an honest assessment of:

  • Your finances. What you can afford to pay outright and/or how much you could pay monthly if you put it on your credit card or took out a loan. Always be cautious when using credit to make major home purchases. Sometimes it has to be done, but if you end up paying more in interest than the item is worth once you’ve paid it off, is it a good deal?
  • Your needs. Your heart might say you need the top-of-the-line “smart” fridge with the touchscreen, but if your wallet disagrees, then you could end up in over your head when it comes time to pay it off.
  • Your home’s location, structure, and condition. You will make different choices in materials and design based on the age of your home and where you live. Landscaping options, for example, vary greatly depending on the average extreme minimum temperature in your region. (Enter your zip code in the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map to find out.)

Your home is a unique entity with its history. There are a lot of guidelines out there for home maintenance, but ultimately, only you can know what is right for your property—and your budget.

That being said, the cost is relative. While a cheaper option might be easier in the short term, lower-quality materials and shoddy workmanship can end up costing you a lot more in future repairs and replacements.

Before you make any major improvements or purchases, research whether you need building permits or approval from homeowners or a condo association. There’s nothing worse than having to halt a project or scrap it altogether because you didn’t get the right permission.

Finally, before you buy any appliances or replace components of your home’s energy, heating/cooling, water, or other systems, check the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star website for deals and rebates. Also, check with your local utility companies for special discounts and offers.

refrigerator and white kitchen cabinets

How long do major home components last?

The exact lifespan of your home’s major components depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • The age and quality of the original materials
  • How well they’ve been maintained
  • The effects of any damages as well as regular wear and tear
  • Your climate and weather conditions

If you have specific questions about your home’s components, it’s best to roll up your sleeves and do some research. Start by gathering the makes and model numbers of appliances—including the furnace, air conditioner, and water heater. Locate owner’s manuals if you have them. If not, do an internet search. Many companies offer manuals for free download.

A note on landscaping

Exterior features and landscaping can be just as pricey as indoor purchases. If you’ve just moved into a new place and you have a clean slate to work with—or if you are planning a total garden makeover—start with resources close to home.

Your local utility companies, colleges, libraries, and gardening stores can be extremely helpful when deciding what to plant, where, and when, so that you not only have a beautiful yard, but can use water as efficiently (and cheaply) as possible. When you’re ready to start your research, check with:

  • Your local water management district

One study, cited by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, found that over five years in Las Vegas, Nevada, replacing grass with low-water landscaping (xeriscaping) led to a 33% decrease in average monthly water use and a 39% cut in average summertime water usage. Not only did people save money by using less water, but the costs of maintenance for xeriscape lawns also went down by a third.

Buying appliances

According to the Life Expectancy of Home Components survey, most major appliances will last a little more than a decade if you’re lucky. Of course, yours could last a lot longer or shorter, depending on your circumstances. Hold on to all warranty information and keep up with regular cleaning and maintenance as outlined in your owner’s manuals.

ApplianceHow Long Will It Last?
Dishwasher8-10 years
Microwave9 years
Stove/Range10-15 years
Refrigerator6-15 years
Washer & Dryer8-12 years

When you’re ready to buy, the first step is to measure, measure again, and measure again. Don’t just get the dimensions of the space where the appliance will go, but also consider how you will get it into place.

  • Measure the height, width, depth, and footprint where the appliance will sit.
  • Measure any doorways, stairs, and passages that the appliance will have to fit through.
  • Note whether your current machine’s doors open left, right, up, or out.
  • Note where the appliance will vent or blow outside.
  • Note where the electrical sockets, water hoses, and other connections are located.

Prepare to shop for home appliances

  • Start online. Read reviews, research popular features, and look for coupons.
  • “Test drive” the makes and models you’re interested in at the store. How loud is it when it’s running? Does it make any clicks or annoying sounds?
  • Ask about rebates, parts, and warranties.
  • Make sure the make/model can be serviced easily.

When you’re ready to buy:

  • Bring in competitor coupons. Most big retailers will match other retailers’ offers.
  • Beware of “limited time” financing options. Six months of no interest might sound like a long time when you’re on the showroom floor, but if you don’t pay off the balance before the six months is up, you could suddenly be paying steep interest, which will make the deal you got much less affordable.
kitchen appliances

Watch big purchases when you’re buying a house

Be careful about making any big purchases when you’re still in the process of buying a house. It’s best to wait until the buying process is complete and the house is officially yours before shelling out the big bucks.

The lender will pull your credit file one last time on the day of the funding of your loan. If you’ve recently opened new credit accounts, such as a “same-as-cash” offer at an appliance store, that could lower your credit. Lenders look at your debt to income ratio (DTI) when considering whether to give you a loan. Believe it or not, a purchase of a few thousand dollars could bump your DTI over the suggested guidelines—especially if you were already close to the limit, to begin with.

Be careful about paying cash as well—if the purchase will deplete your cash assets considerably, you also might want to wait. Until you have a commitment letter or a pre-approval of the loan, hold off on making any big financial moves.

Thanks for reading. If we missed anything or you have something to share, feel free to comment below – we’d love to hear from you!


Guest post brought to you by Edukate.

Edukate is a financial wellness platform that creates a confident, productive, and engaged workforce by empowering employees with personalized financial benefits and guidance. Learn more at edukate.com.

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