New year, new you, new home. The calendar change always invites all sorts of resolutions, some of them attainable, many of them impractical and stress-inducing. Especially if you just closed on a home. But changes needn't be big or difficult to be life-altering. Here are seven simple real estate-related New Year's resolutions you can make for 2016 that will pay big dividends with minimal effort.
Start making extra mortgage payments
It's the financial reality you hate to face: the amount of money you actually end up paying for your house over the length of a 30-year mortgage. So what do the interest savings look like if you make one extra mortgage payment over a 12-month span? In short, pretty good -- if you keep it up for the duration of your loan, you're likely to save tens of thousands of dollars. It's especially worth considering in the first five years of a mortgage, when the majority of your monthly installment goes to interest payments rather than the principal.
The only thing to keep in mind is that once you start making the extra payment, that extra money is locked up in your home equity (and not sitting in your bank account as an emergency fund).
Get new homeowners' insurance quotes
You probably don't think about this too often because your insurance automatically renews every year. But as it happens, you may now be eligible for some discounts that weren't available when you first applied -- and your existing insurance company isn't obligated to check in every year and see if you now qualify. Call your agent and see if you can knock down your yearly installment; if they won't budge, then start shopping around for a better rate.
Have your home reassessed for tax purposes
Did you know that your house gets reassessed by your county only every few years? Which means your assessed property value might be higher than your current market value, which means you might be paying too much in taxes and not even know it. In most states, you can simply go online and request a reassessment for free. A note of caution: Be wary of outside companies offering to get your home reassessed for you for a small fee -- it could be a scam.
Get an energy assessment
Yep, those gas and electric bills can get out of control in the winter months, but they don't always have to be static. Some states have nonprofits that will come to your home and offer an energy assessment free of charge, but otherwise you can hire a professional energy auditor. That person will then make a series of suggestions both small (LED light bulbs) and large (solar panels) so that you can stretch your energy dollar. Even tiny lifestyle changes, such as unplugging unused devices or programming your thermostat on a schedule, can make a difference.
Plant a vegetable garden
You have some time with this, given that it's only January, but then again, there's no time like the present to start strategizing a kitchen garden. Growing your own food saves money and, in its own way, helps the environment too. It also benefits your health, as you're more apt to eat fruits and vegetables that you've cultivated yourself. And of course, as head farmer, you get to decide what pesticides and fertilizers you (don't) use. Start small, only growing veggies and herbs you love to eat, and if you lack backyard space, start garnering inspiration from blogs featuring rooftop, fire escape, and flower box farmers.
If you're anything like us, this has been on your to-do list for years. But somehow it just feels too time-consuming or messy, especially if you live in the city. Keep it simple and buy a composting kit that walks you through the steps. If you don't have an actual use for your own compost, there are small outfits around the country that will pick it up for a minimal fee; some cities even include compost pickup in their trash services.
Buy a rain barrel
So simple, yet so valuable. Just a few benefits of collecting rainwater and repurposing it later: It cuts down on your water bill, it lessens the moisture around your home's foundation, it's healthier for your plants and garden, and it helps reduce runoff pollution (and hopefully inspires your neighbors to do the same).
Rainwater is also great for washing your dog and car, as it's free of salt and other chemicals. (Poor dog! Poor car!) If you're in a drought district, the benefits of a rain barrel are obvious. And remember that composting you just started? Adding rainwater to your brand-new pile is a far more sustainable practice than mixing it with tap water. Just be sure to check local laws: some communities have rules against collecting rainwater.
What resolutions are on your list for 2016? Share in the comments!