Jill Chodorov, an associate broker with Long & Foster, writes an occasional column about local market trends and housing issues.
Over the last decade, I have attended countless home inspections with buyers. Rarely do I experience real estate agent nirvana — a home inspection which reveals little to no issues with the property.
A more likely scenario is one in which we find evidence of a homeowner’s neglect to perform simple and inexpensive maintenance — such as filthy HVAC filters, clogged gutters or a slow leak under a sink.
These minor oversights, left undone, often result in expensive repairs or replacements on HVAC systems, roofs, plumbing, cabinetry, basement foundation walls and mold remediation.
More serious issues commonly found during a home inspection include a gas leak unbeknownst to the seller (how long has it been leaking?), bathroom and kitchen electrical outlets without GFCI receptacles (can cause electrocution), overheated and burned wiring in the electrical panel or furnace (potential house fire), or mold in the basement (a health hazard).
Taking care of your home is not unlike taking care of your car or your teeth. Simply brushing and flossing daily will reduce the chances of an expensive and painful root canal. Rotating the tires on your car every 3,000 to 5,000 miles will extend their life expectancy.
We all know that routine maintenance can save you cash, pain and stress in the long run. So why don’t we do it?
My theory is that we have no warning lights flashing at us everyday to remind us to perform these tasks. When you turn the ignition key in your car, a warning light on the dashboard informs you when the oil is low or when your tires need to be inflated.
Homes do not have dashboards with warning lights (yet), but some new technology is changing that.
One example is the District-based phone app Home Vault, designed to remind us of home maintenance tasks and to file important information about our homes.
“People generally know what to do, but they don’t think of it unless it is obvious, like a leak in the roof,” said Brad Mason, a homeowner in Arlington and a beta-tester for Home Vault.
“I have a 2-year old at home, so air quality and home safety are important to me,” Mason added. “I use the app to get on a routine home maintenance schedule.”
Evan Lacopo, a founding partner of Home Vault and a real estate agent in Bethesda, created the app out of his own need for reminders. “I am terrible at remembering to change my air filters. Home Vault reminds me to do it, and I actually get it done.”
Home Vault is a dashboard for your home, located on your smartphone.
Users of Home Vault can customize the app to their needs by adding monthly and annual home maintenance reminders, such as when to replace smoke detector batteries and furnace filters.
Home Vault offers other useful functions for a homeowner as well.
“It serves as a digital binder for everything related to your home,” Lacopo said. “All from your mobile device, users can upload home photos, tag walls, floors and ceilings and input paint colors, brands and finishes.”
The app can also keep a record of all mechanical equipment, installation dates and manufacturer names. It can also keep track of specialty items used in your home, such as light bulbs, cleaning products, refrigerator filters or hardware and tools.
My favorite feature of the app is the ability to pass along the “binder” to a buyer when you sell the home – a great added value to make your home stand out from the competition.
One caveat of Home Vault is that homeowners cannot download the app on their own. A real estate agent who subscribes to the service must invite you to become a user.
Another app worth checking out is HomeKeepr, which sends home maintenance alerts and provides recommended vendors to make repairs.
My only complaint about these apps is that they require a user’s time and effort to set up and customize. If we don’t take time to change a filter, we may not take time to set up a phone app reminder.
In addition, both of these apps have an ulterior motive. They are CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools for real estate agents.
As a real estate agent, I like the idea of staying connected to my clients by providing them with useful reminders. The upside for consumers is that they will have a better maintained home.
There are other less-invasive options for those of us who need a little nudge to get things done around the house.
Nest and other manufacturers of thermostats feature filter reminders in their products. Some are designed to alert you at set times — once a month, every six months or annually — whether the filter needs changing or not.
Other thermostats use system runtime to remind you when a filter is dirty. The more you run the system, the sooner you will get a reminder.
During a recent visit to my home, a technician from a heating and air conditioning service company told me that some HVAC systems come with a built-in filter reminder. His opinion was that these systems usually warn you to change the filter when it is too late, when it is already much overdue for a change.
Perhaps someday, when you turn the key to enter your home, Siri will remind you to drain and shut off the hose spigots at the beginning of winter. But, for now, there is adequate technology available to remind you to clean the gutters.
Jill Chodorov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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