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Financial, fix-up tips for 2005

Tom Kelly Correspondent

Remember Sheridan Whiteside? He’s “The Man Who Came to Dinner” who slipped on the Stanley’s doorstep and eventually stayed about six weeks.

Hopefully, your holiday guests did not wear out the welcome mat and have returned to their principal residences – allowing you to begin the process of getting your home in shape for 2005.

One of the best places to start on your financial housekeeping is http://www.mtgprofessor.com, Jack Guttentag’s Web site. Guttentag, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School, is known as The Mortgage Professor. His calculators can help to ascertain how long it will take to recover refinance fees and the effect of a lump-sum payment to your principal balance.

From a financial point of view, paying off your home sooner with a higher monthly payment tends to limit other opportunities, especially if the market changes. But if paying off your home loan would make you saner than if you had not done it, then by all means do it. It would not be worth getting a few more percentage points on your money if it were invested elsewhere.

If you are thinking about another refinancing, weigh all costs and rates carefully before deciding. Make sure you understand “no fee” programs and calculate how long it would take you to repay the refinance costs.

A few bright ideas

The first “in-house” place to start – especially for seniors – is household lights, including those near the entry where Mr. Whiteside’s accident sparked a tumultuous time. Winter’s short, dark days could use an increase in wattage in strategic places.

It’s difficult to perform any spur-of-the-moment inspections without a dependable household flashlight. Are there batteries in yours – or did you borrow them for little Johnny’s Remote Rocket Ship? Remember that batteries drain quickly, even when rarely used.

Muscle now saves money later

Insurance companies report that most homeowner claims are not caused by fires or storms, but by neglected maintenance that grows into a larger problem.

Here are a few of the easiest things to help you get your home in shape – that do not take a lot of muscle and elbow grease.

Burst washing machine hose: The rubber hoses that come with most washing machines eventually leak, and since the laundry room is usually in a low-traffic area of the house, the water damage can go undetected and be extensive. Recommendation: Replace rubber hoses every three years or replace with metal mesh hoses from any hardware or home store.

Electrical cord fires: Cords under throw rugs, overloaded outlets and baseboard heaters are the most likely sources of electrical fires. Recommendation: Reroute cords around throw rugs and use certified power strips. Don’t place furniture against baseboard heaters.

Slow leaks around tub/shower grout and edges: Over time, cracks can develop or grout and caulking can decay, allowing water into the wall or floors. This damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance. Recommendation: Check and maintain seals. Make certain you keep shower doors or curtains securely shut to prevent water from spilling.

Garage door opener theft: Garage door openers stolen from cars parked outside the house can give thieves easy access to a house later. Recommendation: Remove the remote garage door openers if the car is not parked in the garage.

The Home Safety Council ( http://www.homesafetycouncil.org), a North Wilkesboro, N.C.-based organization focusing on home safety and education, recommends injury-proofing the home to reduce slips, falls and other common injuries that occur to seniors.

“Slips and falls remain the number one cause of unintentional injury and deaths in the home for Americans age 65 and older,” said David Oliver, president and executive director of the Home Safety Council. Ouch! How old was Sheridan Whiteside anyway?

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