Staying Put in Retirement? Follow These Home Maintenance Tips
By Sonya Stinson
Twenty years ago, Rita Dauzat moved back into her parents’ home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so she could care for her aging mother. Dauzat is now 77 and has lived alone in the house since her mother died seven years ago. The upkeep has become more and more challenging, as both she and the house have aged.
Dauzat’s burden lightened somewhat in 2010 when the North Campus Community Project, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, set up in her neighborhood. The organization arranges volunteer help for seniors for things like rides to the grocery store and minor household repairs.
Volunteers have helped to replace Dauzat’s worn-out exterior doorframes, and twice a year someone comes to change the batteries in her smoke alarms. Before she replaced most of her lawn with gravel, the yard work was taken care of too. The next item on her agenda is to get her shower door fixed.
“Something is always broken,” said Dauzat, who was a medical secretary before her retirement.
One of the biggest barriers for retirees who want to stay in their own homes is maintaining their property, especially when they don’t have family nearby to help out with the upkeep. But seniors can stay in their homes longer and save money by taking advantage of volunteer help when it’s available, doing preventive maintenance and hiring reliable home improvement contractors who may even offer senior discounts.
Finding the Right Help
Dauzat, whose son lives out of state, is lucky to live in a neighborhood that’s part of a growing movement to form aging-in-place villages—networks of volunteer and paid service providers offering a variety of help to residents. There are 170 such communities nationwide, and another 160 are in development, said Natalie Galucia, director of the Village to Village Network, a national organization that helps new aging-in-place villages get organized.
In communities that belong to the Village to Village Network, board members do background checks on area contractors before adding them to their directories of area service providers, Galucia said. In many cases they also negotiate discounts for residents, who may pay an annual fee for membership in the village. You can look on the organization’s website to check if there’s an aging-in-place village near you.
If you don’t have a local volunteer organization to provide assistance, there are many other resources to help seniors with home maintenance. Consider home contractor referral businesses like Aging in Place Referrals; HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List; or HandyPro, a home improvement franchise that specializes in senior home modifications.
When you’re looking for a contractor to help you around the house, it’s important to conduct a thorough background check to be sure you’re working with a trusted partner. Here are three guidelines to follow when seeking out help:
1. Be wary when the help comes to you first. “I would never hire a contractor who comes knocking on your door and says he’s been doing work in your neighborhood,” said Debra Cohen, owner of Aging in Place Referrals and creator of the Homeowner Referral Network® business model. “That’s the number-one home improvement scam, particularly for seniors.”
2. Get several references. Cohen recommends getting at least three customer references, and she advises asking the contractor for a trade reference. “Ask them where they buy their lumber or where they buy their paint,” she said. Finding out from their vendors whether contractors pay their bills on time will tell you lot about whether their businesses are financially solvent.
3. Look for experience. Seek out contractors who not only have many years of experience in their trade but also have been running their own business for a while. “That proves that their business is sound and that they’re not going anywhere,” Cohen said.
Once you’ve found a reliable contractor or other source of assistance, you should address some home maintenance basics to keep your overall living costs down.Steps like adding insulation and having your HVAC and plumbing systems checked regularly help keep utility bills in check, Cohen noted.
Here are three more home maintenance tips that can save a lot of money in the long run:
1. Get your heating and cooling system tuned up twice a year, and change the air filter at least every three months. Regular maintenance will extend the life of the equipment, a big plus when you consider that replacing a furnace, for example, costs an average of nearly $3,900, according to HomeAdvisor.
2. Insulate your attic and seal air leaks around windows, doors, plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets. These steps can save you up to 10 percent a year on your energy bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
3. Keep your gutters clean. Gutters clogged with debris can cause gushes of rainwater that can damage your home from the roof to the ground. If the water soaks your foundation, fixing it can cost thousands of dollars, according to HouseLogic.
By keeping these tips in mind and tapping into every resource available to help with your home maintenance, you’ll be able to enjoy your retirement years in your own home for a lot longer.
Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.