Protecting Your Home's Value

By Michelle Martin, InsWeb

Maintaining your home and yard can be costly and time-consuming. But it rewards on many fronts. There is the obvious benefit of increasing your property value - a serious matter since a home is the biggest investment most of us will ever make.

There's also the less tangible matter of preventative medicine: The trees you prune now will not yield large branches that crash through your window in a storm next winter, for example. And reinforcing a deck or railing now could save you from tremendous heartache - and potentially devastating liability - if it fell apart and someone was injured later.

The summer months are the time of year when people spend the most time enjoying patios, decks, yards and pools, and the time when friends, relatives and children are most likely to be around. As welcome as that is, the more people you have traipsing through your home, the more likely the chances are of damage or injury.

As a homeowner, your assets need protection - for you, your family, your future and your security. And to guard against the uncertainty that is a fact of life, you need coverage to take care of dependents and loved ones. Homeowners can guard against financial disaster by carrying homeowners, mortgage, and term life insurance policies - all of which ensure your home is paid off in the event that something happens to you or your ability to pay your mortgage.

In addition to adequate coverage, homeowners can take steps to protect themselves by doing a walk-through of their entire home and property with a notepad, pen, and one question on their minds: What could possibly happen here?

A few areas to consider:

If you have a pool:

Thoroughly inspect it before high use season. Make sure steps, edges, ladders, railings, drains, diving boards and any toys and equipment are safe and haven't rusted or deteriorated since last season. If your pool is surrounded by slippery concrete, consider looking into textured surfaces made to cut down on slippage that can be added to the perimeter.

Examine patio furniture too. Check for rust, decay, sharp edges that can cut or frayed material that could give way.

If living areas are above the ground floor:

In warm weather, windows are open, which puts children and pets at risk. Very small children can even injure themselves by falling out of ground floor windows. Nail or bolt screens shut high up. If you have no screens, collapsible versions are available at hardware stores, but they're not the safest or most sturdy.

If windows are very old, check hardware to make sure wood hasn't decayed to the point that locks can be pulled right out. Remember that pets can slip through very small window openings. Collapsible screens can help guard against that, but close the window tightly over them to clamp them in.

If you have an area that the public uses frequently (for example: a corner lot people often cut through on foot, unused space people park on:

Signs can help with liability concerns (such as "Private property, no trespassing") but you should talk to a lawyer if you have serious and specific issues.

Patrol any common area frequently to check for things that could injure, like garbage, metal or broken glass. Don't let strangers leave their car on your property. You could face liability if one was damaged or burglarized.

If something seems like a potential problem, it probably will be. Fork out the money to have fences, gates or other property protectors put up before something happens. It will almost certainly be less expensive than reparations or insurance costs if something happened.

If you live in a fire hazard area:

Plants growing on walls, fences, etc. should not put excessive weight on whatever they're crawling on. Tall vines can pull lattice and nails right off an exterior wall. They may need reinforcement. Also check to make sure vines aren't choking any wires, or growing under your roof. If left unattended, tree branches could actually separate sections of your roof from your house! Anything growing near a chimney should be maintained for the same reason.

If you have pets:

Make sure they've had their shots. If they are confined in your yard, regularly check the condition of gates and fences for weak spots. If your dog bites someone, it could have serious implications on your homeowners insurance. Some insurance companies will not insure people whose dogs have bite histories. If your dog exhibits any aggressive behavior, consider training or obedience school. As a last resort, consider putting your pet up for adoption or asking animal control authorities for help. And if you know of any animals you believe to be dangerous, report them to animal control.

If you have fire extinguishers (and you should!)

You should have at the very least one in your kitchen. If your home is large, more are just added protection. Keep them near areas where a fire could occur - rooms with fireplaces, by any outdoor cooking areas and near where any space heaters or furnaces are located. Have them serviced regularly to ensure they will work if needed. And while you're at it, be sure to keep smoke detectors in working order, with charged batteries. An easy reminder for checking batteries is to do it when you change your clocks, or on a birthday or anniversary of moving into your current residence.