5 Surprising (and Useful!) Ways to Save for a Down Payment

One of the biggest misconceptions of home buying? The 20% down payment. Here’s how to buy with a lot less down.

Buying your first home conjures up all kinds of warm and fuzzy emotions: pride, joy, contentment. But before you get to the good stuff, you’ve got to cobble together a down payment, a daunting sum if you follow the textbook advice to squirrel away 20% of a home’s cost.

Here are five creative ways to build your down-payment nest egg faster than you may have ever imagined.

1. Crowdsource Your Dream Home

You may have heard of people using sites like Kickstarter to fund creative projects like short films and concert tours. Well, who says you can’t crowdsource your first home? Forget the traditional registry, the fine china, and the 16-speed blender. Use sites like Feather the Nest and Hatch My House to raise your down payment. Hatch My House says it’s helped Americans raise more than $2 million for down payments.

2. Ask the Seller to Help (Really!)

When sellers want to a get a deal done quickly, they might be willing to assist buyers with the closing costs. Fewer closing costs = more money you can apply toward your deposit.

“They’re called seller concessions,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional mortgage sales manager for the New York metro area at TD Bank. Talk with your real estate agent. She might help you negotiate for something like 2% of the overall sales price in concessions to help with the closing costs.

There are limits on concessions depending on the type of mortgage you get. For FHA mortgages, the cap is 6% of the sale price. For Fannie Mae-guaranteed loans, the caps vary between 3% and 9%, depending on the ratio between how much you put down and the amount you finance. Individual banks have varying caps on concessions.

No matter where they net out, concessions must be part of the purchase contract.

3. Look into Government Options

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, offers a number of homeownership programs, including assistance with down payment and closing costs. These are typically available for people who meet particular income or location requirements. HUD has a list of links by state that direct you to the appropriate page for information about your state.

HUD offers help based on profession as well. If you’re a law enforcement officer, firefighter, teacher, or EMT, you may be eligible under its Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program for a 50% discount on a house’s HUD-appraised value in “revitalization areas.” Those areas are designated by Congress for  homeownership opportunities. And if you qualify for an FHA-insured mortgage under this program, the down payment is only $100; you can even finance the closing costs.

For veterans, the VA will guarantee part of a home loan through commercial lenders. Often, there’s no down payment or private mortgage insurance required, and the program helps borrowers secure a competitive interest rate.

Some cities also offer homeownership help. “The city of Hartford has the HouseHartford Program that gives down payment assistance and closing cost assistance,” says Matthew Carbray, a certified financial planner with Ridgeline Financial Partners and Carbray Staunton Financial Planners in Avon, Conn. The program partners with lenders, real estate attorneys, and homebuyer counseling agencies and has helped 1,200 low-income families.

4. Check with Your Employer

Employer Assisted Housing (EAH) programs help connect low- to moderate-income workers with down payment assistance through their employer. In Pennsylvania, if you work for a participating EAH employer, you can apply for a loan of up to $8,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The loan is interest-free and borrowers have 10 years to pay it back.

Washington University in St. Louis offers forgivable loans to qualified employees who want to purchase housing in specific city neighborhoods. University employees receive the lesser of 5% of the purchase price or $6,000 toward down payment or closing costs.

Ask the human resources or benefits personnel at your employer if the company is part of an EAH program.

5. Take Advantage of Special Lender Programs

Finally, many lenders offer programs to help people buy a home with a small down payment. “I would say that the biggest misconception [of homebuying] is that you need 20% for the down payment of a house,” says Rodriguez. “There are a lot of programs out there that need a total of 3% or 3.5% down.”

FHA mortgages, for example, can require as little as 3.5%. But bear in mind that there are both upfront and monthly mortgage insurance payments. “The mortgage insurance could add another $300 to your monthly mortgage payment,” Rodriguez says.

Some lender programs go even further. TD Bank, for example, offers a 3% down payment with no mortgage insurance program, and other banks may have similar offerings. “Check with your regional bank,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe they have their own first-time buyer program.”

Not so daunting after all, is it? There’s actually a lot of help available to many first-time buyers who want to achieve their homeownership dreams. All you need to do is a little research — and start peeking at those home listings!

Mortgage Rates by Decade Compared to Today

mortgage

Some Highlights:

  • The interest rate you secure for your mortgage greatly influences your monthly housing costs.
  • In the 1980s, 30-year fixed mortgage rates averaged in the high 12s making the monthly principal and interest payment over $2,000.
  • Interest rates are still at historic lows; this is a great time lock in your housing cost and protect yourself from increasing rents, or refinance your current mortgage.

 

You Can Save for a Down Payment Faster Than You Think

In a study conducted by Builder.com, researchers determined that nationwide, it would take “nearly eight years” for a first-time buyer to save enough for a down payment on their dream home.

Depending on where you live, median rents, incomes and home prices all vary. By determining the percentage of income a renter spends on housing in each state, and the amount needed for a 10% down payment, they were able to establish how long (in years) it would take for an average resident to save.

According to the study, residents in South Dakota are able to save for a down payment the quickest in just under 3.5 years. Below is a map created using the data for each state:

You Can Save for a Down Payment Faster Than You Think | Simplifying The Market

What if you only needed to save 3%?

What if you were able to take advantage of one of the Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae 3% down programs? Suddenly saving for a down payment no longer takes 5 or 10 years, but becomes attainable in under two years in many states as shown in the map below.

You Can Save for a Down Payment Faster Than You Think | Simplifying The Market

Bottom Line

Whether you have just started to save for a down payment, or have been for years, you may be closer to your dream home than you think! Let’s meet up so I can help you evaluate your ability to buy today.

Serious About Home Buying? Get Pre-Approved

20160609-PreApproved-STMIn many markets across the country, the amount of buyers searching for their dream home greatly outnumbers the amount of homes for sale. This has led to a competitive marketplace where buyers often need to stand out. One way to show you are serious about buying your dream home is to get pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before starting your search.

But even if you are in a market that is not as competitive, knowing your budget will give you the confidence to know if your dream home is within your reach.

Freddie Mac lays out the advantages of pre-approval in the My Home section of their website:

“It’s highly recommended that you work with your lender to get pre-approved before you begin house hunting. Pre-approval will tell you how much home you can afford and can help you move faster, and with greater confidence, in competitive markets.”

One of the many advantages of working with a local real estate professional is that many have relationships with lenders who will be able to help you with this process. Once you have selected a lender, you will need to fill out their loan application and provide them with important information regarding “your credit, debt, work history, down payment and residential history.”

Freddie Mac describes the 4 Cs that help determine the amount you will be qualified to borrow:

  1. Capacity:Your current and future ability to make your payments
  2. Capital or cash reserves:The money, savings and investments you have that can be sold quickly for cash
  3. Collateral:The home, or type of home, that you would like to purchase
  4. Credit:Your history of paying bills and other debts on time

Getting pre-approved is one of many steps that will show home sellers that you are serious about buying and it often helps speed up the process once your offer has been accepted.

Bottom Line

Many potential home buyers overestimate the down payment and credit scores needed to qualify for a mortgage today. If you are ready and willing to buy, you may be pleasantly surprised at your ability to do so as well.

Where Are Interest Rates Headed This Year?

Gold-House-Percentage-1With interest rates still below 4%, many buyers may be on the fence as to whether to act now and purchase a new home, or wait until next year.

If you look at what the four major reporting agencies are predicting for 2016, it may make the decision for you. The chart below averages the predictions by quarter.

Where Are Interest Rates Headed This Year? | Simplifying The Market

With the exception of Fannie Mae, the experts agree that interest rates will increase by three-quarters of a percentage point, costing you more to pay back your loan.

Bottom Line

Even a small increase in interest rates can put a dent in your family’s wealth.

Find the Home Loan that Fits Your Needs

home-buying-the-low-down-on-no-down-payment-mortgagesUnderstand which mortgage loan is best for you so your budget isn’t stretched too thin.

It’s easier to settle happily into your new home if you’re confident you can afford it. Here’s what you need to know about your mortgage financing options, including how to choose the loan that matches your income and tolerance for risk.

 

 

Mortgage Financing Basics

The most important features of your mortgage loan are:

1.  Term (how long the loan lasts)

Mortgages typically come in 15-, 20-, 30- or 40-year lengths. The longer the term, the lower your monthly payment. The interest rate on a 15-year mortgage might be 1% lower than the rate on a 30-year mortgage.

The trade-off for a lower payment on the 30-year mortgage is that you make more payments. Since you borrow the money for longer, you pay more interest to the lender.

2.  Interest Rate (how much you pay to borrow money)

Mortgage interest rates generally come in two flavors: fixed and adjustable.

A fixed rate gives you the same interest rate and payment until the end of your mortgage. That’s attractive when you’re risk-averse, if your future income won’t rise, or when interest rates are low.

The interest rate you pay on an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) changes at some point in the future based on where interest rates are at that time. ARMs are named for how long the rates last. For example, with a 5/1 ARM, your rate changes after the first five years and again every year after that.

ARM Risks and Rewards

An adjustable-rate mortgage rate goes up or down based on a particular financial market index, such as treasury bills. Typically, ARMs include a limit on how much the interest rate can change, such as 3% each time the rate changes, or 5% over the life of the loan.

Rewards for the uncertainty:

  • ARMs can be a good choice if you expect your income to grow significantly in the coming years.
  • The interest rate may drop if the financial market index that it tracks dips.
  • An ARM usually starts at a lower rate than a fixed-rate mortgage of the same length and that can mean big savings.

Risks: If rates go up, your ARM payment will jump dramatically. So before you choose an ARM, be comfortable with your answers to these questions:

  • How much can my monthly payments go up at each adjustment?
  • How soon and how often can my monthly payment go up?
  • Can I afford the maximum monthly payment?
  • Do I expect my income to increase or decrease by the time the mortgage payment adjusts?
  • Do I plan to own the home for longer than the initial low-interest-rate period, or do I plan to sell before the rate adjusts?
  • Will I have to pay a penalty if I refinance into a lower-rate mortgage or sell my house?
  • What’s my goal in buying this property? Am I considering a riskier mortgage to buy a more expensive house than I can realistically afford?

More Mortgage Options: Government-Backed Loans

If you’ve saved less than the ideal downpayment of 20%, or your credit score isn’t high enough for you to qualify for a fixed-rate or ARM with a conventional lender, consider a government-backed loan from FHA or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

FHA offers adjustable- and fixed-rate loans at reduced interest rates and with as little as 3.5% down; VA offers no-money-down loans. FHA and VA also let you use cash gifts from family members.

Before you decide on any mortgage, remember that slight variations in interest rates, loan amounts, and terms can significantly affect your monthly payment. To determine how much your monthly payment will be with various terms and loan amounts, try realtor.com’s mortgage calculator.

A Financial Plan for Your Home

To manage your biggest asset, create a financial plan that covers repairs, upgrades, mortgages, insurance, and taxes.

Do you pay each home-related expense as it comes? If so, you’re missing opportunities for upgrades, or much worse, heading into a financial crisis when a slew of surprise maintenance items hit. So take a holistic look at what it costs to operate your house and set up a home financial plan.

Use our home financial plan budget worksheet, and start by writing a list of expenses, such as:

  • Mortgage
  • Taxes
  • Home insurance, including liability
  • Repairs and maintenance, such as new furnace, roof, painting
  • Voluntary upgrades, such as a swimming pool, a premium range, a new powder room

What will you learn from this home financial plan weekend exercise?

  • How much you have to spend
  • How much you need to allot in the short- and long-term for necessary maintenance and voluntary improvements

With this newfound grip on your home’s expenses, you can create a home financial plan that’ll help you there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety.

Here’s how to manage other aspects of your home finances:

The mortgage: Pay it—and then some

Yup, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up to an earlier payoff. Let’s say you have $200,000 in outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you’ll save $14,887 in interest.

Run the numbers yourself for your home financial plan.

Advantages of an early payoff, says Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y.:

  • Less debt means more money to spend later.
  • It feels darn good to own your house outright as soon as possible.
  • Minimal tax loss. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment goes to the principal, not the interest, so you’re getting only a small tax break anyway.

Of course, if you’re still saving for retirement, put the 100 bucks elsewhere:

  • A retirement plan
  • An account for the inevitable home repairs
  • An account for discretionary improvements, which can raise your home’s value

Insurance: Protect your property

Your vegetable garden is pointless without a fence to keep out rabbits; likewise, your home financial plan will come to nothing without an insurance “fence”:

Homeowner’s insurance. Basic coverage for your home and everything in it. The average cost is $636 per year but this varies widely by state.

Liability coverage. Protects you from a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your property, for example. Your best bet: An umbrella policy.  For about $300 a year you can by a typical $1 million policy.

Various disaster insurance policies. Optional policies cover flood, earthquake, and hurricane damage. As part of your home financial plan, you have to research to see what disaster coverage, if any, you need in your area, and what your standard policy already covers. For $540 a year you can buy flood insurance, for example.

Don’t under- or overbuy insurance

For your basic policy, get homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage in case your house burns to the ground.

That sounds simple, but heads up on calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this. This difference will vary widely by region.

Another heads up: Don’t make the common and potentially disastrous mistake of thinking that because your home has fallen in value you need less insurance. If you bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom, it’s true it now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn’t changed much, so you can’t improve your home financial plan by cutting insurance costs that way.

Other ways to cut your insurance budget:

  • If you make structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, your insurer may give you a break.
  • If you belong to certain groups, such as AARP or veterans’ organizations, your premiums may be lower.

Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity

You own a home, so you’ll be spending money on everything from a new faucet to — surprise! — a new roof. Freddie Mac and other authorities say as part of your home financial plan, you should be prepared to spend 1% to 3% of the market value of the home annually on maintenance. To be extra-prudent, open a savings account and make regular payments until your account reaches 1% to 3% of your home’s current value.

To help you budget:

Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? A new furnace in 10?

Keep a log of your major appliances’ age so you can estimate when they’ll need replacing. Some estimated life spans:

  • Roof: 20-25 years
  • Heating systems: 15-20 years
  • Range/ovens: 11-15 years
  • Water heaters: 8-13 years

Then get estimates on what replacements will cost and start saving.

Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance, too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services.

Resist the siren call of the home equity loan to take care of everything. That just defeats your efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

Separate out what you want from what you need. Does it make more sense to do a $50,000 to $60,000 kitchen remodel, which recoups about 69%, or a minor remodel, which recoups about 75%, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report?

If you can afford to redo, go for it. Just don’t confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace — about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range — $6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

Even if your lender handles your property taxes from an escrow account, you need to budget for them in your home financial plan. They creep up almost every year, it seems. Take responsibility for tracking the changes in your area: Look over past tax bills to get a sense of how quickly they’ve risen in the past.

Or if your lender handles escrow and you haven’t saved your bills, ask for an accounting. The median annual property tax payment is $1,812, but that hides the enormous range in medians from state to state.

You can generally deduct property taxes on your federal return. A tax pro can tell you how much of a tax break you’ll get, to help you fine tune your home financial plan.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first: Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. You can challenge the assessed value and get yourself a rollback.

If you’re in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what’s available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.

Make Your House FHA-Loan Friendly

downloadKnow the basics of FHA loan rules and you stand a better chance of selling your house or condo.

Make your house FHA-friendly, and it will appeal to more homebuyers. Why? Because the Federal Housing Administration is insuring the mortgage loans used by about 30% of today’s homebuyers.

If your house passes the FHA rules, it will appeal to buyers who plan to use an FHA-insured mortgage. If your house doesn’t qualify for an FHA loan, you’re cutting out 30% of potential buyers.

FHA is especially important to first-time homebuyers and those with small downpayments because it allows borrowers with good credit to make a downpayment as low as 3.5% of the purchase price.

Here’s how to make your home appealing to FHA borrowers:

Know the FHA loan limits in your area

Start by checking to see if your home’s listed price falls within FHA lending limits for your area. FHA mortgage limits vary a lot. In San Francisco, FHA will insure a mortgage of up to $729,750 on a single-family home. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the loan limit is $271,050.

Home inspections

Most buyers will ask for a home inspection, whether or not they’re using an FHA loan to buy the home. You must give FHA buyers a form explaining what home inspections can reveal, and how inspections differ from appraisals.

How much do you have to repair?

If the home inspection reveals problems, FHA will not give the okay to buy the home until you repair serious defects like roof leaks, mold, structural damage, and pre-1978 interior or exterior paint that could contain lead.

Dealing with FHA appraisers

Help the lender’s appraiser by providing easy access to attics and crawl spaces, which usually must be photographed, says appraiser Frank Gregoire in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Your buyer can hire his own appraiser to evaluate your home. But FHA only relies on reports by its approved appraisers. If the two appraisals conflict, the FHA appraisal preempts the buyer’s appraisal.

Help with FHA closing costs

Most FHA buyers need help with closing costs, says mortgage banker Susan Herman of First Equity Mortgage Bankers in Miami. So a prime way to make your house FHA-friendly is to help with those costs.

FHA currently allows sellers to pay up to 6% of the sales price to help cover closing costs, but is considering lowering that limit to 3% in the fall of 2010.

If you’re selling a condo

FHA also has to approve your condo before a buyer uses an FHA loan to purchase your unit. Be sure your condo is FHA-approved for mortgages. The list has been updated, so if your association was approved a year ago, check again to make sure it’s still on the approved list.

FHA generally won’t insure loans in condo associations if more than 15% percent of the unit owners are late on association fees. Ask your property manager or board of directors for your association’s delinquency rate.

Other rules cover insurances, cash reserves and how many units are owner-occupied and the types of condos that can be purchased with an FHA mortgage.

FHA sometimes issues waivers for healthy condominiums that don’t meet the regular rules. If your condo isn’t FHA-approved, it doesn’t necessarily have to meet every single rule to gain approval. Ask your real estate agent to consult with local lenders about getting an FHA waiver for your condo if it doesn’t meet all the requirements.

FHA also limits its mortgage exposure in homeowners associations. With some limited exceptions, no more than 50% of the units in an association can be FHA-insured.

FHA loans for planned-unit developments

FHA no longer requires lenders to review budgets and legal documents for planned-unit developments.

How to Claim Your Energy Tax Credits

home-finance-500x330In addition to the smaller utility bills energy-efficient home system upgrades offer, there’s a not-too-shabby federal tax credit, too.

If you upgraded one or more of the following systems last year, you may be eligible to take a tax credit — up to $500 — on your return.

 

  • Biomass stoves
  • Heating, ventilation, air conditioning
  • Insulation
  • Roofs (metal and asphalt)
  • Water heaters (non-solar)
  • Windows, doors, and skylights
  • Advanced main air-circulating fans (the blower motor that blows heated air through your ducts)

The energy tax credits are small, but at least a credit is better than a deduction:

  • Deductions just reduce your taxable income.
  • With a credit, you get a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your tax liability: If you get the $500 credit, you pay $500 less in taxes.

Limits on IRS energy tax credits besides $500 max

  • Credit extends to 10% of the cost, so you have to spend $5,000 to get $500.
  • $500 is a lifetime limit. If you pocketed $500 or more in past years combined, you’re not entitled to any more money for energy-efficient improvements in the above categories. But if you took $300 in years past, for example, you can get up to $200 now.
  • With some systems, like windows, your cap is even lower than $500.
  • $500 is the max for all qualified improvements combined.

Certain systems capped below $500

No matter how much you spend on some approved items, you’ll never get the $500 credit — though you could combine some of these:

System Cap
New windows $200 max (and no, not per window—overall)
Advanced main air-circulating fan $50 max
Qualified natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler $150 max
Approved electric and geothermal heat pumps; central air-conditioning systems; and natural gas, propane, or oil water heaters $300 max

And not all products are created equal in the feds’ eyes. Improvements have to meet IRS energy-efficiency standards to qualify for the tax credit. In the case of boilers and furnaces, they have to meet the 95 AFUE standard. Windows, skylights, and doors meet Energy Star 6.0 standards.

Tax credits cover installation — sometimes

Rule of thumb: If installation is either particularly difficult or critical to safe functioning, the credit will cover labor. Otherwise, not. (Yes, you’d have to be pretty handy to install your own windows and roof, but the feds put these squarely in the “not covered” category.)

Installation covered for:

  • Biomass stoves
  • HVAC
  • Non-solar water heaters
  • Advanced main air-circulating fans

Installation not covered for:

  • Insulation
  • Roofs
  • Windows, doors, and skylights

How to claim the energy tax credit

  • Determine if the system you installed is eligible for the credits. Go to Energy Star’s website for detailed descriptions of what’s covered; then talk to your vendor.
  • Save system receipts and manufacturer certifications. You’ll need them if the IRS asks for proof.
  • File IRS Form 5695 with the rest of your tax forms.

A Financial Plan for Your Home. Source – HouseLogic.com

home-finance-500x330

Do you pay each home-related expense as it comes? If so, you’re missing opportunities for upgrades, or much worse, heading into a financial crisis when a slew of surprise maintenance items hit. So take a holistic look at what it costs to operate your house and set up a home financial plan.

 

Use our home financial plan budget worksheet, and start by writing a list of expenses, such as:

  • Mortgage
  • Taxes
  • Home insurance, including liability
  • Repairs and maintenance, such as new furnace, roof, painting
  • Voluntary upgrades, such as a swimming pool, a premium range, a new powder room

What will you learn from this home financial plan weekend exercise?

  • How much you have to spend
  • How much you need to allot in the short- and long-term for necessary maintenance and voluntary improvements

With this newfound grip on your home’s expenses, you can create a home financial plan that’ll help you there for years with maximum enjoyment and minimum anxiety.

Here’s how to manage other aspects of your home finances:

The mortgage: Pay it — and then some
Insurance: Protect your property
Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity
Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

The mortgage: Pay it—and then some

Yup, you already shell out a lot for your mortgage, but can you pay more? Even a little extra each month can add up to an earlier payoff. Let’s say you have $200,000 in outstanding principal and a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5%. Your monthly payment is $1,319.91. But if you can manage to pay another $100 a month, you’ll save $14,887 in interest.

Run the numbers yourself for your home financial plan.

Advantages of an early payoff, says Alan D. Kahn, a financial planner in Syosset, N.Y.:

  • Less debt means more money to spend later.
  • It feels darn good to own your house outright as soon as possible.
  • Minimal tax loss. Toward the tail end of the life of a loan most of your payment goes to the principal, not the interest, so you’re getting only a small tax break anyway.

Of course, if you’re still saving for retirement, put the 100 bucks elsewhere:

  • A retirement plan
  • An account for the inevitable home repairs
  • An account for discretionary improvements, which can raise your home’s value

Insurance: Protect your property

Your vegetable garden is pointless without a fence to keep out rabbits; likewise, your home financial plan will come to nothing without an insurance “fence”:

Homeowner’s insurance. Basic coverage for your home and everything in it. The average cost is $636 per year but this varies widely by state.

Liability coverage. Protects you from a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your property, for example. Your best bet: An umbrella policy.  For about $300 a year you can by a typical $1 million policy.

Various disaster insurance policies. Optional policies cover flood, earthquake, and hurricane damage. As part of your home financial plan, you have to research to see what disaster coverage, if any, you need in your area, and what your standard policy already covers. For $540 a year you can buy flood insurance, for example.

Don’t under- or overbuy insurance

For your basic policy, get homeowners insurance with full replacement coverage in case your house burns to the ground.

That sounds simple, but heads up on calculation. Remember that you own a house as well as the land on which it sits. So even though you bought your home for $300,000, it may cost only $100,000 to rebuild it. Your policy limits should reflect this. This difference will vary widely by region.

Another heads up: Don’t make the common and potentially disastrous mistake of thinking that because your home has fallen in value you need less insurance. If you bought a $1.2 million townhouse in Florida during the boom, it’s true it now may only sell for $600,000. But the replacement cost of the townhouse hasn’t changed much, so you can’t improve your home financial plan by cutting insurance costs that way.

Other ways to cut your insurance budget:

  • If you make structural improvements, such as adding storm shutters, your insurer may give you a break.
  • If you belong to certain groups, such as AARP or veterans’ organizations, your premiums may be lower.

Repairs and renovations: By choice or necessity

You own a home, so you’ll be spending money on everything from a new faucet to — surprise! — a new roof. Freddie Mac and other authorities say as part of your home financial plan, you should be prepared to spend 1% to 3% of the market value of the home annually on maintenance. To be extra-prudent, open a savings account and make regular payments until your account reaches 1% to 3% of your home’s current value.

To help you budget:
Start with the inspection report you received when you bought the house. Did the inspector indicate that you would need a new roof in five years? A new furnace in 10?

Keep a log of your major appliances’ age so you can estimate when they’ll need replacing. Some estimated life spans:

  • Roof: 20-25 years
  • Heating systems: 15-20 years
  • Range/ovens: 11-15 years
  • Water heaters: 8-13 years

Then get estimates on what replacements will cost and start saving.

Consider ongoing non-emergency maintenance, too. Do you live in New England? Price a snow blower and get bids from plow services.

Resist the siren call of the home equity loan to take care of everything. That just defeats your efforts to pay off the mortgage early.

Separate out what you want from what you need. Does it make more sense to do a $50,000 to $60,000 kitchen remodel, which recoups about 69%, or a minor remodel, which recoups about 75%, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report?

If you can afford to redo, go for it. Just don’t confuse your necessary repairs (new oil furnace — about $4,000) with your discretionary upgrades (Viking range — $6,000 and up).

Taxes: (Almost) no way around them

Even if your lender handles your property taxes from an escrow account, you need to budget for them in your home financial plan. They creep up almost every year, it seems. Take responsibility for tracking the changes in your area: Look over past tax bills to get a sense of how quickly they’ve risen in the past.

Or if your lender handles escrow and you haven’t saved your bills, ask for an accounting. The median annual property tax payment is $1,812, but that hides the enormous range in medians from state to state.

You can generally deduct property taxes on your federal return. A tax pro can tell you how much of a tax break you’ll get, to help you fine tune your home financial plan.

You may be able to reduce your tax burden by getting a reassessment. Do your homework first: Are comparable houses taxed less than yours? Ask the local assessor what formula is used to set tax rates. You can challenge the assessed value and get yourself a rollback.

If you’re in a special group, you might get some help from state or local programs. Check around to see what’s available in your area. New York State, for example, has its Star Program for giving senior citizens some relief from school-related property taxes.