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Keeping your home investment safe: take steps to minimize the impact of market conditions.

Home ownership is, by far, one of the most important tools Americans use to build wealth. We consider our home our castle, where we create treasured memories with our loved ones and accrue valuable equity. We also rely on that equity to send our children to college, to stay afloat during hard times and to maintain our quality of life throughout retirement.

However, like nature, markets are unpredictable. We see the value of our homes increase while the economy is thriving and, conversely, we see the value of our homes decrease when we're in the midst of a market correction. In times like these, it's important to take the time to understand what is happening within the housing market today and to realize there are ways to minimize the impact of market conditions.

First and foremost, home maintenance is essential in keeping your home's value high. Completing these necessary chores makes your home attractive and therefore valuable, and now is the perfect time to take advantage of the warm summer weather to perform any overdue home maintenance tasks. Get outside and add a fresh coat of paint to trim and shutters, cut back overgrown shrubs, replace old windows with energy-efficient ones or stain the deck to extend its lifetime. Helping your home appreciate in value by keeping up on maintenance can be hard work, but they don't call it sweat equity for nothing!

Now is a great time to make sure your financial house, so to speak, is in order. Do what you can to pay down your mortgage to improve equity, which is the difference between what you owe on your mortgage and the value of your property. Every little bit helps. If you got a little extra money back from the government this year, use it to make extra payments on your mortgage The sooner you can pay off the principal loan amount, the better. Because the less interest you pay, the more equity you gain.

Help available

With changing market conditions, it also is advisable to avoid refinancing credit card debt or unsecured loans into your mortgage. Once this kind of debt has been rolled into your mortgage, you risk losing your home if you cannot make the new payment. If you have a large amount of unsecured debt, seek out professional counseling services for help. (For local assistance with managing debt, contact Consumer Credit Counseling Services of New Hampshire and Vermont at 800-327-6778 or cccsnh-vt.org.

If you are one of the many home buyers who took out a mortgage with low "teaser" rates and you are having difficulty making your mortgage payment now that your interest rate has adjusted, contact your lender and ask for help instead of refinancing with a risky loan product. If you do not feel comfortable contacting your lender, there are a number of nonprofit home ownership centers in New Hampshire that offer free financial advice. (To find a home ownership counselor near you, visit the NeighborWorks America Web site at nw.org.)

While Congress and regulators have worked to correct the structural problems that led to the current stress in the nation's financial systems and to provide assistance to at-risk homes owners, it is up to you to take conscientious steps to keep safe the biggest investment you'll ever make: your home.

Andrew Cadorette is education coordinator of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. He can be reached 603-310-9287 or acadorette@nhhfa.org.
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Title Annotation:BANKING
Author:Cadorette, Andrew
Publication:New Hampshire Business Review
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Aug 29, 2008
Words:573
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