Friday, January 19, 2007

Tips to make your new year happier

By Gerri Willis

A new year has arrived. So it's time to get started on that January to-do list for your home. On top tips we'll give you the tools you can use to check these chores off your list.

1. De-junk
If you found a new computer, cell phone or camera under the tree, but your pile of old gadgets keeps piling up, it's time to give the heave-ho to that e-junk.
To donate your old Mac or PC, contact the National Cristina Foundation (, which has affiliates in all 50 states. To find groups in your area that are in need of donated electronics, go to
Of course, you'll want to completely erase your hard drive when you do this. There are a number of software programs you can use to do this, like McAfee's QuickClean program for about $24.00 or Acronis' Drive Cleanser.
If you just want to recycle some ink jet cartridges or cell phone batteries, check some retailers in the area. Often places like Best Buy or Circuit City will have recycle drop-off areas.

2. Check your insurance coverage
The new year is a perfect time to check your flood insurance coverage. If your area is prone to flooding, you'll want to get insurance. Contact the National Flood Insurance Program at (888) 379-9531 or
Remember, it won't cover everything. In fact, you'll pay $400 to $500 for only about $250,000 worth of coverage. Floods aren't the only reason you might need to buy more insurance protection.
Home values have risen over 50% over the past few years. That means you'll need more insurance for your home in case it needs to be rebuilt. To get a grip on how much coverage you need, get a contractor to estimate the cost of rebuilding your house using materials at today's costs.
Oh, and while you're at it, snap a few photos inside your home. That may prove more valuable than you think when it comes to making insurance claims.

3. Call a handyman
If fixing that leaky faucet or finally patching that hole in the wall is something you want to tackle in the new year, you may want to consider hiring a handyman.
While word of mouth is still a pretty safe bet, here are some places you may want to check out:, and
To get some reviews from customers, check out sites like Angies list where people report their customer experience with handymen and other areas of home improvement.
Keep in mind there is a monthly membership fee. Generally you'll want to interview at least three handymen for the job and of course, you should get references.

4. Trim your payments
If you pay private mortgage insurance because you didn't put down 20 percent when you bought your house, now is the time to take a close look at what you're paying. If you took out your mortgage after July 1998, and you've paid off about 22 percent of the loan, your lender must cancel your PMI.
Any gain in your home's value from appreciation may help you get rid of PMI. You'll have to prove to your lender that the value of your home - including price gains - has increased enough to let you off the hook for PMI.
This annoying burden can be up to $50 a month for every $100,000 worth of debt. A word of caution though...before you spend about $300 bucks for an appraiser to find out how much your home's value has risen, understand under exactly what terms PMI can be waived. Individual mortgage terms can vary.

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