DEAR MR. MYERS: I purchased my first home in November, after several years of renting. My landlord always took care of my old apartment's maintenance duties when spring arrived, but now I will have to do them myself because I don't have the cash to hire a maintenance person. What should I pay attention to?
ANSWER: Though you purchased your first home only four months ago, you have the same basic maintenance concerns that owners who bought their single-family homes decades ago also have — but too often forget about.
Many maintenance concerns when spring arrives involve issues that are on the outside of the home instead of the inside.
Start by inspecting the roof. Using a household ladder and binoculars, stand outside of your home to see if any shingles or tiles were lost or damaged during the winter storms. They need to be repaired or replaced to avoid leaky ceilings or other potentially expensive problems later.
While you're up on the ladder, make sure that your rain gutters and downspouts are clear of any leaves or other debris that can sometimes accumulate during the fall or winter. Also use the ladder to check the flashing or sealant around any chimneys, skylights or plumbing vents that your property may have to ensure that they're watertight.
Check your driveway, patio or any other patches of cement that are on your property for any small cracks or fissures. Even the smallest of openings can sprout bothersome weeds after the spring rains, or even gradually fill with water that can cause buckling.
Use a screwdriver or long nail to probe the frames around windows, doors and any other wood that's exposed to Mother Nature. If the wood is soft or rotting, you'll need to make repairs before the spring rain causes further damage.
Like inspecting the outside of your home, it also can be a bit simpler to check the interior of your house this spring by starting from the top and working your way down to the bottom. If you have an attic or small crawlspace above your ceiling, take appropriate action immediately if you find any evidence of insect or rodent infestation, or if you see odd-colored stains that could be telltale signs of mold.
It's also the time to give all your living areas a thorough cleaning. Many homeowners get the inside of their homes sparkling clean for friends who will visit during the winter holidays, but then put their cleaning supplies away even before the last piece of pizza or bowl of nachos is dropped on the living-room floor during the Super Bowl in early February. That's a perfect recipe to foster all sorts of allergies or other problems.
Spring also is the time to take basic steps to tune up your air conditioning unit for the warmer months ahead (see the owner's manual for details), and to clean or change the filter on your water-heater.
If you have a basement, conduct the same spring check-up as if you had an attic: Check for signs of infestation by rodents or insects, or the presence of mold. Dampness in the basement may signal other problems, such as above-average humidity in the room or poor ventilation. That's not good, either.
Some of these maintenance chores can be performed by novice homeowners using simple and inexpensive supplies purchased from a local hardware store or big home-improvement center. But others, like a roof that your initial inspection suggests needs major repairs, should be handled by a licensed contractor.
REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Buyers who have purchased at least one house before say a separate laundry area is at the top of their must-have list of amenities when shopping for a new home, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders. A living room was second, followed by a walk-in closet in the master bedroom and a two-car garage.
DEAR MR. MYERS: We bought our first home last spring and filed our tax return last month. Our new deductions are going to give us a big refund. How long will it take for the IRS to send us our refund check?
ANSWER: The Internal Revenue Service recently said that 90 percent of refunds this year should be issued within 21 days after it receives a completed return, so you shouldn't have to wait much longer to get your money.
The fastest and easiest way to check the status of your refund is to visit irs.gov and click the "Refunds" button on its home page. You'll quickly get an answer after entering your Social Security or Tax ID number, your filing status and the amount of the refund that you are owed.
People who don't have access to the internet can get an update on the status of their refund by calling the IRS toll-free, 800-829-4477.