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How to Budget and Schedule Your Home Maintenance Forever

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Buy a car and you'll get a maintenance manual on how often to change the oil, check the hoses and rotate the tires. But homes don't usually come that way, especially if they're not brand new.

How often should you climb up to inspect the gutters? Should you crawl through the crawlspace every month, once a year or never? Did you know those little vents high on the basement walls should be closed for winter, open for summer?

And how much should you budget for repairs and maintenance, anyway?

About 2% of your purchase price per year, says HSH.com, the mortgage and housing data firm. That's according to a generic maintenance schedule HSH has added to its website.

"Did you know," HSH says, "that something as simple as a clogged gutter or poor grading by the foundation -- both of which cost virtually nothing to repair -- could cause water to leak into your basement, resulting in damage that might cost thousands to repair?"

The most frequent chores should be done every month -- things such as changing the filter in the heating and air conditioning system and checking for leaks around toilets and sinks. Other jobs, such as covering the AC compressor and turning off outside faucets, are seasonal. And some, such as replacing the water heater, are done only every decade or two.

Some things may never get done if you don't set a schedule. Did you know, for instance, that your heating ducts should be cleaned every two to five years? Or that the caulk around windows and doors should be replaced every few years even if it doesn't leak?

Even if you won't have the home for very long, it will pay to keep on top of things.

"After all, a properly maintained home is healthier, safer, prevents larger and more expensive repairs down the road and will help attract more homebuyers when it comes time to sell," HSH says.

Those long-range expenses, which include such things as a new roof and furnace, are typically done when needed, not according to a strict schedule. But the HSH guidelines will help you plan ahead, to set money aside to avoid a shock.

So where should you keep funds you're accumulating for jobs down the road? Over the years, you could spend tens of thousands on a roof, furnace, central AC system, driveway repaving, exterior painting and other big-budget items.

Cash for expenses likely to come up in the next year or two can be added to your rainy-day fund and kept in a cash account such as bank savings or a money market fund. You don't want to have to sell stocks in a downturn to replace a garage door or front walk.

For expenses that are way off, there probably does not need to be a dedicated fund so long as you're confident you'll have the money somewhere when it will be needed, even if it's in something volatile such as stocks. But as the need approaches, it could pay to build up some cash so you won't have to sell investments at a loss when the time comes.

The timing of big expenses such as exterior painting and a new roof are generally flexible. They can be held off a few years if money's tight, so long as the home is not incurring water damage. Sudden, unexpected needs, such as replacing a roof blown off by a hurricane, will be covered by homeowner's insurance.

At least they should be. In addition to setting a schedule for routine inspections and maintenance, go though your homeowner's policy to see what's covered and what isn't.

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