As new homeowners, our mailbox has been flooded with tons of offers from companies undoubtedly trying to get us to spend all of our first-time homebuyer’s tax credit. We have landscaping companies putting their business cards in our mailbox, coupons for plumbers, a new roof and purified water delivered right to our door, ads for real estate agents, churches who would like our membership, and security systems (think matrices of invisible lasers all over our property).
If you are a new homeowner, or are looking to purchase a home, you will most likely receive many of these mailings as well. So how do you separate the good, from the bad and the ugly? Here’s how we did it.
Coupons and Free Trial Offers
Not all of the ‘junk’ mail that has passed through our mailbox in the last six months has truly been junk. For example, we received a free one-week trial to the YMCA just a mile from where we live, which I will be taking advantage of soon. I had a free estimate completed on insulating our attic, and received a free hot water heater blanket for doing so. With a Lowe’s just a few miles away, we have received valuable 10% and $10 off $50 purchase coupons. The Houston Chronicle gave me free coupon inserts and a $1.00-a-week delivered Sunday paper subscription for 20 weeks (a savings of $15 I would have spent anyway). These offers were all valuable to us, so make sure you open up the ‘junk’ mail and find coupons that are useful to you.
Suspicious Official-Looking Mail
Something we began receiving almost immediately were letters claiming that we had to have mortgage insurance, and that looked quite official (including our loan terms, amount, interest amount, etc.). The letters did not come from our mortgage company, but you really had to read closely to understand that, in fact, the mortgage company would not be taking your keys away if you do not purchase this insurance.
Mortgage Insurance is not to be confused with PMI, or Private Mortgage Insurance that protects the lender, and that is mandatory for those who purchase their homes with less than 20% money down. Instead, Mortgage Insurance is to protect you in case you become disabled, ill, lose your job or die, so that your mortgage will be paid off. Many times this can be covered under policies you already have, such as Life Insurance, long-term and short-term disability, etc. Make sure you look at your own plans and see what will work best for you and your family.
Another official-looking letter we received was from the “National Deed Service, Inc.” discussing our deed, the fact that it was recorded with the Harris County Recorder, and the fact that the U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center advises us that we should have a certified copy of this document. This company was willing to give us this for $59.50. First of all, check your closing materials because you most likely have a copy of your deed. Secondly, you can get a new copy, and have it certified by Document Pros for typically $0.50-$1.00 per page and an extra $5.00 or so (total for one document) for the certification. You need to call your County Clerk’s office, or Recorder of Deed’s Office, or the comparable agency in your own county to do so.
Services for Safety
We must have received 5-7 home security system offerings thus far, and have legitimately looked into these. Our home has gates with locks around the front door and back door entrances, and our first floor windows have locks. However, someone could certainly break in if they wanted to. Another plus to having a security system set up is that it gives you a discount on your homeowner’s insurance policy, which helps to defray the cost. Prices for this service vary greatly, from free installation to $99 per installation, free remote to $139 each remote, and from $19.99 per month to $42.00 per month, so be sure to shop around and purchase using a coupon or ad special.
Something else that came in our mail that we took advantage of was having the number of our house painted on our street curb in reflective (called ‘glass bead’) paint so that in the case of an emergency, the police, firemen, or an ambulance can quickly identify our home. The cost of this offering was between $15-$35, depending upon what graphic we wanted (black numbers on a white background versus a background of U of T, Texas Flag, etc.). Ours looks great, and I feel it was worth the cost.
Another category of ‘junk mail’ we have been receiving has been from local takeout places, churches, businesses, and other places to let us know they are there and to try and get our new business. As the takeout menus poured in over the last several months, I kept the ones we might be interested in and put them in a drawer in our kitchen. We also received information about an emergency veterinarian service in the area, and from the local hospital, both of which could prove useful.
Competition for Your Business
Perhaps one of the most useful parts of receiving all of these unsolicited offers in the mail is that companies in the same line of work are competing for our business. This helps us out because typically they will undercut the price of offerings of each other, making the consumer the winner in the end. But this also helps us out because I can now use these mailings and advertisements as a negotiating tool to call up our current providers and talk them into giving us a more competitive price.
If your current cable, home phone, insurance company, etc. is more expensive than a similar offering from another company, take the opportunity to call up your provider and ask them to reduce their price…or you will walk. They may ask you to prove this competitor’s price, in which case you will have the proof in your mailbox.