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You’ve scrimped and saved thousands for that down payment. Then you picked out the perfect place in the perfect neighborhood and found the right furniture, cabinets and other decor to make the house a home.

So what should you do now to protect your investment in your home and your possessions inside, so they stay safe and keep their value for years to come?

Experts in the building and finance industries say that planning is the key to ensure the biggest bang for the buck on a house. This includes regular, preventative maintenance, good insurance and proper money saving.

“A home is a long-term investment for most people. For better or for worse, it’s become America’s nest egg,” said Dustin Stewart, executive director of the Montana Building Industry Association.

“If you’re falling behind on your maintenance, your home is going to be less attractive to buyers,” he added.

Stewart recommended easy, inexpensive checkups for home owners to prevent big future damage. First, keep an eye on the furnace and cooling system, and make sure the ventilation system gets a regular checkup from a professional.

“If you take care of them, they can last 15 to 20 years. But they do require …changing the filter and getting regular maintenance,” Stewart said.

Visual inspections of gutter and down spouts outside can also protect against buildup and water damage, which can cost thousands to fix later, he said.

Banks and mortgage companies typically require homebuyers to buy insurance right away, but they don’t always specify how much.

All homeowners should make sure their insurance policies are current and large enough to cover all rebuilding costs in a major catastrophe, according to Freddie Mac, the nation’s largest housing lender.

Most policies include liability coverage up to $100,000 for people injured on your property. However, rising medical costs can render that ceiling obsolete, and New Jersey-based Prudential Financial, one of the nation’s largest carriers, recommends additional coverage between $300,000 and $500,000 for falls and other accidents.

The company also advises additional liability coverage for valuable items inside the home.

These additional policies will add to premium costs, and Prudential offers other tips for discounts, including:

n Increasing the deductible

n Purchasing home owner and auto insurance policies from the same company, which usually includes a discount.

n Installing smoke detectors, deadbolt locks, burglar alarms, sprinkler systems and fire alarms that are monitored by police and fire departments. These devices often lower insurance policy costs.

In the Billings area, these alarm systems are something Darwin Nissen is very familiar with. The owner of Dynamark Security Center has sold and installed alarms, cameras and other equipment for more than two decades, and he says they offer peace of mind for homeowners.

“I provide a service I hope you never have to use,” Nissen said.

The technology has changed in 23 years, he said. Dynamark sells more panic buttons, mostly for women, that send a direct alert to police or firefighters. Nissen said the company also installs a lot more landlines that dial directly to emergency services, largely because so many people have opted to go strictly with cellphones.

During his whole career, Nissen said his systems have only caught two intruders and sent out hundreds of false alarms. But catching crooks isn’t necessarily the point, he said, because the threat of an alarm is often enough to protect the home.

“That’s your number one deterrent there, the signs and the stickers. It’s like, ‘Hey, forget it. Go somewhere else,’” he said.

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