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9 things homeowners can expect in 2016

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Wouldn't life be easier if you had a crystal ball that could predict what will happen to your home in 2016?

Most Americans -- at least the 63.7 percent of households the U.S. Census Bureau says are homeowners -- would probably love a little advance warning.

You could move the priceless family photo albums out of the basement before it floods, cut down the tree in the backyard before a storm knocks it onto your roof or adjust your budget for whatever major repairs are going to pop up.

Unfortunately, no one can actually predict the future. However, homeowners can do some things to prepare themselves, based on the state of the economy, past housing trends and anticipated demand.

Whether you're looking to refinance your mortgage next year or you just want to know how much your utility bills might cost, here are nine things homeowners can expect in 2016.

Slightly higher electricity bills

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While a milder winter may keep many consumers from using more electricity this year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts the price per kilowatt hour of electricity will rise slightly. Residential customers paid about 12.6 cents per kWh of electricity in 2015. That price is expected to tick up to about 12.7 cents per kWh in 2016, an increase of about 1 percent, according to the EIA.

Lower natural gas bills

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Due to the warmer-than-usual winter forecast and lower natural gas prices, U.S. homeowners will see an average decrease of about 13 percent in their 2016 natural gas bills, according to the EIA. The price of residential natural gas is expected to drop to about $10.07 per thousand cubic feet in 2016, down from $10.36 in 2015.

Higher home values

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Home values have been rising for the past several years, and real estate website Zillow predicts that the trend will continue. Home values could grow by about 3.5 percent, according to Zillow's Home Price Expectations Survey. That would bring the nation's median home value -- which is currently $182,800 -- up to about $189,198, a gain of $6,398.

This is a smaller increase than we've seen over the last few years as prices recovered from the housing market collapse, said Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow. Home values rose about 6 percent in 2014 and are expected to end 2015 about 4 percent to 4.6 percent higher.

"In the long run," she said, "the historical average for (home value) growth is 3 percent or 3.5 percent."

Property tax changes

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As the new year gets underway, be ready for a possible change to your property tax bills. Local governments determine taxes for the new year during their annual fall budgeting processes.

In some states, tax caps may prevent taxes from rising above a certain percentage of your property's assessed value. To find your home's assessed value and figure out how much you'll need to budget for taxes this year, contact your local assessor's office.

More remodeling projects

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Planning some upgrades to your home in 2016? Remodeling spending is expected to increase in 2016, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The center predicts spending increases of 6.8 percent in the second quarter of 2016.

In the first half of the year, homeowners will spend an estimated $301.4 billion on remodeling projects, up from $285.4 billion in the first half of 2015.

This increase is due to the strengthening housing market, which encourages homeowners to invest more in things like kitchen and bath remodels or room additions, Chris Herbert, the center's managing director, said in a news release.

Slightly higher mortgage rates

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The Federal Reserve raised the federal funds interest rate by 0.25 percent at its December meeting -- the first rate hike in almost a decade.

This means banks will have to pay slightly more interest when borrowing money and could pass that on to consumers. While the fed funds rate isn't directly tied to the interest rates banks set for their loans, it is one of the economic factors that influences those decisions. If you've got a fixed-rate mortgage, you won't see a change to your monthly payments.

However, homeowners with an adjustable-rate mortgage may see an increase. The rate increase for long-term lines of credit like mortgages isn't likely to be drastic because those rates depend on a number of factors, such as the stock market, inflation and employment rates.

A more connected home

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Many appliances, from your home's thermostat to the TV, can now be controlled from your smartphone. These Internet-connected devices -- part of what's often called the "Internet of Things" -- are gaining in popularity with no sign of slowing down.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, scheduled for Jan. 6-9 in Las Vegas, manufacturers will unveil the newest high-tech gadgets for the home. At least 20 press conferences are scheduled for the show, featuring companies like Samsung, Sony (SNE), Netflix (NFLX) and major auto manufactures. Industry experts say to watch for new developments in TVs, self-driving cars and connected appliances like washing machines and home security systems.

More affordable home insurance

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While the price of homeowners insurance varies greatly depending on your state and the unique risks to property in your area -- such as flooding, earthquakes or hurricanes -- property insurance rates are expected to drop in the next year.

Willis Group Holdings, a risk-advisement company and insurance brokerage, predicted in its annual Marketplace Realities study that property rates could drop 10 percent to 15 percent.

Contact your insurance agent to discuss whether your insurance rates will be affected.

Disaster mitigation fraud

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The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners puts home-related fraud in the No. 1 spot on its list of the Top 8 scams to watch out for in 2016.

Homeowners should be on the lookout for unscrupulous disaster mitigation companies (those that fix damage from events like house fires and floods), which may inflate estimates by up to 500 percent, use expensive equipment they don't need for the job or claim the damage is more extensive than it actually is. While homeowners insurance companies take the biggest financial hit in such schemes, the loss eventually trickles down to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums, the ACFE warns.

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