Congratulations! You’re a new homeowner. Unfortunately, by now you have probably realized that there never was a class in high school, college, or at the real estate agent’s office to teach you the essentials about home ownership. To avoid some of the most common mistakes new home owners make, here are our top tips for new homeowners.
Don’t rush into anything
Live in the house for several months before you make any major changes. It will take you a while to develop a feel for the house and to establish a flow of your daily life in the house. Give yourself at least three to six months to figure things out: What you do not like, what is an inconvenience, what needs to be changed. Make a list of any issues you discover. It doesn’t matter whether it is where to install the clothesline or which wall to tear down to enlarge the kitchen. Then rank them in order of importance so you know which ones to tackle first. Finally, tackle one project at a time and finish it before starting on the next one.
Change the locks
Schedule a locksmith to come and change the locks on the day that you move in. Do not keep the same locks because you have no idea who still has a copy of the key. The seller could have kept a key. Contractors working on the house could have made a copy. A neighbor could have a copy. There could be a hidden key somewhere in the yard. Just to name a few examples. To be safe, have the locks re-keyed. It is a very simple thing to do for a locksmith and essential to your safety.
Bonus tip: If you have multiple exterior doors or gates, you can have the locksmith do one of two things: Either key them the same so one key fits all (for convenience), or decide which locks should be keyed differently (for safety).
Document the utility readings
Find your water and electric meters. The water meter is usually in a box in the ground either by the street at the front or in the alley at the rear. The electric meter is usually somewhere at an exterior wall next to the main panel. Read the numbers or, better yet, take photos on the day you move in. When you get your first utility bill, check the numbers to make sure you are only paying for what you used. This will help make your case if your first bill includes usage by the previous owner or if there is a leak or other issue that caused an abnormally high bill.
Locate the utility shut-offs
Find out where the shut-offs are for your water, gas, and electricity. Make sure everyone living in the house knows where they are so they can shut them off in case of an emergency.
Do the dirty work before you move in
If there is any major work or repair to be done (e.g. replacing polybutylene water pipes), have it done before you move in for three important reasons:
- Contractors can do their work much more easily while the house is empty.
- It will be much easier to clean up any resulting dirt.
- It will spare you and your belongings from the exposure to dirt and risk of damage.
Hire a professional cleaner
You probably have no idea what went on in the house before you bought it: Did the previous owner have pets or kids making messes everywhere? Were they hoarders? Did they have sex all over the place? Did somebody die in the house? No matter what, nobody wants to live in another persons mess. For a few hundred dollars, you can hire a professional cleaner to spend a day in the house to scrub it top to bottom before you move in. An empty house is much easier to deep-clean, and you will appreciate moving into a nice, clean, fresh-smelling house.
Download the manuals
Unless you lucked out and the previous owner left behind a box with all the manuals for the appliances, you will have no idea how to operate everything. Take a walk around the house and write down the make and model number of every appliance in the house: furnace, A/C, water heater, microwave, dishwasher, range, irrigation system, etc. Then go online and find the manual for each one. 99% of the time the manual is a free download from the manufacturer’s website as a PDF file. Download each one, save them, and study them. Not only will they help you understand how to operate everything, but also how to perform regular proactive maintenance.
Get a list of trusted competent professionals
Your home will require maintenance and repair which not all of you will be able (or willing) to perform yourself. Ask your realtor, neighbors, friends for recommendations of competent professionals. This way you have their contact info available when you need it. You do not want to be searching for a plumber or HVAC guy when you’re desperate because you have a leak or the A/C went out. Be prepared. Your list should at least include the following:
- Heating and cooling (HVAC) professional
- Pest control
More top tips for new homeowners
By the way: All of these tips are not just our suggestions. They are feedback from real homeowners about things they learned the hard way or wish they knew when they moved in.
Anyway – these helpful tips are just the beginning. There are many more top tips for new homeowners in part 2. Click here to continue reading.