Tips for First Time Homeowners
Buying my first house felt like a never ending journey. It entailed finding a realtor, getting pre-approved, finding a house, getting it inspected, closing, and moving in. Just when all of the papers were signed and the furniture was in place, I thought it was all over. But owning a home is never over. There is constant upkeep, spending, and repairs to oversee. Below are some tips that helped me get into the flow of owning my own home.
How do things work?
Do you know…
- where your shut off valves are for your gas and water?
- Is your fuse box labeled?
- how to change a furnace filter?
- how to open and close a fireplace flue?
- how to work your shower?
Not long after settling in, you’re going to find out all of the little character traits and flaws that make your house yours. Go through each room and figure out where things are and what they do.
- Did the owner keep any extra remodeling materials stored away such as paint, floor tiles, or furnace filters?
- Were you given instruction manuals for any of the appliances that came with the house?
- Do you know the brand name and model for each of your appliances?
A few years after moving in, my kitchen sink needed a new cartridge. I had no idea what brand it was let alone how to replace it. I had to visit two different home improvement stores and show employees the old cartridge to determine what brand I had and what type of cartridge would fit into my sink.Then, my dad had to come over and replace the cartridge for me.
Two years after I moved in, I decided to paint my entire house. Not only did I realize that I was painting over enamel paint, but I didn’t realize that the paint I bought would not cover it. It took several layers of paint to cover the shiny, thick coat beneath. I also had an orange bathroom that I wanted to cover up. The top of the walls had a wallpaper trim that I easily removed before painting.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the orange walls were actually wallpaper. It took me three tries before I finally chipped off the paint, tore off the wall paper, textured, and then repainted the walls so that it would stick. There were a lot of road blocks along the way. Sometimes your smallest room is your most problematic.
When is your garbage/recycling day?
Did the last homeowners leave cans and recycling bins behind for you? Check the rules in your neighborhood before setting out your trash. Find out what kind of materials you can recycle and what kind of trash won’t be picked up. Most neighborhoods provide a calendar that shows what day of the week they pick up on your street, how the garbage schedule runs on the holidays, and which weeks they pick up certain materials, such as leaves and furniture.
Is there a junk collector that comes around and picks up materials that are hard to throw away (like lawnmowers and electronics)? If so, know where to leave it so that they will take it off your hands.
What does your neighborhood allow in terms of remodeling?
Just because you bought a house doesn’t always mean you can do whatever you want to it. Some neighborhoods have strict rules about home remodeling projects well beyond just getting a permit to install a swimming pool or add an addition to your house. Some neighborhoods even have specific rules as to which colors you can paint your doors or what kind of additions you can make to your property.
My neighborhood was not that strict, but one year, I wanted to install a fence around my backyard. Once I had my fence all picked out, I went through the process of obtaining my permit. When I didn’t hear back after a few weeks, I called the municipal building to inquire about my permit request. I was told over the phone that my permit had been denied for two reasons:
- I had requested a five foot high fence, and my borough only allowed for fences no higher than four feet.
- I had wanted to extend one side of the fence down past the front of my house and the other side almost to the street on the side of my yard (I own a corner lot). This layout was denied because they do not allow fences to extend past the front of the house, and a side yard on a corner lot counts as a front yard.
It was ridiculous seeing as how properties two blocks away were allowed to have front yard fences extend to the edge of the road, only because they resided in another borough. It didn’t matter, though. Those are the rules that my borough has in place, and I had to follow them.
Keep important phone numbers on standby.
If your furnace broke in the middle of the winter, who would you call to come out right away to fix it? Do you have time to shop around when your pipes are about to freeze?
What are the non-emergency numbers in your area? A few years ago, a truck struck and killed a deer right in front of my house. The dead animal was positioned at the edge of the yard, right in front of a bus stop. I knew that I had to get rid of the body before morning, but I didn’t know who to call. After a little internet research, I found that the animal control number was linked to my borough’s police department. So, I called the non-emergency number, and the deer was removed within an hour. It’s nice to have those numbers around while you are in panic mode so that you can take care of the problem right away.
Make sure that your furniture fits through the front door.
I bought new bedroom furniture after I moved into my house. My new bed consisted of a mattress, box spring, and bed frame. When the new furniture arrived, the bed was in pieces so it fit easily through the door and up the stairs. However, when the delivery men tried to fit my queen-sized box spring up the stairs, a bulkhead in the ceiling wouldn’t allow them to get it around the bend in the stairs. It was very discouraging as they were able to set up the bed, but I had to order another box spring called “splits”. Basically, I had to order two twin-sized box springs instead of one queen-sized box spring. The queen-sized mattress did fit up the stairs due to its ability to bend, but I was kept out of my new bed for a few more weeks due to this oversight. While whether or not a piece of furniture fits in your home should not be a deal breaker when making a home purchase, be prepared to have to reorder new furniture or get rid of the stuff you bring in case it doesn't fit.
- Who is your power company?
- Who is your gas company?
- Is sewage included in your water bill, or is it paid separately?
- Do you have a storm water fee?
- Did you know that even though you have to go with a certain utility company, you can usually choose your own supplier for those utilities?
Find out which suppliers your utility companies have, and shop around for the best priced supplier. One year, after renewing with my electric company supplier, it not only lowered my electric bill, but the supplier sent me a $25 Visa gift card for going with them. It often pays to shop around.
Home warranties aren’t as great as they claim to be.
Don’t make having a home warranty a deal breaker when purchasing a house. My house came with a home warranty, and it was basically useless. It could pretty much only be used to fix appliances and only after you paid a $60.00 fee. This was only available for one year, and then I had to pay to renew it, which I didn’t. It couldn’t help me when I had a leak in my roof, and it expired just after the ice machine on my refrigerator stopped working.
Do you own basic tools?
Tools are crucial for home ownership. You’re going to be hanging pictures on walls, tightening loose screws, and undertaking basic lawn maintenance. You’d better be prepared. Here is a list of tools that I had to buy within my first year of moving in.
- Lawn mower
- Weed trimmer
- Indoor and outdoor extension cords (even if you’re not using an electric lawnmower or week trimmer, you might need it for Christmas lights, your electronics, or other equipment that requires an extra reach)
- Gas can
- Garden Hose
- Garden tools (if you’re into gardening)
- Hammer and nails
- Drill (believe me, you’ll need this in place of a screwdriver more often than not. Example: hanging mini-blinds)
- Sandpaper (Some of my doors stuck when it was hot outside, and I had to sand them down a bit)
- Vacuum cleaner (an apartment-sized one just won’t do the trick in a house)
- Snow shovel (if you live in an area that gets snow)
- Broom (indoor and outdoor)
Tools are an adult's toys. The longer you live in your house, the more you will want and accumulate. Once you have the essentials, you start looking into pressure washers, wet vacs, electric saws, hedge trimmers, etc. Before you know it, your basement is stocked for any project.
What doesn't work?
Unless you’ve built your house from the ground up (and even then), you are going to find flaws and broken things. Many of these will be discovered during your home inspection, but a lot more will pop up as you begin to settle in. You’ll find loose doorknobs, broken appliances, and other quirky issues. Here is a list of repairs/changes that I have made in my first three years without anything major breaking or needing to be remodeled:
- Installed a new screen door on the side of the house.
- Changed the outlets in every room
- Repainted the entire house
- Installed a backyard fence.
- Dug out two flower beds.
- Removed/trimmed six pine trees.
- Fixed a leaky roof
- Sealed the cracks in my driveway
- Replaced the blinds on half of my windows
- Replaced the fluorescent basement light.
Since then, the list has doubled. A lot can go wrong when owning a house, and it does. There are also many items to purchase and always something to do, inside and out. Owning a house is not for the faint of heart, but it’s ultimately worth it to have a place that you own where you call the shots.
Do you have any first year homeowner stories or tips to pass along to new home owners? Share them in the comments below!