Tips for First Time Homeowners
I bought my first house three years ago, and it felt like a never ending process. There was a long checklist of things to do and a longer checklist of decisions to make. Just when all of the papers were signed, and I thought it was all over, there were more obstacles to overcome. Below are some challenges and preparations that I did not think about or even anticipate after I settled into my new house.
- How Things Work
Do you know…
where your shut off valves are?
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 your house and figure out where things are and what they do.
Do you have any extra materials lying around? Is there extra paint, floor tile, wallpaper stored away somewhere? Do you know the brand of all of your appliances? Recently, 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.
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, and it took several layers of paint and a coat of primer to get the paint to stick. Know what you’re dealing with before you start a home remodeling project.
2. When is your garbage/recycling day?
Did the last homeowners leave cans/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. Find a calendar that shows when garbage is delayed and when to set out your trash during those weeks.
3. 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 cement your driveway. 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 last 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.
4. 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.
5. Make sure that your furniture fits through the front door.
This seems kind of pointless in a way. I mean, what are you going to do if you can’t fit a piece of furniture into the house? Knock down walls? However, sometimes, this can be avoided. I bought new bedroom furniture after I moved in. This included a new mattress, box spring, and bed frame. A few weeks later, the furniture was delivered. The large, heavy items fit through the front door pefectly. However, when the delivery guys 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.
6. How do you pay utilities where you live?
Who is your power company? Who is your gas company? Is sewage included in your water bill, or is it paid separately? Did you know that even though you have to go with a certain utility company, you get to choose your own suppliers to those utilities? Find out which suppliers your utility companies have, and shop around for the best priced supplier. Last year, after renewing with my electric company supplier, they sent me a $25 Visa gift card. It often pays to shop around.
7. 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 expired just after the ice machine on my refrigerator stopped working.
8. Do you have tools?
Women, tools are not just for men. 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 that sort of thing)
- 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)
9. What doesn’t work?
Unless you’ve built your house from the ground up (and even then), you are going to find flaws. 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 relating to your house. Here is a list of repairs/changes that I have made in my first three years without any major projects or catastrophes.
- Installed a new screen door on the side of the house.
- Changed the outlets in every room
- 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 basement light.
Things that have broken that I have not fixed.
- Ice machine broken on refrigerator door
- Running toilet.
- Leaky shower faucet, basement faucet and both hose faucets
- Loose dishwasher door. Also had a piece of plastic fall onto the hot wires on the bottom of the dishwasher which began to catch fire (never leave your major appliances unattended).
- Broken hand soap dispenser by the kitchen sink.
- One window that won’t stay open.
That being said, there is a lot that can go wrong when owning a house. 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!