Moving in to your first home is a milestone in your life. It’s a day filled with hope and joy, mingled with excitement and maybe a little bit of apprehension. Suddenly you’re thinking about things like lawn mowers, snowblowers and hedge clippers, all the while unleashing your creativity as you decorate and organize everything.
There’s a lot to learn about home ownership, and once you’ve gotten over the initial high of moving in to your very own house, you might be shocked at the realization that you’re now responsible for more than you ever imagined! Here are some pointers on what to know, what to do and what not to do as you embark on the adventure of a lifetime …
Understanding Home Ownership
The true cost of owning a home involves a lot more than just paying a mortgage each month rather than a landlord. Now, you’ve got to stay on top of things like keeping your oil tank full, paying utility bills, and doing your own repairs — or paying for them. (No more calling the landlord to complain that your refrigerator’s ice-maker is leaking!)
- Set aside money for unexpected repairs. Make this separate from your emergency fund, which should be reserved as “padding” to be used if you lose your job or are out of work because of an injury, etc. (You’ll appreciate having this repair bill “cushion” when the kitchen range decides to die three days before Thanksgiving!)
- You’ll save a lot of money if you become a DIYer. It almost always costs more than you think it will to hire somebody to paint, install a floor, etc. You can learn a lot through books and YouTube videos, and exerting the effort can save you hundreds — even thousands of dollars over the years. Needless to say, this has its limitations. It’s always best to hire a pro for anything that involves electricity, for example, and some jobs — like sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor — are just better left to a professional.
- Think about visiting tag sales for used tools, both for the yard and for your home “fix-it” tool kit. New tools are expensive and many everyday items like shovels, hoes and spades can be had “for a song” if you buy them used and in decent condition.
- Get help with your taxes. There are tax perks for homeowners like the deduction for the interest paid on your mortgage, but there are others that aren’t as well-known, and a professional will know how to save you the most money. (And make sure to keep receipts for all home improvements, especially those that are energy-saving improvements, like a new furnace, energy efficient windows or solar panels.)
- Plan and prioritize projects and learn to be patient when progress is slower than you’d hoped. (It’s rare to move into a home — unless it’s brand new and you’ve had a hand in its design — and not want to change things or remodel.)
- Create a homeowner’s journal or binder and keep all repair receipts and any paperwork pertaining to the house in it. Then you’ll know exactly when you had the roof repaired or the septic system pumped, etc.
- Rely on credit cards for home emergencies. A home-maintenance/repair fund is essential to avoid racking up debt when something a major repair is needed or you have to replace something right away.
- Ignore important home maintenance needs (anything that has the potential to put you in danger or that could get worse over time if not addressed). Skimp on non-essentials, but never on essentials!
- Overspend on new furniture and remodeling. Give yourself some time to get used to your new budget, and consider the fact that you’ve likely depleted (or nearly depleted) your savings, which you’ll need to build up again. It’s tempting to want to make everything look the way you envision it could look, but not practical. Patience!
Inside the House
- Maximize your closet space with kits that allow you to make the most of every inch of space. Even if you can fit in everything from your move, you’ll inevitably collect more “must keep” things as time goes by, and good storage is everything!
- Make sure that your attic is well-insulated (including the hatch).
- Install LED or CFL bulbs in your lamps and overhead fixtures. (Remember, you’re paying the electric bill now, so you’ll want the most efficient lighting possible!)
- Install a programmable thermostat and learn how to use it. (Believe it or not, lots of people go to the trouble of having one installed and then fail to learn how to use it properly!) It can save you money and keep you comfortable 24/7.
- Drill into walls without knowing what’s behind them, and never drill lower than 2 feet off the floor — the zone reserved for wiring that runs between power outlets.
- Make big changes until you’ve lived in the house for at least six months. By then, you’ll start to have a good feeling for what works for you and your family, and what doesn’t.
- Forget to change the locks and have spare keys made. The previous owners may have given keys away to friends or neighbors, so you’ll want to make sure your new home is secure by replacing all locks.
Outside the House
- Invest in a tool shed. It’s the ideal place to store things like the lawnmower, snowblower, shovels, rakes, etc., which might otherwise take up valuable space in your garage. (Many a homeowner ends up with so much “stuff” in the garage that the car (or cars) won’t fit, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a garage in the first place!)
- Buy a few key outdoor pieces like a couple of comfortable outdoor chairs and a table, plus a decent barbecue grill. Everything else can be collected slowly.
- Try to take down a tree by yourself. It’s risky on so many levels that it’s best to just fork over the cash and have a professional do the job. And don’t forget to make sure — triple-sure! — that the tree is on your property before you have it taken down!
- Dig anywhere in your yard without first calling 811 to locate underground utilities!
- Start a vegetable garden with the idea of saving money. It actually costs quite a bit for soil amendments, garden tools, watering, plants or seeds, etc., and takes up quite a bit of time too. Don’t do it unless you fully understand that it’s really a hobby or a passion rather than a money-saving idea.
Must-Haves for Home Maintenance
Here’s an inventory of the things you’ll need to maintain your new home. (It’s a hefty list, but most homeowners accumulate all but the most essential items over time.)
- stepladders (4′, 8′ and 12″) for use inside and outside the home
- hoses and sprayer attachments
- a rake and a leafblower
- a push broom for sweeping the garage, patio and walkways
- a spreader (for grass seed, fertilizer, weed control mixtures, etc.)
- a shovel and a spade
- a home repair tool kit that includes a good claw hammer, regular head and phillips head screwdrivers in assorted sizes, a 25′ tape measure, a level, a stud finder, a pair of plumber’s pliers, assorted hardware and a hacksaw.
Speaking of home maintenance, one of the first things you should do once you’re unpacked and settled into your new home is to take the time to develop a home maintenance checklist. Divide it into things that need to be done monthly, quarterly (seasonally), and annually. Make it a habit to look it over every month or so. Having and following a maintenance schedule can literally save you a bundle of money over the years by eliminating the likelihood of small problems turning into big — and expensive — ones.
Don’t Let Home Ownership Intimidate You!
While some of the things discussed in this article may seem daunting, there really is nothing quite like owning your own home. The money you invest is, in the long run, going back into your pocket with interest since — save the occasional housing market downturn — houses typically increase in value as the years go by, which means that if you take good care of it, it’ll take good care of you when the time comes to sell.
If you’re looking for a new home, thinking about selling your home, or both, and you’re in the Denver Metro area, be sure to contact me. I’m Scott Rodgers, a Denver-are real estate agent and a Denver native for the past 40 years! Needless to say, I know and love the area — and the local real estate market inside and out. I’m friendly, but analytical too, and I’d love to help you navigate the process of buying a new home or selling the one you’re in right now. Home ownership is exciting and rewarding, and I’d love to “show you the ropes”, and help you find the perfect Denver-area home for you and your family! (If you’re new to the area, you’re going to fall in love with Colorado’s active lifestyle, sunny days, and the Denver Metro’s great neighborhoods!)