Maintaining (and Loving) Your New Home
Bonus – Love Buying a Home series
We’re not done just yet! Here’s a bonus article for our recent 13-part series, Love Buying a Home. This step-by-step series took you through the entire home-buying process — from finding a buyer’s agent to settlement day. Now you’ll learn a few tips on how take care of your new home and make it yours!
Being a first-time homeowner can be exhilarating and fun at times, with lots of freedom to make it your own space. You don’t have to answer to any landlord or roommate!
But, it also comes with responsibilities.
When something breaks, it’s not an easy call to that landlord anymore. You’re the one in charge of any repairs, maintenance, finances, and improvements over the long haul.
Plus, making your home more “yours” and becoming a member of your community also are part of your to-do list now. You’re not a renter anymore but putting down roots.
This first year will have some highs and perhaps some lows, and most of it will be very new for you. Here’s some guidance on everything you may encounter as you get your feet wet.
Our 20 tips below provide a good overview of what you can do to maintain your home AND make you a happy homeowner:
1) Create a home manual JUST for your home. Find a system that works for you so it’s like a one-stop-shop, whether you find an online option such as iCloud or Dropbox to store documents or if you prefer to go “old school” with a binder(s) and plastic pockets to stuff receipts, etc. Make sure it’s something that you will use and keep you organized.
You’ll need to keep important documents about your home and its systems (depending on the age many new owner manuals are online); service records; warranties; the age of your roof, furnace, water heater, washer/dryer, refrigerator and other important appliances; even include paint colors and other decorating information; receipts for furniture. Don’t forget to include any landscaping work and how to care for your plants, shrubs, and flowers.
2) Maintain an updated list of phone numbers of service providers. This list should include your plumber, electrician, utility company, landscaper, HVAC, etc. You’ll be able to contact them quickly when needed. Also keep notes on each of their visits and get second opinions for larger repair or replacement recommendations. Again, choose to go electronic or paper.
3) Keep records and receipts of your home improvement and maintenance costs. Whenever you do sell, these records show where you have added value and what you’ve done to keep up your home. Several types of improvements also can qualify for tax incentives so be sure to share the receipts on a yearly basis with your CPA.
Tips 1 through 3 above are also great to have when you are selling your home. The buyers will love it and be confident they are purchasing a home that has been well cared for!
4) Keep a realistic pace and budget for buying things you need for your home. Having a home means there’s always a long list of big and little things you need to buy or want to upgrade, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. The list could go on and on — from window treatments, lawn mower, rakes, cleaning supplies, vacuum, a sectional couch, deck furniture, lamps, etc.
You’re going to grow with this home so make a plan and a budget. If you do need to buy, then shop for sales, bargains, flea markets. Buy off season or at the end of a season for major savings. For example, you can get a great deal on patio furniture in September!
5) Have an emergency fund for any unexpected costs. No matter how well your home has been taken care of by you or the previous owner, there are going to be some unexpected surprises, so be prepared. Something will break and you won’t be able to delay fixing it – a cold winter night and your furnace stops working, a tree falls on your house, or a baseball goes through one of your windows. Expect the unexpected!
A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay about 1% of your home’s value in maintenance and upkeep costs per year. If you budget for these “unexpected” items, they won’t be such a surprise when it comes time.
6) Cut the costs of utility bills by conserving how much heat, electricity, A/C, and water you use in your home. You’ll save the planet and your wallet! Turn down your heat and wear sweaters in the winter; and set an automatic thermostat at an efficient temperature in the summer and winter months. There are so many options out there right now! First-time homeowners can contact their utility companies for an estimate on rates for each month of the year to help with their budget.
7) Hire an accountant so you know how to prepare your taxes correctly. You can better ensure that you’ll maximize your refund and get the deductions you deserve. The tax code can change and a professional stays up-to-date on how it can affect homeowners. Even getting them done by a professional one time is a good idea since you’ll have a template for the next year. You also may learn you’ll get tax credits on energy efficient appliances, etc.
8) Double check that you have enough homeowner’s insurance. It should include flood and fire protection plans. Also take out life insurance coverage so your family won’t lose their home. Ditto on having disability-income insurance so you can stay in your home. Always talk to an insurance professional for their advice on your particular situation.
9) Don’t ever ignore any problems or damage you see in your home. A minor problem can turn into a big, more costly one before you know it! Consistent, regular maintenance of your home is important to combat the usual wear and tear. Make sure you schedule important tasks for your fall, winter, spring and summer maintenance. By doing this, you could prevent more extensive damage from any severe weather conditions such as flooding, snow, ice, and heat.
10) Create an inspection list and go through your home twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, to check on the condition of each item. You don’t need to hire an inspector; you just need to have the keen eye of one just like when you bought your home.
Your list should include both inside and outside items: roof, windows, foundation, gutters, attic, insulation, HVAC, chimney, driveway, and etc. Look for damage from water leaks, mold, and pests such as termites, mice, squirrels, rats. Flag any key life expectancies when you conduct these inspections so you can examine more carefully near that time. For example, your roof can last 15-20 years if it has asphalt shingles, or up to 50+ if it has slates.
11) Know your major appliances – such as fridge, stove/oven, dish washer, washer/dryer. Know how they work, how to maintain them (like changing your filters), who to call for repairs, and how old they are now and their life expectancies. How long they last depends a lot on your care of them and also your specific product. For example, a fridge can last from 9-13 years; air conditioning unit from 8-15 years, a water heater 10-11 years. Again, keep all owner manuals and other necessary receipts for easy access.
12) Buy tools you’ll use regularly to maintain your home and to make minor repairs. Every homeowner should have a tool box but don’t go out and buy something you may only need once; you can sometimes rent or share the cost with friends or neighbors. Experts say you should buy a tape measurer, utility knife, four-in-one screwdriver, hammer, putty knife, saw, wrench, pliers, and drill/driver. Every homeowner usually goes through a tube of caulk each year.
13) Learn some basic DIY skills that can save you time and money on repairs. You can find lots of information online or on YouTube with basic how-to’s on just about everything. From how to unclog a drain to how to patch a hole in the wall, it’s endless! Also consider taking some classes at your local hardware store, which hold inexpensive one-day workshops. You can save so much per year if you can do some of the basic repairs and upkeep yourself.
14) Hire a qualified contractor or handyman for more complex jobs. This is when it’s important to have a higher level of expertise so you can maintain the value of your home, not detract from it. No future buyer likes to see a shoddy and unprofessional job! If it’s something more complicated than a clogged drain, for example, maybe that’s where you draw the line on the DIY.
15) Be patient and don’t expect your home to look like a HGTV makeover overnight. Reality-TV is much different than reality! Those shows are worth watching since they can inspire you with ideas for all the rooms in your home and even your yard. You probably won’t feel like your home is ever “done” — it’s more like a work in progress and you’ll feel like you’re constantly making it “yours.” Learn to accept this so you don’t ruin your budget or rush projects.
16) Live in your home for a while to get a feel for the ebb and flow of it. The time spent doing this will help you decide what furniture you really need and what will function best in certain spaces. There’s no harm in some empty rooms for a while! If you plan to eventually remodel, you’ll be more confident in knowing how your family actually moves about your home if you wait a bit. And again, budget and pace yourself with your purchases of furniture, window treatments, and accessories.
17) Paint is a cheap, quick fix-up. A can of paint will completely transform a room. You can save thousands just by painting the right colors. That can satisfy your HGTV envy. Enough said!
18) Try to forge a good relationship with neighbors. You don’t have to be overfriendly if that’s not your style but neighbors can be a good source of information about the community and help you out when needed (borrow that shovel you never bought in time or an onion for that chili recipe!).
19) Do what you can to help to create a positive community feel to your condo, street or neighborhood and make it a place you will love to live in. Get involved and attend your condo meetings, help host an annual block party on your street, or hold regular summer happy hours, etc. Plus, having a great community feel can be a good selling point when the time comes.
20) Sign up for a neighborhood listserv or community blog to get all the inside information. You’ll know what’s going on in your neighborhood (someone just spotted a fox!) and get recommendations for a handyman, plumber, mother’s group, or even a piano teacher.
We hope these tips will keep your home in tip-top shape all year long and you’ll love being a homeowner. Enjoy your first year, and remember that all of this will be beneficial to your home whenever it’s time to sell!