First-time Homeowner Tips

Get more enjoyment out of home ownership by being prepared

First-time homeowner?  Congratulations! But while having a place you can truly call and make your own is a transformative experience, it also brings a whole new set of responsibilities. With no more 1-800-Landlord number to call when things go wrong or need repair, you’re now fully in charge of maintaining this very important investment.

Just as the joys of home ownership appear in ways large and small, so do maintenance needs and expenses. Here are tips to help first time homeowners stay prepared to help make sure the experience of home ownership is positive.

Gear up for every need: It’s a first-time homeowner's job to maintain your home year-round, so invest in the tools you’ll need to tackle typical projects. Doing so makes those little surprises a lot easier to handle, something new homeowner Anna Daugherty of Lansing, MI, has learned the hard way this winter.Alt=first-time homeowner tips

“One thing we completely forgot about was actually very simple: we forgot to get a shovel,” says Daugherty. “This weekend, we had seven inches of snow fall in a short amount of time, burying us in snow?and no shovel!”

Avoid unpleasant snow days and other seasonal challenges by gearing up with a set of basic hand tools and an arsenal of lawn and garden implements. And while you’re at it, invest in a storage system that keeps everything neat and within reach, whether in your garage or a stand-alone tool shed.

Get to know the pros: First-time homeowners can also be prepared by assembling your very own “home team” of contractors, plumbing pros and handypersons well before you ever need them. Find local specialists through the recommendations of family and friends, and by connecting with referral services like ServiceMagic. The realtor who helped you find your new home can also put you in touch with pros whose work quality and ethics can be trusted.

“We provide our buyers with names of people we’ve done business with in the past who are licensed, insured and have given us a good price on the work they do,” says Diann Patton, Coldwell Banker Real Estate’s consumer specialist and the sales manager/broker/owner in Grass Valley, CA. “So put your resources in your realtor to obtain a list of favorite painters, plumbers, electricians and handymen because then you know you’ve got referrals from someone you can trust, and typically, that’s the kind of person you want to do business with.”

Understand your home’s operating systems: Understanding the basics of your home’s mechanical systems is a must, even if a pro will be called in for major maintenance and repair issues. Know where your main water line is and how to shut it off in an emergency. Get acquainted with the fuse or breaker box, and label essential and non-essential systems for quick reference and energy-saving shutdowns when you’re away for extended periods of time. And set a routine for heating and cooling system maintenance, including annual tune-ups by an HVAC contractor, frequent filter changes, and sealing of leaky ductwork.

Maintain the exterior: Your home’s “envelope” requires care not only for continual curb appeal but also to protect its structural elements and energy efficiency. Immediately address such issues as damaged siding, clogged gutters and insufficient grading that keeps water near the structure. Also do a regular, thorough check of your roof’s condition so that you can address trouble spots and stay ahead of repair needs.

Make utility bills manageable: Unlike most rental situations, home ownership puts you in charge of covering all utilities. If the initial months in your new abode have given you sticker shock over power and water costs, take steps to manage your energy dollars as well as home comfort. Budget for foreseeable seasonal fluctuations in energy needs (like summer cooling and winter heating), and check into plans offered by local utility providers that allow you to distribute costs evenly over a 12-month period rather than paying right-now prices. Also look for ways to trim costs with minor energy-saving improvements, like installing a programmable thermostat or fitting the bath with WaterSense-approved fixtures.

Establish a contingency fund: Even if you’re in a brand-new home that’s under warranty, it’s wise to have a contingency fund to cushion those curve balls that life can throw at a homeowner.

“You really have no idea what could or might go wrong,” advises Patton. “For instance in my community just a couple of weeks ago, we had a horrific snowstorm that actually put trees down through a lot of people’s roofs…How do you plan for that? Fortunately as a homeowner, you have insurance to deal with those issues, but you want to have contingency funds to cover your deductible if you have an insurance claim, for plumbing leaks or roof leaks?anything like that.”

Maintaining such a financial safety net will come in handy when you least expect it, and also provide backup as you approach longer-term home improvement needs and decisions. Add this critical element to your care and maintenance strategy, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the privileges of being a first-time homeowner all the more.