Way back in the day, we posed the question, what do you need to do first when you buy and move into a new home? There were SO many great comments from homeowners who learned things the hard way that I had to cull them into one big lessons-learned list.
Here is the big list of new homeowner tasks and advice for homebuyers.
Note: not everything in this list will apply to you and your home and you may disagree with some of them. If so, tell us your lesson learned in the comments!
Get a home warranty
Get a home warranty, especially if you have older appliances (some realtors ask the sellers to provide one for the first year). So far, the warranty has paid for a new dishwasher that would have cost us more than the warranty itself cost.
Pack and purge efficiently
Keep, Toss, Donate, Replace, Refurbish. Decide what you’re keeping, throwing away, or donating. And take stock of what you have — if it’s worn down, decide if you plan on replacing it with something new or whether it’s worth fixing up later. If you’re replacing it, decide whether you need to have something new or something used from Craigslist/Goodwill/etc. If you have a list, you know what to keep your eyes peeled for. And, in all likelihood, someone is eventually going to want to buy you a housewarming gift. Know what to say when they offer to buy you something–because money IS tight now, and you CAN say yes to their generosity.
I would concentrate on packing: label, label, label, And not just “kitchen” or “bedroom” or “books” but “kitchen – basic utensils, unpack first” and “books – must display.” Then, as you’re packing, do so thoughtfully, with an eye towards purging as much stuff as you can. There’s nothing worse than opening a box in a new home and thinking “where am I going to put this garbage?” Why bring it with you in the first place?
Color code. Set up a spreadsheet on your laptop, with tabs for each room. Assign a color to each room, and an additional color to “OPEN FIRST.” Buy Sharpies in those colors (the mini ones are like $.50 each at office supply places, and they come with lids that you can attach to a key ring so you will be less likely to lose your ring of Sharpies as you pack). Label each box carefully, and use the spreadsheet to list the exact contents. Be sure to mark the box on multiple sides, as you won’t know which side will be up/forward when you’re packing/unpacking.
For example, you might use a red Sharpie to mark B10 on a box, plus “Kitchen utensils.” In the spreadsheet under your B tab, box 10 would say “Kitchen utensils – big spoons, spatulas, meat forks, whisks, etc.” This seriously, seriously saves a TON of time when it comes to unpacking what you need when you need it.
Change the locks
Change the locks. Who knows who has a copy of the keys? Now’s the time to install deadbolts, if needed, or swap out the doors to more secure metal doors.
Paint every ceiling that needs painting before moving anything into those rooms. That’s the messiest painting job ever. Also, if anything needs to be power sanded (like crappy walls or a nasty paint job on the windows) or spray painted (nasty old light switches, doors with slats, or old radiators), do that before moving anything into the room.
Unless you’re waiting to see how the light falls to help you choose a color, try to paint before moving all of the furniture into the place.
Decorate and design early
Consider planning a housewarming party! We had one about a month after we moved in, and it was totally motivating for things like putting art on the walls and clearing out the last box or two.
Since our house didn’t require major work (all utilities worked, along with doors, windows, floors, and walls) — we scheduled a house-warming party early on because that motivated us to get things put away at least enough to have people over. But we also didn’t expect things to be perfect by the party — everyone coming expected messy and casual fun for the evening, with makeshift loveseats made from construction scaffolding covered piled with pillows and blankets.
Plan where you want your cable run. We had to have holes drilled through the floor, and we had to know FOR SURE where to have it done while the cable guy was there setting up our internet/TV.
Measure everything. You really want that huge couch in the living room, so measure the wall to see if it will fit. Take into account all three dimensions. There’s NOTHING worse than carrying a heavy-ass piece of furniture into your home, only to discover that there’s no humanly way it will ever fit in there. Buying something new? MEASURE FIRST.
Check the height of your ceilings and any lights hanging from them. Also cupboards. Determine if you need a step-ladder. Get a step ladder regardless because you’ll need it at some point, especially if you do paint.
Start figuring out what sorts of things you will need to have access to for tools, etc: do you need a lawnmower? Do you need a rake? What tools do you have for home repair (drill, screwdrivers, hammers, scrapers, caulking). You don’t actually need to buy them all, but it’s good to start thinking about it.
Learn where everything is: furnace, switchbox, electrical outlets, hot water heater, outdoor taps, etc. You’ll need this stuff, so plan around having access to them and know where they are BEFORE you need them.
I took two days before we moved a single box in to scrub the floors, windowsills, baseboards, and corners because you never get the chance again to clean completely unobstructed, and it made me feel very comfortable in the house knowing every surface was ours now and all the mess that would follow would be ours, too.
You can really go all out and change the shower heads and toilet seats or just put a plastic bag of vinegar over the shower heads and put the toilet seats through the dishwasher (unless they are wood). Have the furnace and ducts cleaned, and clean out the dryer vent, for safety.
If you’re a spiritual sort, it’s nice to do a spiritual cleansing (be it sage smudging or a purifying ritual, as I did) before you move your stuff in. I got an hour to do that in my old place, and it was so nice to not feel lots of foreign energy in a place I was already nervous about.
Start filing receipts now
Start a filing system for bills, receipts, etc. right away. We didn’t, and now we have the ‘drawer of death,’ and I really think a $20 file from Craigslist could have saved us from quite a few headaches.
Take before photos
I liked taking lots of ‘before’ pictures and doing a video walkthrough of our house without a thing in it — we sent the video to friends and family who weren’t near enough to visit. Now I’ll never forget the horrible pink floral/bird wallpaper I spent so long scraping off.
Also take photos of all your belongings once they’re inside for insurance purposes. More on that here.
Get an energy audit
If your energy company offers home energy audits, DO IT. We just had one done, and even though we didn’t really learn anything new about how to make our house more efficient, we got some free light bulbs, and, more importantly, learned that we can get rebates of 70% of the cost of repairs that improve energy efficiency, like insulation and weather-stripping. All you have to do is fill out a form, and send in the receipt.
If you’re not doing an energy audit, wander around with a stick of incense or a candle to check around each door and window for air leakage. Caulk and replace weather-stripping and door sweeps as needed. It’s kinda messy and hard to get to once furniture is in. Doing this has made our electric bill about 1/3 of what the neighbors on either side pay.
Plan out your renos
We went through the house and made a list (in Google Docs) of EVERYTHING we wanted to change. Everything from major backyard landscaping to setting up electrical service to replacing burnt out light bulbs. Then we marked off things which would be considerably harder once the house was full of stuff. For us, this included electrical work, painting, and replacing the carpets.
Then we sorted the list into things we could do ourselves (cleaning), things we might do ourselves (painting), and things we’d definitely need a pro for (carpet installation). Then we prioritized it.
The most important things for us in those early days were getting our appliances in and working, and building enough storage for our needs. By focusing on building really nice bookshelves and closets right from the get-go, when we unpacked a box, everything was in its permanent place and we didn’t have to revisit and rehome items over and over again.
Meet the neighbors
Introduce yourself to the neighbors as soon as you get the chance. Use a postcard, knock on doors, whatever you can to meet them and learn names.
Want bonus points during the neighbor intros? Bring your dog if you have one. I like to make sure neighbors, especially ones I share a fence with, know my dog, and know his name. So if he decides to be stupid and bark at them while they are in their own yards, they can just say, “Hey Robbie, that’s enough.” Which is usually all it takes to get him to stop. (For some reason, my dog thinks if you know his name, he has to listen to you, so this works for us.)
We also leave a business card with both our cell numbers on it in case the dog is either barking during the day, or if they notice anything odd. It sounds like overkill, but I had a neighbor call once to let me know my gate was hanging open during the day. Turns out the guys who were trimming our trees forgot to close it, so the dog was inside and it wasn’t a big deal, but had it just blown open by wind or whatever it might have been a problem. It’s nice to have other people on your side.
Meet the neighborhood
Do a walkabout in your neighborhood. We do that every time we move, and it’s a great way to get the lay of the land, maybe meet a few new people, and find some great shops, restaurants, etc. you might miss if you just drove by.
Also consider test-driving your commute, whether by car, bike, or public transit, to see how it will work during your actual commute times.
Prepare for extra spending
Set aside some extra cash for things you may find you’ll need once you actually move in, like lightbulbs, longer power cords, outlet covers, and storage (or even little things like a new shower curtain if you have another bathroom, etc.). Also be prepared to pay for things like having to get the gutters or fireplace cleaned.
Prepare for lots of spending on things you won’t see coming. And let us know what tips we missed in the comments!