If you’ve just bought a house, congratulations are in order. Once you’ve made it through making the offer, the home inspection, mortgage application, financing and closing, you might think it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy your new place.
Don’t get too complacent, though. Moving into a new home means you’ll need to take some immediate action to make sure you’ll be a successful homeowner now and in the years to come. Here are some of the first things to do when you buy a new home.
1. Secure your home
One of the first things to do when you buy a house is to change the locks and garage codes. Lior Rachmany, CEO and founder of Dumbo Moving and Storage in Brooklyn, New York, recommends taking care of these security-related tasks before you move in.
“You don’t want the previous homeowners to have the ability to enter your home,” he says. “If you are putting off changing your locks, take a good look around the area of your house to see if you find hidden spare keys. They can be under large rocks or in the door frame.” Ask for instruction manuals and codes for any electronic systems, like home alarms and garage codes, and make it a priority to change the codes to new configurations that only you will know.
Need to know: If everything works properly, there shouldn’t be any cost associated with updating the pass codes for your garage. However, if your home comes with an alarm system, you’ll need to reconnect service or choose a new provider and pay ongoing alarm system monitoring fees. The cost to change locks can vary based on the level of security, complexity of the lock and whether you choose to hire a professional locksmith or do it yourself.
2. Purchase or review your home warranty
Some homebuyers receive a home warranty purchased by the seller to cover the home’s major systems or appliances. After all, the last thing a buyer wants to deal with is a broken dishwasher or HVAC unit. If you received a home warranty, it’s a good time to review the specifics, so you’ll know what’s covered and how to file a claim. If you don’t have one, it’s smart to consider purchasing a home warranty, even after closing.
“There are many home warranty companies in the marketplace that cover a variety of items,” says Sergio Gonzalez, broker and owner of SG Associates, a real estate brokerage in Westlake Village, California. “Be sure to select all the items that are most likely to break down and are expensive to replace.”
Need to know: Gonzalez recommends that homeowners shop around for the best deal on a home warranty, and find the one that’s tailored to their needs. For example, you might want to get coverage on big-ticket items, such as the water heater, furnace, air conditioning unit and kitchen appliances. “The price of these plans will vary on the size of the home and the plan selected,” he says. Home warranties range in cost from about $350 to $600, depending on coverage and the length of the contract.
3. Connect the utilities
It’s smart to connect all of your must-have utilities — like water, gas and electricity — before you move in. This will help pave the way for a smooth move-in process and ensure you have the essential necessities as you’re trying to get settled in your new place.
Need to know: Depending on your neighborhood and local service providers, there can be hoops to jump through to connect utilities. Check with your local providers to determine the process, what type of ownership or residence verification you need, and how far in advance you should schedule turn-on for your utilities.
4. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
To help ensure your family is safe in their new home, ensure that all of the home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working condition. This may include installing fresh batteries or replacing entire units. “Smoke detectors should ideally be placed in a hallway leading to your bedrooms,” Rachmany says. “Fires are most likely to start from your kitchen or your laundry room, so it’s a good idea to place smoke detectors there. If you live in a home with multiple floors, make sure there’s at least one smoke detector on each floor.”
Need to know: Most home safety experts recommend checking and changing the batteries in your detectors every six months to make sure they’re in good working order. If you keep a family calendar, it’s easy to set a reminder. Check with your local fire department for help, too; some offer free inspections and testing if you call the non-emergency line to schedule an appointment.
5. Use your inspection report as a ‘to-do’ list for maintenance
After you buy a house, address any issues that were flagged on your home inspection report that the seller didn’t fix, Gonzalez says. Using the home inspection report as a guide, make a list of things to repair, update or maintain for the future, ranking them from most to least urgent. You’ll want to address items that can potentially blow up and cost you money later, such as dirty gutters, leaky pipes or doors and windows that need to be resealed.
Need to know: Maintenance is critical to keeping your home running in tip-top shape. Putting in the sweat equity to maintain your home (or pay someone to do it) now could prevent costly repair headaches later on.
6. Refresh the paint
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to make a house your home is to give the interior a fresh coat of paint. The best part: No one can dictate your color palette or timeline; it’s all on your terms. If you schedule painting (either DIY or with help from a professional) before moving your furniture in, you won’t have to move pieces around again and worry about splatter getting on your valuables.
Need to know: If you’re hiring a professional painter, ask if they’ll give you a discount for having empty rooms. Since they can simply lay a tarp flat on the floor, rather than having to cover furniture, the job may go faster and save you money.
7. Find the circuit box, review emergency shut-offs and appliance manuals
Even if your new home isn’t brand new, it’s new to you so it’s vital to understand how things work. First task: find the emergency shut-offs and the circuit breaker box. If the box isn’t labeled, add labels to the individual circuits so you know which goes to which room or appliance of your new home. Finally, make sure you have copies of all the appliance manuals so you know how everything works.
Need to know: It’s a good idea to create a filing system for manuals and documentation for your appliances and home systems. If some of your new home’s appliances don’t have manuals passed along from the previous homeowners, do a quick online search. Most appliance companies publish manuals on their websites for easy access.
8. Create a maintenance schedule
It’s wise to think of maintaining your new home as a marathon rather than a sprint. Instead of trying to tackle all of the maintenance tasks immediately, be thoughtful about the things that need to be done over time. This may include (but not be limited to) replacing air filters, cleaning the gutters, having the carpet cleaned and pressure washing the exterior.
Need to know: Create a home maintenance checklist that’s realistic for your household. Budget for those tasks each year, as well as unexpected repairs. The general rule of thumb is to save a minimum of 1 percent of the home’s purchase price each year for repairs. You might decide to get the pros to handle some of these tasks, so factor that into your budget, too.