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If you’ve just bought a new home, congratulations — closing on a house in today’s market is certainly something to be proud of. Now that you’ve made it through house hunting, making the offer, the mortgage process and the 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
The first thing you should do when you buy a house is change the locks, garage codes and access to any other entry points. Lior Rachmany, CEO 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.
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. If your home comes with an alarm system, you’ll likely need to pay to reconnect service — or choose a new provider. Ask for the instruction manuals and codes for any electronic systems, like home alarms and garage codes, at the closing, and change the codes to new configurations that only you will know. If the manuals are not available, you might be able to find reprogramming instructions online.
Homeowners often hide extra keys somewhere — and then forget about them. “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,” says Rachmany. “They can be under large rocks or in the door frame.”
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, review the specifics so you know what’s covered and how to file a claim.
If you don’t get one with the house, consider purchasing one. “There are many home warranty companies in the marketplace that cover a variety of items,” says Sergio Gonzalez, a Realtor with SG Associates in Westlake Village, California. Shop around for the best deal: “The price of these plans will vary based on the size of the home and the plan selected,” he says.
Gonzalez recommends tailoring the warranty to your needs. For example, you might want to get coverage only on big-ticket items, such as the water heater and furnace, or if you’re in a warm or desert climate, the air conditioning unit might be your top priority. “Be sure to select all the items that are most likely to break down and are expensive to replace,” he says.
3. Connect the utilities
Be sure 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 and ensure you have the essential necessities as you’re getting settled. No one wants to unpack boxes in the dark.
Plan ahead! 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.
4. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
To help ensure you and your family are safe in your new home, make sure all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working condition. This may include installing fresh batteries or replacing entire units.
Most home safety experts recommend checking and changing the batteries in your detectors every six months. 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.
“Smoke detectors should ideally be placed in a hallway leading to the 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, too. If you live in a home with multiple floors, make sure there’s at least one on each floor.”
5. 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. Make sure you know where the emergency shut-offs and circuit-breaker box are. If the box isn’t labeled, add labels to the individual circuits so you know which ones go to which room or appliance. And gather up all the appliance manuals for easy reference if needed.
6. Refresh the paint and flooring
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. Unlike renters, as an owner you can dictate your color palette and timeline; it’s all on your terms. If you get the painting done (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 drips or splatters.
Just like refreshing the walls with new paint, refreshing or refinishing floors is cheaper and easier to do when your home is still empty. Flooring can make a huge difference in a home’s appearance. If yours are in less-than-pristine condition, consider replacing old carpets or refinishing existing hardwoods before you move in. Even decades-old tile can take on a brand new appearance after a thorough professional cleaning.
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 dropcloth flat on the floor, rather than having to carefully cover furniture, the job may go faster for them — and cost less for you.
7. Use your inspection report as a to-do list for upkeep
After you buy a house, Gonzalez says, review any issues that were flagged on the home inspection report but are not yet fixed. Using the 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 cause problems later, such as dirty gutters, leaky pipes or doors and windows that need to be resealed.
8. Create a regular maintenance schedule
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 replacing air filters, cleaning the gutters, pressure washing the exterior and more.
Safety first: Secure your new home right away by changing the locks and reprogramming garage-door or alarm codes so that no one has access but you (and your family). It’s also a good idea to get your utilities connected before you move in, so that you have lights and running water right away, and make sure all smoke detectors are in good working order.
No one wants to be house-poor, so it’s important to make sure you have enough cash reserves to pay for regular maintenance and upkeep and the rest of your everyday expenditures, like food and transportation. This is why many experts recommend following the 28 percent rule when house-hunting: Spend no more than 28 percent of your monthly income on housing. You should also make sure to have an emergency fund, so you can pay for any unexpected repairs.