If you’ve just bought a new home, congratulations are in order. Closing on a house in today’s crazy market is certainly something to be proud of. Now that you’ve made it through making the offer, the home inspection, 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
One of the first things you should 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.
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, and make it a priority to 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.
“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. Homeowners often hide them somewhere and then forget about them. “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, 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, consider purchasing one, even after closing.
“There are many home warranty companies in the marketplace that cover a variety of items,” says Sergio Gonzalez, a Realtor who leads the SG Associates brokerage in Westlake Village, California. “Be sure to select all the items that are most likely to break down and are expensive to replace.”
Gonzalez recommends shopping around for the best deal on a home warranty, and finding one that’s tailored to your 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 based 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 getting settled in.
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. “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 too. If you live in a home with multiple floors, make sure there’s at least one smoke detector on each floor.”
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.
5. Use your inspection report as a to-do list for maintenance
After you buy a house, address any issues that were flagged on the 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 cause problems later, such as dirty gutters, leaky pipes or doors and windows that need to be resealed.
Regular maintenance is critical to keeping any home running in tip-top shape. Putting in the sweat equity to maintain your home — or paying a pro to do it for you — prevents costly repair headaches later on. A well-maintained home can also command a higher sale price when you’re ready to sell.
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 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 splatter getting on your valuables.
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. Refresh the flooring
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.
If the sellers didn’t have the floors steam-cleaned before you bought the property, have them professionally cleaned before you move in. Even decades-old tile can take on a brand new appearance after a thorough professional cleaning.
8. 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. One of the first things to do when you buy a house is to 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 ones go to which room or appliance. Finally, gather up all the appliance manuals, so you know how everything works.
Come up with a filing system for manuals and documentation for your appliances and home systems — that way, if something goes wrong, you won’t have to scramble to find them. If some of your new home’s appliances don’t have manuals passed along from the previous homeowners, do a quick online search. Most companies publish manuals on their websites for easy access.
9. Create a 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.
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 hire pros to handle some of these tasks, so factor that into your budget, too.