- So you officially own a new home — congrats! Before you get settled, there are a few things expert homeowners recommended doing in your first year.
- Take some time to set reasonable expectations and goals as a homeowner, and start with small changes before jumping into major renovations.
- When making changes, plan ahead — inspect your house, learn about protocols and programs in your local area, and invest in the right people and tools for the job.
- Homeowners also suggested creating an ongoing maintenance schedule to keep your home in great shape throughout seasons.
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Between all the financial finagling, neighborhood research, inspections, and more, the process of buying a house can be a chaotic one. But once closing day comes and goes, the moment you’ve been waiting for arrives: You’re officially a homeowner!
Whether you bought a fixer upper and you’re trying to figure out where to start or you nabbed the home of your dreams and just want to make it feel like your own, there’s a lot to learn once all the paperwork is signed.
Luckily, you’re not the first person in the world to have owned a house. Many people have come before you, and some of them are here to share nuggets of surprising wisdom about what you should (and shouldn’t) do in your first year of homeownership.
Set reasonable expectations
The best thing you can do for yourself is to set reasonable expectations about both what homeownership entails and what you’ll be able to accomplish in a year.
“You do so much investigation and inspecting and learning from the seller, but no matter what, you get into the house and weeks later you’re discovering things, from small things like having to play with the key to lock the back door to finding out that the AC doesn’t really work,” said Heather Foss, a Twin Cities-based realtor. “It doesn’t matter how new or old the house is, everybody goes through this learning period of figuring out the tricks of the trade of their own house.”
“It takes a little bit of time,” added Whitney Peterson of Wahpeton, North Dakota, who, along with her husband, just wrapped up her first year of homeownership. “Even a year in, we just got done making raised garden beds.”
Inspect everything if you haven’t already
“You should have had, or have, your sewer line cleaned and inspected,” Foss said. Same goes for a safety check for everything from carbon monoxide and smoke detectors to the carbon emissions of furnaces and water heaters.
“You should also make sure that the shut-off valves for the gas and water are functioning,” Foss added, as part of an overall safety inspection to ensure that there aren’t dangers like exposed wires or uncovered junction boxes floating around.
Whenever you get those inspections, consider opting for companies with membership programs. “We signed up for a loyalty program with our local plumber and AC company,” said Torey Van Oot, who celebrated her one-year homeownership anniversary with her husband in March. “We pay a small fee and they come twice a year and do a free check of the water, AC, and furnace, and if we have a plumbing emergency they waive their fee” for coming out, she added.
Get to know your house before making major changes, but start small in the meantime
It can be tempting to dive right into major renovations on day one, but homeowners and experts advised against making any major changes right off the bat.
“Don’t, for god sake, renovate in the first year,” said SL Brown, an attorney in Virginia who’s ventured into the flipping industry. “You don’t know your house until you’ve lived in it for a few different seasons. Just knowing your house — even things like which angle the sun comes in — can make you change your mind about what you want to do.”
Instead, focus on small changes that increase livability. “We mostly did small tweaks that made a big difference,” Van Oot said. “We got a timer for our lights so we’re not coming home to a dark house. We installed a doorbell. Little things can make a big difference. It took us forever to do things like put the right size curtains on the sliding glass door, but that makes it feel more like home.”
Don’t forget about the outside either. “Learn about the plants you have and the ones you buy,” Van Oot added. “We spent money on some really nice evergreen shrubs that we loved, but we didn’t realize they can get sunburned in the winter.” She said she learned the hard way that they should have been covered in burlap for the winter or planted in a different location altogether.
In getting to know your house, Brown advised keeping a spreadsheet of both changes you want to make as well as utility costs throughout the year. “You want to know how much it costs to run the house for everyday expenses,” Brown said, adding, “if you see spikes, it can let you know if you have a water leak or where you could save money by getting more insulation somewhere.”
Learn about homebuyer protocol and programs
New homeowners should also get to know city, county, and state ordinances and programs related to their home. Information on programs, like, for example, Minnesota’s homesteading property tax reduction, can usually be found online, but savvy realtors know all about them, too. “It’s not the sexiest thing, but take a look at your taxes,” Brown said. “You’re going to be able to deduct the interest from your mortgage.”
“Pay attention to recycling and yard waste rules,” Van Oot added. “We learned that we could request a new top for our compost bin from the city. They also brought us a new tree in the spring.”
Know that certain projects simply require a professional
DIY Instagram accounts can make everything look easy and doable, but in reality some home projects are best left to the pros.
“The consequences of playing with the electric system are so high that it shouldn’t be done unless you’re 100% comfortable or if you’re doing it with someone who has done it before,” Foss said. “Plumbing makes things uncomfortable if you mess up, but it’s not detrimental.”
Create a maintenance schedule
Owning a home is an ongoing maintenance task, one that’s easier to manage with scheduled reminders.
“Use calendar reminders to remember to switch out the furnace filter and turn off your exterior spigots depending on the environment you’re in,” Foss said. “Set up a maintenance routine to have your gutters cleaned and the furnace tuned up every couple of years.”
Get to know your neighbors
“If you’re moving into a new place, I cannot say strongly enough: You have got to make friends with your neighbors, even if you don’t like them,” Brown said. “They’ll be the ones reporting if something is going on and, if you’re away and your kids are locked out of the house, they’ll let them watch TV in their living room.”
She spoke from personal experience. “You don’t have to be best friends, but reach out to people in the community in your first year and be a good neighbor,” she added.
Invest in the right tools
“If I would suggest anything, it would be to make small investments that make your life as easy as possible,” Peterson said. “Start building up your tool supply. Get yourself good power tools [like] a good electric drill.”
Van Oot and her husband have even been doubling up. “At first we thought we only needed one shovel or rake, but with two of us and big yard projects like tilling an area for a garden or raking all the leaves, we realized that it really is twice as fast to have two shovels and two rakes,” she said.
Make your home improvement spending work for you — and spend locally
Considering all of these purchases, Van Oot is a proponent of joining your local hardware store’s loyalty program to maximize purchases.
“We live near an ACE [Hardware] down the street and have supplied them with a solid income,” Van Oot said. “It’s not a bad idea to invest in a Menard’s or a Home Depot card to get some miles from your home improvement.”
“Shop local!” Foss said, adding that funneling your purchases into local businesses is another way to invest in your new community.