During a good portion of the homebuying process, you have an agent with you: Guiding you, making suggestions, and listening to your concerns. You have tons of paperwork to fill out for your mortgage and lots of documents to gather and submit. You have an insurance agent to deal with, a closing agent from the title company, and sometimes a lawyer.
Finally, after signing what seems an endless amount of documents at your closing, you go to your new house — alone for the first time (no real estate agent with you) — and step inside your very own front door. This can be both exciting and overwhelming. All of it is yours! That’s…a lot to take care of.
Do you have a plan in place for how to maintain this enormous investment you just made in your finances and future?
Don’t worry; we’ve put together all the home maintenance tips you need as a first-time buyer.
When you first move in
1. Change the locks.
Or, at the very least, get them rekeyed. “Who knows how many people have keys to your house?” Cleffi notes.
2. Check the smoke detectors (again).
While you’re at it, replace the batteries so you know exactly how old they are. If, for some reason, your house doesn’t have smoke detectors installed already (though that should have come up in the home inspection), head to your local home improvement store and buy some.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there should be a smoke alarm in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of a house.
Check your smoke detectors once every year.
3. Check the temperature on the thermostats.
Adjust to settings that fit you (and your budget!)
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy suggests a winter setting of 68 degrees (Fahrenheit) and a summer setting of 78 degrees. When you’re not at home, consider changing it 7 to 10 degrees from its normal range. This could save you up to 10% annually on your heating and cooling costs. Ultimately, you should set it as low and as high as is tolerable for you.
Consider installing a smart thermostat or upgrading the current one in your house.
Smart thermostats can be controlled with your phone, tablet, smart speaker, or other internet-connected device, like Alexa. They can learn your temperature preferences and automatically adjust to those preferences. And (like your car), they can remind you when to perform routine maintenance on your heating and cooling system.
Some smart thermostats can sense when you enter and exit your home and automatically alter the temperature accordingly.
4. Check carbon monoxide detectors.
These should be checked again every year as well.
5. Locate your main water shut-off valve.
Make sure you can turn it off. The shut-off valve should be on the outside of the house on the side that faces the street.
Depending on the age of your house, there might not be a shut-off valve at the house. You may need to find your water meter and shut it off there.
If you’re unable to locate a valve entering your house, your meter should be at the curb at the end of your property line. You’ll have to remove the cover (you may need a screwdriver, or a meter key, which you can buy at home improvement stores).
Once you’re removed the cover, there will likely be a handle. Turn it clockwise (righty-tighty!) to close.
6. Find your circuit breaker box.
Familiarize yourself with what breaker shuts off what inside your house and label all the breakers if they are not already labeled.
Breaker boxes can be inside or outside the house and are metal boxes with a door that opens.
Your breaker box may have a main shut-off lever on the outside of the box, which will stop the electricity as it flows from the street. If it does not, be aware that electricity is still coming to that box, whether or not you shut off all the breakers in it. In other words, don’t touch anything inside the box but the levers on the breakers themselves.
Within the first month of moving in
7. Check your furnace filter and replace it.
If your home has a furnace, start by turning it off, then removing the filter. The filter will be inside the furnace or return air vent. The filter itself will have an arrow that indicates the direction of airflow so you know which way to install it. The size of the filter will be printed on the cardboard edge.
If your filter happens to have a plastic frame, it’s probably a reusable one that you can clean with soap and water. There are various ratings for filters that correspond to their efficiency in filtering certain things from the air. The Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive guide about home air quality and filters to help you choose what is best for you.
Replace air filters every year at the same time.
8. Check any HVAC filters and replace them.
HVAC filters are similar to furnace filters. Most HVAC filters are located in the return air duct of your system. As with furnace filters, they will have a designated size and airflow direction.
You should replace them every year at the same time.
9. Visit your basement or crawl space.
“Most of the big issues I see with homes have to do with water penetration inside the house. I’ve attended a lot of home inspections, and the things people don’t pay enough attention often have to do with water issues,” explains Cleffi.
Look for any signs of water, especially in corners and the edges of basement walls. For crawl spaces, make sure there isn’t a cesspool (breeding mosquitoes) under your house.
Repeat seasonally, then every fall and spring to make sure rain or melting snow isn’t encroaching where it shouldn’t be.
10. Check your attic space.
You’re looking for water here, too. You’ll want to repeat seasonally until you have an idea of when water is most likely to intrude.
11. Check your windows.
Again, look for any water penetration around them. Check to see if your window sills feel soft — if so, there may be water leaking in between the sill and the wall. If there seems to be a lot of damage, you may want to consider hiring a professional.
If the windows feel drafty, recaulk them. Caulk does degrade over time. To recaulk, take yourself out for another trip to the home improvement store and purchase a caulk gun and caulk. There are different kinds of caulk for interior and exterior use, as well as caulks for especially humid spaces and caulks for the type of surface you’re caulking (wood, stone, brick). If you can, splurge for the more expensive caulk gun that has a thumb-release trigger. These make it easier to control the caulk flow. Usually, the more expensive guns are the ones that are sold without a tube of caulk already in them.
Before recaulking, remove any dried and cracked caulk using a putty knife or paint scraper. Cut off the tip of the caulk tube to allow the caulk to flow out. Caulk all the seams where the window meets the sill. You can smooth out the caulk with a wet fingertip.
You should only have to do it again every few years. You can also add weather stripping.
12. Check your doors.
Check your doors for drafts, too, and add weather-stripping if there isn’t any, or replace what is there if it doesn’t seem to be doing an efficient job. The less drafty your house is as a whole, the better (and more efficient) your heating and cooling system will be at maintaining your desired inside temperature.
13. Clean your fridge coils.
You know that disgusting, dirty space behind your fridge? Don’t be afraid! Slide your refrigerator out from the wall, unplug it, and give those coils a good clean. If your fridge is connected to a water supply (has an ice maker and water dispenser on the front) make sure not to disconnect that.
There’s (of course) a special brush made just for this purpose that you can buy at a home improvement store.
Condenser coils will either be on the back, bottom, or top. If on the bottom, remove the base grille and use a brush to clean off any dirt, pet hair, or debris. If the coils are on the back, use the brush to clean off all the gunk and debris. For refrigerators with coils on the top, disconnect the power from the fuse box and lift the grille panel. Be careful as the edges are usually quite sharp. Check your instruction manual for your refrigerator to see where the condenser is located. On GE models, the condenser is normally in the back right corner of the machine compartment.
After cleaning, replace the grille if you removed it and sweep any debris from the floor. Then reconnect the power and slide the refrigerator back in place.
Do this every year afterward. If you’re lucky enough to have a newer model, you won’t have to do this.
14. Clear your dryer vent.
This is the part of your dryer venting to the outside of your house. (You should clean your lint trap after every use). Clean your vent every six months.
Unplug the dryer and (if it uses natural gas) turn off the gas at the wall by turning the valve into the off position (to the right). Pull the dryer away from the wall and locate the vent duct. Disconnect the hose from the dryer. If there is a clamp holding the hose in place, use a screwdriver to loosen the screws. From the outside of the house, remove the dryer vent cover if there is one. Vacuum the duct out from the outside. If your hose is too long for a vacuum suction to remove all the lint inside, you can purchase a dryer vent cleaning brush that comes on a“snake” similar to the kind used to clean out drains.
Reattach your duct, move the dryer back into place, and reconnect the power.
15. Check your gutters.
Clean out all the leaves and other debris that gathers there.
Do this every season.
16. Check refrigerator door seals and replace them as needed.
It’s likely pretty clear by now that you don’t want anything of any kind leaking or letting air in or out that shouldn’t. Check every year.
17. Get your home audited for energy.
A home energy audit will give you a good sense of where to focus your immediate upgrades and where you can wait. The audit will cost between $300 and $700, and your local utility company likely has auditing resources.
Within the first year of moving in
18. Figure out your lawn and driveway care needs, then arrange to have them met.
Curb appeal can be a competitive thing in neighborhoods. Some people obsess over having the best lawn on the block or street. It’s completely up to you if you want to jump into full-on perfect lawn obsession mode or if you’re happy just raking leaves and mowing the grass.
Check if your driveway might need resealing. If there are significant cracks, you’ll probably want to reseal sooner rather than later. Concrete will crack if water permeates it so the more cracks you have, the more cracks you’ll get.
Driveways should be resealed once every three to five years. When deciding when to implement this project, make sure the outside temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit and the forecast is free from rain for at least two days. Before applying the seal, fix any cracks or potholes. For cracks smaller than a ½ inch, you can use a crack filler. For larger holes, use a driveway patch.
After you’ve repaired any cracks and holes (you should allow larger patches to cure for 4 to 6 weeks before adding sealant on top), clear any leaves and dirt from the driveway and mix your sealant. Use a paintbrush to apply sealant along the edges. Next, pour sealant from the buckets they came with across the width of your driveway. Use a squeegee to evenly spread the sealant. Wait 24 hours and apply a second coat. After that, allow it to cure for four to six days before driving on it.
19. Do you need to arrange for snow removal?
Decide whether or not you want to hire someone to take care of your snow removal, or do it yourself. If you’ll be taking care of it yourself, purchase shovels, a snowblower, or, if you have a big driveaway, a plow attachment for your riding lawnmower.
20. Speaking of lawn mowing…
Again, decide if you want to take care of this yourself, participate in the strong tradition of having your teenage children do it (if you have some), or pay someone else to do it. Think about what lawn care equipment you need and take yet another trip to the home improvement store (you’ll find you spend a lot of time there during your first year of owning a home).
21. Check the exterior paint on your house and make plans to touch up if needed.
If your house has exterior paint, check to see if there’s a lot of peeling paint. Exterior paint is meant to help protect the wood or other materials it covers so lots of paint peeling can result in damage to whatever is underneath. If your house is especially old, there’s probably multiple layers of paint on it (unless all previous owners were super diligent and scraped all of the old paint off before adding another coat) and the original layers probably have lead in them.
If you just have minor paint peeling, you can simply touch up those areas. Most home improvement stores can do paint matching if you bring in a chip of the old paint. If your paint shows a lot of peeling, you may need to repaint.
Reassess every year afterward.
22. Check your outdoor caulking and replace it as needed.
Just like you checked the caulking inside your house, do it outside.
If you have wood siding, check for any gashes or holes and caulk them. Repeat this inspection again every other year afterward.
23. Test your deck’s seal.
Make sure your deck is repelling water as it should. Water should bead up on the wood, not sink into it. If you need to reseal, begin by cleaning the deck and repairing any damaged boards. Allow the cleaner to soak into the wood. Before applying the sealer, let the deck dry for a couple of days.
Apply the sealer per the directions on the can. Don’t forget to cover any surrounding plants or bushes with plastic. Do not apply sealer in direct sunlight, and try to avoid resealing when humidity is high.
Check it every year.
24. Test your sump pump.
If your home has a sump pump, test it to make sure it’s working correctly. Sump pumps are typically installed in basements or crawl spaces. Their job is to pump any water that may accumulate there away from the building. Sump pumps eliminate moisture and prevent flooding. You should test your sump pump every year.
25. Drain your water heater.
You should drain your water heater once every year. Sediment collects in the bottom of hot water tanks through normal use of your heater. The more sediment builds up, the less efficient your hot water heater is. You can have a plumber drain your heater or choose to do it yourself.
You’ll need a heat-proof bucket and a garden hose. Remove the side panel on the heater to see whether or not you have a pilot light. If your hot water heater is gas-powered, there will be a pilot light. If not, it is electric. Turn off both the gas and electric sources to the heater. (Remember that some gas heaters also use electricity.) Turn off the cold water and wait for the water in the heater to cool down. Open the hot water tap on a sink in your house to drain any hot water left in the pipes.
Attach the garden hose to the drain valve. Open the drain valve. Once everything is done draining, close the valve. Turn on the cold water, then the gas and/or electricity to your heater (relight the pilot light). Keep the sink tap open until the water returns to its normal flow.
26. Service and clean your furnace.
Do this for any HVAC and/or heating and cooling system every year. Many units have service discounts available through the company that installed them. If they’re under warranty, annual service is often a requirement.
27. Inspect and clean chimneys.
All kinds of things can get into your chimney, especially if you don’t use it on a regular basis. Make sure to get a cleaning and inspection every year.
Buying a home is a huge investment. For many people, it’s the most money they’ll ever spend on one single thing. If you’re a first time home buyer, figuring out all the things you need to do to keep your home healthy and happy can be overwhelming (and often seem never-ending). Keep a log or spreadsheet of all your home-maintenance tasks and improvements — big and small, long term and short term. Break them down by season to help prioritize. With some organization and planning (and, if you’re the DIY-type, some elbow grease), you’ll’ be able to handle all your new home’s needs like a pro.
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