I recently bought my first house. It’s an exciting time. It’s stressful as hell. If I could travel back in time to provide myself with some sound advice, here’s what I would tell my former self, that blissfully ignorant renter saving up for a homestead.
1. You will learn the meaning of “house poor”
People always told me that home ownership would be expensive. I didn’t realize how right they were. I was prepared to pay for closing fees, inspections, homeowners insurance, and property taxes. But that was just the tip of the home-ownership iceberg: Once you get title to your new home, it’s a natural impulse to make it your own by installing window treatments, painting, landscaping and buying furniture that fits perfectly in your new abode. If you’re not careful, those costs can eat away at any savings left after making that huge down payment. You’ll be able to have friends over, but you’ll be eating ramen and peanut-butter sandwiches.
Here’s a tip: Put aside about ten percent of your new home’s value for post-closing costs such as movers, furnishings, painting, and landscaping. While it’s a rough estimate of how much you’ll spend, it’s a great way to make sure you can get started on basic home improvement.
2. You can’t do everything at once
When I finally got the keys to my new home, I wanted to start on home-improvement projects right away. I wanted to change everything: bathroom fixtures, wall colors, even some flooring. And I wanted it done now. Diving in only caused unnecessary stress.
Here’s a tip: Instead of hiring a contractor to tackle everything at once, make a home-improvement checklist to help you prioritize the items that need to get done now and items that can wait. Once you take care of a few of the items on your list, move on to the others after assessing the cost and time to complete the projects.
3. DIY, WYC
Six words: Do It Yourself, When You Can. When I rented, it was easy and convenient for me to ask the landlord to complete even the simplest repairs. But now that everything is my responsibility, it’s equally tempting to call a handyman to fix even the smallest things. Don’t do it.
Here’s a tip:Get familiar with home-improvement websites such as diynetwork.com. Doing simple repairs yourself will save time and money and give you a great sense of pride of ownership. But there’s a danger in taking DIY projects a bit too far: When I bragged that I could cut down a tree in my yard to save some dough, I was thankfully advised to call in a tree-removal service. Get professionals to handle the projects that could cause a lot of damage if not done properly. Then get your hands dirty on the smaller stuff.
There are benefits to doing things yourself
4. Don’t rush
I bought new furniture even before getting the keys. Don’t make the same mistake. Some of the furniture just didn’t fit or look right, and I had to return some items and repurpose others.
Here’s a tip: As painful as it is, be comfortable with empty space and wait a few weeks before shopping for new furniture. You may find that your old furniture works just fine in the new space or that you don’t need as much stuff as you originally thought. But the best reason to wait is to take advantage of the many deals that come with home ownership. After you move into your new home, furniture and home improvement stores will send you coupons offering 10% to 25% off of your purchase. If you take the time to make a list of the things you need, you’ll be able to get the best furniture and the best price.
5. You’ll have trash and lots of it
In your first month of home ownership you’ll create endless piles of moving boxes, old furniture and home-repair debris. Before I moved, I never thought about the amount of trash I created; it all went into a big bin at the apartment building and magically disappeared. But now trash doesn’t make an easy exit. In most areas, you get a limited number of trash and recycling bins. Getting rid of that extra trash can be a pain.
Here’s a tip: I discovered two services that can make getting rid of those piles of move-in trash easy. If you have a lot of junk, go with 1800GOTJUNK. Friendly folks will arrive at your home and haul away your junk for a few hundred bucks, and they’ll recycle or donate any items that don’t have to go to the dump. If your trash pile is relatively small, hire someone at Task Rabbit to take it to the dump. It’s cheaper than commercial trash-hauling services, but most task rabbits may not be able to handle a larger load.
6. Join these websites right away
It took me a while to discover how valuable neighborhood gossip can be. I don’t mean gossip about the cougar down the street who’s screwing her gardener. I’m talking about useful gossip: the best handymen, hidden neighborhood gems and recent security concerns.
Here’s a tip: Although there’s no substitute for speaking to your neighbors face-to-face, two websites make getting this information quick and easy. Nextdoor is a free private social network that makes it easy for neighbors to communicate about the best local cafes, recent break-ins or preferred lawn-maintenance companies. If you need to expand your reach beyond your immediate community, join Angie’s List. Although their television ad campaigns are beyond annoying, the site will help you find service providers—from plumbers to tree removal services—recommended by people in the area.
7. Furnish with a focus on quality, not quantity
It’s really tempting to fill every empty space in a new home with furniture. It’s also tempting to save money on furniture by getting the lowest price possible. Resist these temptations. Getting fewer high quality pieces of furniture will save you money in the long run and will make you happy to be in your new home.
Here’s a tip: When purchasing appliances, grab a few reliable, energy-efficient pieces, which will help you save on energy and replacement costs. And instead of buying furniture at cheap furniture stores, check out estate sales and vintage furniture co-ops that sell quality pieces at lower prices.
Don’t rush into filling the place up
8. Save receipts
I’m horrible at saving receipts, but as a homeowner I’ve found it’s an absolute necessity. Major upgrades on your home may increase the tax basis of your home and provide you with tax benefits.
Here’s a tip: Talk to your accountant or tax professional to get an idea of which receipts you should save. When in doubt, keep it.
9. Set a date for a housewarming party
I thought I’d be ready to host a party at my new home within weeks. Then a month went by. Then I saw nothing but updates and repairs I wanted to make before inviting anyone over. Don’t fall into this rabbit hole.
Here’s a tip: Give yourself a deadline by setting a date for your housewarming party. Don’t keep that date to yourself: tell all of your friends about it right away so you’ll stick to the date. Even if everything is not perfect, you’ll have a goal to have all boxes removed, major repairs completed, and be ready to host a few of your best buddies for a drink at your pad. Your friends will want to see your new place soon after you move in and might bring along a great housewarming gift.
10. Remember to relax and enjoy
Although a new home can come with lots of stress, it’s important to enjoy all the excellent benefits that come with home ownership. You own a piece of dirt. You can paint the walls any color you want. You can have pets without getting anyone’s permission. You are a real man. Take it in. Pour yourself a cold beer. Sit on your porch, take a deep breath and enjoy. Then tell those kids to get off your lawn.