House-hunting for the first time? If you're a new homeowner wondering where to start, check out these 14 tips from people who've been there – and survived to tell the tale.
Photography from readers
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Getting started on a new house
Buying a home is a huge step. Learning to maintain and improve it is a long series of baby steps, sometimes painful and sometimes rewarding. To help get new homeowners off on the right foot, we asked our Field Editors, some of the sharpest DIY veterans around, to pass along their best tips for choosing, maintaining and improving a home.
Scout the neighborhood
We went on three separate occasions (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) at different times of the day. We asked neighbors about the neighborhood, schools, etc. It gave us a real indication of what the neighbors and neighborhood were like. We bought the house and love the neighborhood—no regrets.
Tackle one project at a time
Do one project at a time
When we first bought our old house, I tore right into a porch and kitchen remodel and started on a fence. Before I knew it, I had the whole house AND yard torn up. Ultimately it all came together, but there was a lot of added stress with everything going on at once.
Make a homeowner’s journal
Buy a ring binder and keep insurance papers, repair receipts and all other paperwork pertaining to the house in it. Storing all your house information in one handy place makes life easier for the homeowner and can be a sales “plus” when selling the house later.
Get to know your house before making big changes
Live in your home for 12 to 18 months before undertaking any major renovations such as additions or knocking down walls. What you initially think you want may change after you’ve lived there for a while.
Check the furnace filter
Look for clues
This can give you some insight into whether the previous owner took care of regular maintenance.
Don’t be afraid to DIY
Ninety percent of a DIY project is having the guts to try. Worst case—you mess up and then bring in the professional. Best case—you save money, learn something new and feel a great sense of accomplishment.
Finish projects . . . now
Don’t learn to live with incomplete projects. If you do, the last couple of pieces of trim can linger for years!
Budget for trouble
The worst will happen sooner or later
We bought a house with an old furnace, and we knew it was going to go. Sure enough, the first winter did it in. But since we were prepared, it was just an expense, not a financial shock.
Get the house history
Insist on full written disclosure from the seller about remodeling, repairs, old damage, leaks, mold, etc. Check with the city or county, and get—in writing—the property’s permit history, zoning, prior uses, homeowners’ association restrictions and anything else you can find out. Forget “location, location, location.” I say, “Verify, verify, verify!”
The TOP Piece of Advice
We heard this tip over and over, along with many horror stories from new homeowners who didn’t follow it:
Get a licensed home inspection!
Don’t let your real estate agent choose the inspector. Hire someone who works for you without any conflict of interest.</li.
Inspect the inspector before you hire. Ask to see a sample home inspection report. Comprehensive reports run 20 to 50 pages and include color photos showing defects or concerns. Also ask about the length of the inspection. A thorough inspection takes a minimum of three to four hours.
Walk through with the inspector. You’ll learn a lot about your house.
You may have to pay more for a certified inspector, but in the long run it’s worth it. Certified inspectors use sophisticated measuring and detection equipment that can find potential defects that can’t be easily seen. Spend $1,000 now rather than $10,000 in surprise repairs later. (For a list of inspectors certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors, visit ashi.org.)
Get a home warranty
Piece of mind
We had the seller throw in a home warranty. This saved us from a faulty dishwasher and got us a brand new furnace.
Check crime stats
Before buying, get a report of police calls in the neighborhood. A bargain price may be due to the crime rate in the area.
Ask neighbors about pros they trust
If you’re looking for plumbers, electricians or other pros, ask your neighbors. You tend to get decent advice if you get it from people who live near you.
Offer to buy the tools too
You can always use more tools
If you buy from a couple that’s downsizing, you might get a great deal if you purchase their garden tools, tractors, snow blowers and tools in general.