Owning a home is a huge accomplishment; one that benefits you and your family and much as it benefits your community. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, people who transition from renting to owning a home are more likely to vote, get involved in their community and take care in their home’s appearance.
Homeownership is also a big commitment, and you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain. When you become a homeowner, you’re effectively making commitments to your:
- Mortgage lender: You have to pay your mortgage payment on time and in full every month. If you find yourself unable to make your payment, it’s your responsibility to contact your lender for help.
- Municipality: Local property or real estate taxes must be paid on time and in full.
- Neighborhood association/HOA: If you belong to your neighborhood Homeowners Association, you agree to pay for upkeep, maintenance and other fees, so your home reflects positively on your community.
- House: You also make a commitment to your house, pledging to keep it insured and in good condition.
- Neighbors: Fostering good relationships with neighbors builds stronger, healthier communities.
Closing on your new home may seem like a done deal, but in reality, it’s only the beginning. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what it takes to be a responsible homeowner.
1. Understand Your Homes Major Systems
You don’t need to be a professional plumber, electrician or HVAC technician to understand the basic functionality of your home’s major systems. Before you purchase a new home, an inspector will test your home’s utilities. Use this inspection as a crash course on how to troubleshoot your home’s innerworkings if you have the opportunity to participate.
Make sure you familiarize yourself with your home’s:
- Main power panel. If the power ever goes out in a part of your house—or your whole home—you need to know where to reset a tripped circuit breaker or check for a blown fuse. At the very least, you should be familiar with your main power panel, or breaker box, and any smaller panels that feed certain parts of your home.
- Water shut-off valves. Should a pipe ever burst or crack, you should know how to turn off the water supply and prevent expensive water damage. Every sink, toilet, tub and appliance that uses water usually has its own shut-off valve, so if the toilet in your half bath has a leak, you’ll be able to turn off the water supply there and make repairs without having to shut off the water supply for your entire home.
- Heating and cooling systems. Whether you have oil, gas, electric or forced air, you should be able to perform periodic maintenance to ensure your air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems are running smoothly.
- Exposed pipes. Freezing temperatures may be a rarity where you live, but they can still be a threat to your home’s plumbing. If cold weather threatens to burst a pipe, you’ll want to make sure you know where exposed pipes are so you can insulate them.
- Septic tank. If your home has a septic tank, make sure you know what you can and cannot flush or send down the drain, and be diligent about scheduling a septic tank cleaning once every three to five years.
2. Spend Smart
Buying a new home is exciting, especially for first-time homeowners! You may have visions of a completely remodeled kitchen, decked out family room and solar panels dancing in your head, but resist the urge to go on a shopping spree to upgrade everything at once.
Homeownership is a major transition, and you’ve just forked over a lot of hard-earned money for a sizable down payment. Your savings are tapped out, and you’re likely spending a lot more each month on the expenses that come with owning a home, like homeowners insurance, utilities, and trash and recycling fees.
This doesn’t mean you can never make upgrades to your home. Someday you can completely gut and remodel your kitchen and install solar panels. Just give yourself some time to adjust.
3. Assemble a Basic Tool Kit
You don’t need to transform your basement or garage into a high school shop room, but you do need a few tools to tackle small repairs. A basic tool kit should include:
- Flashlight and batteries
- Work gloves and safety goggles
- Wire cutter
- Monkey wrench
- Socket wrench
- Screwdrivers (flat-head and Phillips-head)
- Metal file or rasp
- Sandpaper and sanding blocks
- Nails, screws and bolts
- First aid kit
4. Don’t Ignore Things That Need Repairing
When you own your home, it’s your responsibility to maintain it. There’s no landlord to call if the roof leaks, the toilet breaks or a light bulb goes out. Many tasks and projects can be your responsibility, like mowing the lawn, replacing air filters and fixing clogged pipes. Others require outsourcing, such as repairing the roof, installing a new HVAC system or resurfacing your home’s exterior.
If you’re looking to save money, spending on unnecessary items and home improvement projects should remain at a minimum, but you shouldn’t ignore anything that threatens your safety or could evolve into a bigger (and more expensive) problem over time. Think: a leaky roof, cracks in foundation, damaged pipes, etc. Keeping your home in good shape also keeps costly repairs at a minimum and ensures that your home maintains or increases in value.
5. Keep Good Records
Set up a filing system that includes copies of purchase receipts, photographs, warranties, records and legal documents, and store everything in a fireproof safe. There’s a lot of paperwork associated with being a homeowner, and if you ever need to file a claim or if an appliance breaks and it’s under warranty, you’ll know exactly where to find appropriate documentation.
6. Save an Emergency Fund
A rainy-day fund is your best defense if you ever need to make an unexpected, expensive repair. If your roof starts leaking or your A/C dies at the height of summer, think of how nice it will be to cover necessary repairs without postponing the project or acquiring debt. Even having some money squirreled away is better than nothing at all.
7. Be Prepared With Safety Essentials
No one expects to experience a fire, break-in or other home emergency, but these things do happen, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Outfit your home with these safety essentials:
- Fire alarm/smoke detector
- Fire extinguisher
- Radon detector
- Carbon monoxide detector
- Emergency ladder
- Hand crank radio
- Emergency contact list
- A small safe to store valuables like passports, birth certificates, expensive jewelry and other important items
8. Hire Professionals
Tackling projects around the house yourself saves you money and gives you a sense of pride, but you shouldn’t do anything you aren’t qualified to do. Although you may be able to fix a leaky faucet or paint the living room without a hitch, it’s best to hire a professional for the things that fall out of your wheelhouse.
Hiring a professional can cost a lot of money, but keep in mind that price is usually a reflection of quality. If you’re pricing out contractors to remodel your bathroom, the lowest bid might not necessarily be the best. Is it worth cutting corners for the sake of saving a few hundred bucks? Skilled labor can be expensive, but if you’re satisfied with the finished product, that’s money well spent!
Plus, you might not be able to predict things breaking on you, but if you know you want to remodel your bathroom within the next year or that your roof will need to be replaced in five years, you can start saving now.
9. Get Homeowners Insurance
Once you’ve found your dream home, you’ll want to make sure it’s adequately protected with an insurance policy that carries enough coverage to pay for 100% of the total cost to rebuild your home at current construction costs. A homeowners insurance policy that’s personalized to your budget and your home can keep you covered in the event of a loss.
Set up a meeting with an insurance agent in your neighborhood to determine how much coverage you need. Personal Express’ Homegrown Pros live and work in the same communities as our customers, so we understand the unique needs of homeowners in your neighborhood. That’s the Local Advantage. Give us a call at 1-800-499-3612 or find a Homegrown Pro near you to discuss your options.