You’re buying a new house. Congratulations! Now’s the time not only to celebrate but to plan ahead for each stage of your move and beyond. Whether your new house will be your home for the next few years, the next decade, or to the end of your life, your homeownership has a life of its own. Here’s what’s helpful to know at every stage of your homeownership experience.
Finding the home of your dreams means dwelling in reality. Knowing what you can realistically afford means calculating not only your down payment and mortgage payments (you might consider getting pre-approved for the top end of your purchase price range) but also carrying costs like insurance and taxes as well as monthly energy and utility costs. As you set out on this journey, be sure you’ve got knowledgeable people to help you, including a reputable real estate agent. If you are deciding between two properties and want to consider which one may be less costly to insure, you may even want to reach out to an insurance agent at this stage (they’ll be even more useful once you’ve made your choice). Living happily ever after is far more possible when you reduce stress from the start.
Once you’ve found a house you love, be prepared to make an offer quickly. This is where your real estate agent is invaluable. They know the market and may even have insights about the seller and can advise you on making the most attractive offer without over-extending yourself. Consider including an inspection contingency, a good idea for both new construction and older homes. If your offer is accepted, be sure to attend the inspection and take your time. This is the longest period you’ll have in the house until it’s your home. Here, your inspector is the most important member of your team, pointing out any unseen defects you might want to negotiate to have fixed. At this point, it’s time to call your insurance agent to help you select coverage that’s right for you and your new house. Your lender will require insurance to be in place before closing. Even if you don’t have a mortgage, insurance is a critical part of protecting your investment. You’ll also want to give utility companies your move-in date to establish service.
On closing day, you’ll be all set to sign… and sign and sign (there can be more paperwork involved than you might imagine). Most often, you’ll get the keys that day or within a few days of closing. The first official stage of homeownership has begun; like a birth, it’s a beautiful thing.
First things first, change the locks and toss those old keys. If you have time before moving in your furniture and belongings, consider painting and, if necessary, flooring. Be sure to have utilities set up before moving day so you’re not living in the cold or dark, without cable and wi-fi. Fill out a change of address form at your local post office or on the USPS website to have your mail forwarded and let key people and institutions (friends, family, employer, bank, credit card companies, etc.) know your new address.
When the moving truck has pulled away and you’re facing a sea of boxes, start unpacking in the heart of your home: the kitchen. Then move on to the bathrooms, linen closets, bedrooms, common areas (living room, dining room, and den) and garage, in that order. Once you’ve settled in, venture out and connect with neighbors and your community. Don’t count on welcome wagons; be prepared to make the first move by introducing yourself around. As soon as you have the energy, volunteer. It’s a great way to connect and feel at home in your community.
Making Repairs, Renovating, and Remodeling
Even if your home is brand-new or in perfect condition when you move in, you’ll likely find repairs will become necessary even within the first year or so. Seasonal maintenance will also be a must and a great way to prevent major repairs in the future. Be sure to change filters in your air conditioning units or systems, change the rotation of ceiling fans every spring and fall, replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, maintain and add insulation and weather stripping, power wash siding and decking, clean chimneys and heating units and gutters (or have professionals do it). If you’re not handy or motivated to become a DIYer, consider hiring a handyman. Bear in mind that kitchens and bathrooms will likely need to be remodeled, updated or, at the very least, tiles re-caulked and replaced. Roofing will need to be maintained and repaired every few years and replaced every 12-20 years depending on the type of shingle.
Expanding, Improving, and Investing for the Future
As your family grows or your lifestyle changes, you may want to add a bedroom or two, a home office, den, or playroom, expand your kitchen or add on a porch, sun room or even a sauna. Pools can be a plus in terms of family fun and fitness, but you’ll want to consider the time, energy, and money required for annual maintenance above and beyond the cost of installation. If you’re looking to increase the value of your home, make sure your home improvement choices aren’t too quirky or idiosyncratic. Projects with the best return on investment are generally kitchen and bathroom updates, finished attics and basements, entrances, garage doors, windows, and siding.
Reviewing Your Home Insurance
Whether or not you make major changes over the lifetime of your home ownership, your insurance needs will change over time. Conducting a home insurance review with your agent at least once a year can help you determine if your policies and coverage still make sense for your current situation. Ask about discounts for things like alarm systems or having multiple policies. Consider recent purchases like furniture or personal items and insuring your home for the estimated cost to rebuild and replace rather than simply the current market value. You'll want to select a policy amount equal to at least 100% of the estimated replacement cost of your home and its contents. Carefully review the limitations on coverage and exclusions in your policy and consider adding more protection for things like jewelry, fine art, collections, musical equipment, high-end electronics, and other particularly valuable items. If you work from home, extra coverages can protect your home office. To make sure you're not overlooking important add-ons to your policy, talk to your agent about how your life has changed to be sure your policy is keeping up with you, your family, and the lifecycle of your home.