Being a new homeowner is so exciting. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first home or your 10th home; a new home is so exciting and so promising and so wonderful. It’s a change in the right direction, possibly the start of something new and amazing in your life. But it’s also the start of a very long checklist of things that must be done that you’re responsible for handling on your own. If you’re a subsequent homebuyer, these things probably make a great deal of sense to you by now. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, however, you probably have no idea what you need to do when you move in. Some of the items on the new homebuyer’s checklist are common sense and don’t require reminder; others, however, might not be on your radar. Let me tell you a quick story before we get to this checklist so that you can understand just how important it is to follow this list and make sure these changes are made. Let me tell you about the ringing doorbell that cost over $1000 and several sleepless nights.
My husband and I bought a new home six months ago. This is not our first venture into homeownership. We also own a home we built 11 years ago just before we got married. A decade later we now have four kids and a different lifestyle and we needed a larger home. We thought, “We’ve got this,” since we weren’t exactly first-timers. But what we failed to realize is that we bought a home this time instead of building. There’s a big difference. Much of what we had to do the first time around wasn’t on our list the second time, and much of what we should have done right away we did not do at all when we moved into this home, and we learned the very hard way how important it is to follow this checklist.
The home we purchased isn’t an old home. It was built by the previous owners and then foreclosed on before sitting vacant for a while. When we purchased the home, it was completely renovated to include new flooring, new kitchen, new baths and fresh paint. We bought it and moved right in. We have made very few changes since we had a septic tank maintenance as well as when the air conditioner and water heater were replaced just before we moved in, and we didn’t have to face any of that. Aside from painting each of our children’s’ rooms the colors that they wanted, we did nothing but bring in our belongings, and we’ve been very happy here ever since.
Fast forward to a week ago when the doorbell rang and I opened it thinking that it was the delivery man with some new shoes I’d ordered for the twins. It was not. It was a strange man I’ve never seen before in my life, so I quickly shut the door behind me and did not let him look into our home. It didn’t matter, however, since he’s been inside our home before according to him. In his words, our beautiful country-style home in our beautiful gated community is his DREAM home (well, it’s our dream home, too, buddy, so go away) and he’s ANGRY that he wasn’t able to buy it and that we did. He wanted to buy it while it was empty and the foreclosure process was going on, so he wrote letters to the former owners, the banks and even the real estate companies in our community asking about it to no avail (now, the house was on the market for months before we put an offer in on it, so he wasn’t trying that hard in my opinion).
He then demanded – as I’m standing there dumbfounded and wondering how to get him out of here – that I tell him how much we paid for our home. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. Though I am happy to say we paid far less than the house is worth and recent comps in the area say that our home value is nearly double what we paid (go us!). He was scaring me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I made a comment while looking around that my husband would be back from the vet with our dogs any second, and I made it a point to rest my hand on the window where the sign that reads ‘Home monitored by ADT security,” is located so he’d get the hint. I even apologized for taking so long to answer the door since I had to turn off the alarm. That’s when he proceeded to tell me he hopes we haven’t had any issues with breaking and entering (let’s note that we live in an affluent community and that our neighbors are people like local doctors, dentists, politicians and even the country sheriff lives in the same neighborhood – and we have a high presences of crime watch and security. So no, we don’t have an issue with burglaries).
I mentioned that, and he then described the upstairs bedroom and bathroom, the master bedroom and bathroom, our kitchen and many other rooms that are not visible to the naked eye even peeking through windows, and how easy it was for him to get inside our home anytime he wanted when he was looking at it after it was abandoned. At this point I’m terrified. I was able to get rid of him, call the police and file a report. It was then that crime prevention made a visit to our home and went through the long list of things that we did wrong when we moved in and how as new homeowners we should have followed a list; we didn’t change our locks, we didn’t activate the alarm, we didn’t add a gate to our fence and entryway and we didn’t add motion detectors to the front of the house.
We didn’t introduce ourselves to the neighbors and we pretty much failed. We’ve since remedied all of the above, including adding motion detection lights on every corner of the house, every porch, and every entrance. We’ve added sensors to every single door and window, motion activated sensors in the house and a video surveillance installation at the front door and the drive. We have a driveway alarm and we have a gate being installed ASAP. While not all of this is included in the list of things you should do when you move into a home, some of the most important things you should do as a new homeowner are. We didn’t follow the list, and now we regret it. I tell you this story not to freak you out in any way, but only to let you know that even in the nicest neighborhoods in which you feel safe enough to leave doors unlocked and to open the door without checking first, bad things happen. I don’t know what his man wanted, other than to yell at me for buying a home he wanted, but his comments about breaking into my home and how easy it is to do so anytime he wants really didn’t sit well with me or my husband, and we regret not following the list.
If for no other reason than your safety, you should be sure to follow this new homeowner’s checklist; and here it is. Please note we did not include anything that should have been done during the inspection, such as locating main breakers and testing appliances.
Ready for the checklist? Here we go!
Change the Locks
This is the most important thing you will do as a new homeowner in a house that was previously occupied by someone else or even just on the market with a lock box. You have no idea how many people have a key to your home. You have no idea if untrustworthy realtors made copies, people stole copies, previous owners still have copies or whatnot. You just don’t know; do yourself a favor and have the locks changed or rekeyed before you ever make the effort to move into a home.
Replace Fire Alarm Batteries
You have no idea whether or not those batteries are good, so go ahead and replace them. Even if you test the alarms and they work just fine, replace the batteries. You don’t know how close they are to dying, and you’d rather be safe than sorry in this instance.
Activate Your Alarm System or Add One
If your home comes with an alarm system, call the monitoring company and ask them to set it up for you. You will not regret this decision, especially since this is a new house with new sounds and noises, and it’s just going to give you a big piece of mind and a sense of comfort and ease.
Create an Emergency Contact List
This is a list all homes need. Yes, you all know the number to 911, but you need the number to all local places of importance, whether it’s poison control, the police department, the fire department or the local vet. Go ahead with animal control, the number to your homeowner’s association and other items such as that and place the list in a very public place (the fridge?).
Create a First Aid Kit
All homes need a basic first aid kit. You can make one yourself by following simple instructions easily found online, or you can buy one that’s already been put together. Whatever is easiest and most cost-effective for you is the way to go about your decision to put a first aid kit together.
Purchase Fire Extinguishers
Every home needs at least one fire extinguisher, but ideally several. The basic rule of thumb is that you should have one at least in the kitchen and garage, but we like the idea of placing at least one on every floor, and maybe two or three depending on the square footage of your home in any particular area.
Change Your Address
This is not a safety feature, but you should fill out a change of address form with the local post office so that you can have your mail forwarded to you. You should also provide a change of address card to your friends and family so everyone can update their address books instead of bombarding you with questions when they’re about to send their holiday cards out.
Talk to the Neighbors
Your neighbors are your new “People” and you need to talk to them. For one, you should do this so you begin to recognize faces and people, and so that they recognize you. People tend to be quite wary of people they don’t recognize in their neighborhood, and if someone doesn’t realize you live in a house on their street, they might become suspicious of your presence around their house. Additionally, these people have great insight into the street, the community and they will be the first ones to keep an eye on your place.
Install Automatic Lights
It’s a very safe feature that all people should consider, especially if you’re not home much at night. Automatic lights that turn on in one or more rooms when the sun goes down is a great way to deter unwanted people from coming into your yard, and it’s a great way to make people think you are home when you are not. It’s just a feel-good thing.
Get Some Motion Detector Lights
Motion detector lights might not always be in the budget but if they are, they’re a great idea. This is especially true if you live back from the street, if your yard is heavily landscaped with trees or if there is not much in terms of visibility in your neighborhood. You will be very thankful you took the time to install these.
There are a few other things that all homeowners must do when they buy a house, but they should be included in your inspection and not something you should do yourself. But in the interest of helping you out, be sure you have your inspector check your roof, your pipes, your appliances, your central cooling and heating system, your water heater and anything else that requires checking around your house. If any of these things are not working correctly at inspection, you might be able to get them replaced by the bank that owns the house or the people who own the house prior to closing.
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