Home-Buying (and Owning) For Dummies

I bought a house!

Okay, I didn’t just now – it’s not like I was walking down the street, saw a house I wanted, and called someone up and said “Okay, make this happen.” That’s how we found the house we wanted, yes, but the actual decision to buy a house was not a decision to be entered into lightly, and we did our homework.

The home itself is lovely; a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath ranch with a full finished basement and about 2700 square feet between the first floor and the basement. Hardwood floors throughout, a nice deck on the back, beautiful lawn, two-car garage, and new windows and a lot of new appliances. We close next week and we move over New Year’s weekend. I am excited. And terrified.

I also don’t know a lot about owning a home. The financial stuff I’ve got down; I researched all that. But there’s a lot we need, like new furniture and cleaning equipment and tips on how to maintain all this stuff that will now be my responsibility versus calling the leasing office for the apartment complex and telling them to get maintenance out there.

So! Home-owners! Tell me what I absolutely need to do as soon as I’m in this new home, tell me where I can find cheap but quality furniture (is there a TigerDirect of sofas?), tell me that I could be moving into a spectral bride situation and will want some Ghost Hunters out in this thing, tell me what you did and are grateful you did, or that you didn’t do and should have!

#1 with a bullet is get it inspected before you close. I assume you did that already?

You need a wacky neighbor who will constantly pester you with socially-unacceptable hijinks, as well as a wise older neighbor to dispense advice over the fence.

Yep, home inspection for sure. Ask people you know who own who they hired and what they thought of them.

I bought my place new and there were still a bunch of issues I never would have thought to check.

If you’re like me, you probably put every penny you had into the closing. Inevitably, shit’s gonna break right afterward. It’s just some sort of karmic joke, or gremlins, I dunno. For me it was the dryer. In this day and age you can fix a lot of things yourself if you take the time to research it, and you own a few tools. Don’t listen to your wife when she says you’re going to do more damage than good, you’re a MAN. You can do it!!!

But seriously, keep up with the little things. Clean those gutters. Keep your fence painted so it doesn’t rust. Replace roof shingles needed. Keep the basement dry. Get your burner cleaned and serviced. Doing these small things regularly will save you a lot of stress and money down the road, when your roof doesn’t start leaking in a downpour, or your oil burner dies during a blizzard.

Furniture stores. And I’m not being an a-hole - in my experience, the prices online were no competition to the deals you can get in store. In your Sunday paper, you should get at least a couple of circulars for home furnishing stores advertising their loss leaders. I finished my entire living room for under two thousand dollars, and I didn’t even try that hard to find deals (though I did stumble ass-over-elbows into one).

Alternately, if you like what’s there, you can ask the previous owners if they want to sell you their crap. I’ve seen it work before.

Since your house is already finished, a lot of the stuff I could tell you (like take a picture of your damn walls before the drywall goes up) doesn’t necessarily apply. Depending on how wired your house is, I sort of regret that I didn’t climb up into my attic and run a couple of Ethernet drops to keep the cords off of the floor, but if you do everything through wireless that’s not an issue, and I live in a single story, which is infinitely easier to wire than any other alternative. You’ll want to get a number for a good large appliances (washer, dryer, air conditioner, water heater, etc.) guy pretty quick, because that’s never a bad thing to have on hand. For that matter, make sure that you’re going to have such things after the current residents move out - I’ve seen a guy forget to secure a washing machine because he just assumed it would be included in the house.

How ‘down’ did you get the financial part? I’m curious how much you’ve budgeted for incidental home ownership expenses, because these always end up much, much higher than you expect.

Up front costs can be brutal as well and often unexpected. Things like lawn maintenance, landscaping, etc.

Floors first. If you need carpet or other flooring handled, get it done before you move.

Bathroom next. If you need to renovate or fix the bathroom, get it done before you move.

After that, I would recommend going easy on the furniture at first. There’s no reason you can’t live in it for a few weeks and get a feel for the space before you blow a bunch of money on furniture you wind up hating. Besides, you have no idea how many tools you’re about ready to buy. Count on a $300 trip to Lowe’s twice weekly for a month.


We did. The inspection found nothing serious, and what was close to serious we got the sellers to fix ahead of time. We just got an email over the weekend from our buyer’s agent with the last of the repairs being done, and the sellers are sending us pictures of what was done.

My wife gets Real Simple magazine, and in a recent issue they had a calendar of cleaning and maintenance to do in your house, with things broken down Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Twice A Year, and Yearly. We’re going to follow that guideline and keep this place clean.

I also grabbed a book on maintaining a home from the bookstore, thus guaranteeing that when I screw up and break something, I can point to the book and say, “I was only following orders!”

We also didn’t spend every last penny on the closing! Just most of our pennies. An early priority is rebuilding the savings from the massive gut wound they just took.

Fortunately, we already have a washer and dryer in the basement of our current townhouse; the fun part will be moving them out at the end of this month. I’ve hired movers for that (read that: grabbed two of my groomsmen and bribed them with pizza and beer). Fridge stays with the house so that’s taken care of, stove and dishwasher stay, so we’re very fortunate to not have to buy a bunch of furniture immediately.

I’ll need to frequent the furniture stores around here; the stuff we have now in the townhouse is nice but it’s going to look so bad in this nice house.

By “down” I mean that we’re not at all living outside our means. We didn’t buy more house than we can afford and we’re not adjusting our aggressive savings at all to move into this house. The only thing we’re changing is our casual spending, which is entirely too casual right now. (“I’ve only purchased two new games this month, what’s two more?”)

We’re not going to be surprised by any of our recurring costs; those have all been laid out plainly for us, and our utility costs aren’t going to change much because we already pay for all of our utilities now.

We need no carpet, so we’re good. We need no bathroom changes, so we’re good there. Regarding the furniture, it’s something for the future; Meghan and I have agreed to not buy anything major for about six months while we rebuild our savings and see what we need, though I think some things will get moved up the list of priorities (bookshelves, that 45-inch HDTV that she doesn’t realize we desperately need but we do). The furniture from there is a gradual process. We want to redo one room at a time, I just have no idea where to look first. The answer appears to be “around,” so I’ll start on that.

Tools… hoo yeah. I think I own a hammer. And some screwdrivers. That’s all. That’s gonna change!

Also, for when my wife reads this thread later this afternoon, I am completely joking about the HDTV being a priority. I mean, Shadow of the Colossus HD doesn’t come out for like four months! We’ve got plenty of time!

I’m a new homeowner. We moved in our house about 2 years ago. I really love it, but there are definitely issues. It wasn’t a fixer-upper, but there are idiosyncrasies.

Here are some tips:

  1. Keep up with routine maintenance. Clean gutters, service your furnace/air conditioner. Paint what needs to be painted.
  2. Interior tips: Paint first, rugs and furniture later. Exception is a bed to sleep in. Buy your mattress new in this age of bedbugs. Shop local stores especially during their sale periods. You can get excellent deals and interest-free financing.
  3. Exterior tips: Work from the house to the street. Over time, your property will look great! Normal working people can do a couple of projects per year. Don’t worry if your property doesn’t look as good as the older couple’s place next door. They’ve been there for 39 years and they’ve had decades to work on getting their “look” down.

On the tool front, perhaps the single most useful thing you can buy is a good cordless drill with screw bits in addition to various drill heads. If you install all your own blinds and drapes like I do, it saves a tremendous amount of work if you can power drive all the supports into the wall.

Speaking of walls, a stud finder can be very useful as well. It’s far cheaper than drilling into water pipes.

Only 45"? That’s like a backup set for your kitchen. You need to start higher so the compromise is better. Haven’t you played RPG’s with haggling? How did you buy a house?

Something to keep in mind is that tools fall into two broad categories: professional, and consumer. The difference is typically durability, whether it’s a wrench or a hammer drill, so I would highly recommend NOT overinvesting in tools unless you’re using them constantly. In fact, for most tool needs, see if you can borrow them from friends – it kills me that I have tons of friends who own like 5 pound sledgehammers. If all my friends with 5 pound sledgehammers (or dead-blow rubber mallets) shared a single one, it would still be used on average…once a year. Obviously for the basics (screwdrivers, hammer, wrenches) you’ll want a set, but for anything even slightly more exotic that isn’t an emergency measure type of thing…borrow.

Oh, buy a plunger before you need it =)

Get a CostCo membership if one is near you. They sell furniture and linens and everything else at really good prices.

Lawn stuff (edger, weed whacker, lawn mower)? Blinds/drapes? Air filters? Mats? Rugs/carpets? If the place needs a fresh coat of paint inside, NOW is the time to do it. And/or if there’s no touch up paint available.

And for starting out, IKEA for furniture. It’s like the placeholder furniture equivalent of programmer art, and some of their higher end stuff isn’t even all that bad.

if the hardwood is really old, you might want to consider getting it stripped and refinished now while it’s convenient.

Again, the costs add up, and not in big $300 here and there ways, but more like a lot of $15 here and there ways.

It’s an exciting time, but you might want to step back and take a deep breath. I’ve noticed in a few of your posts that you’re a little overwhelmed. I feel like you’ve been talking about moving for 3 months now, for example. I was thrilled when I bought my house but it wasn’t that crazy or terrifying.

First, get it closed (which you’ve already been told is not guaranteed). Then soak in the exciting first few days and enjoy the pride for the first few weeks/months. You’ll pick up the repair skills as you go along.

I might actually have a drill in the basement, come to think of it. I’ll take a look this week as I pack up everything I own.

The high-definition negotiations began about eleven months ago. She keeps having all these incredibly irrelevant points against it, like “we’re saving for a house,” “we still have a dental bill to pay from the wisdom teeth,” and “I don’t want an entire wall of the living room removed to put it a ten-foot screen.”

Dames, eh?

I would actually recommend a corded drill + extension cord for a home. Never run out of juice, it’s used infrequently enough it’s not a hassle, and way more powerful and reliable than a cordless. Cordless costs a huge premium for decent batteries.

First thing you should do after making wild love on the floor next to the fireplace (with a bottle of champagne) is to go through and find the circuit for every single plug-in and light. It is so much easier with an empty house.

And don’t for the love of god try to write these down in the actual 1"x2" strip of white paper on the door of the electrical panel, do it in an excel spreadsheet and after you’re done, laminate those sheets and hang them next to the panel.

Next up, find out where all the cut-off are at for the water & gas mains, and see if there are cut-off valves for the outdoor spigots.

Change the filters in the furnace, and if there is not a piece of paper to record that you did it on this date, add that piece of paper.

Empty out the hot-water tank (using hose), and flush it out. Ditto on paper for the furnace.

Check all smoke detectors. Hopefully they are both tied into house wiring & battery backups. Replace all batteries in the detectors.

Replace all locks that gain entry to the house. If you really want to get anal, get a new transmitter / reciever installed in your garage door opener. Also replace the lock on your mail box if it has a lock.

Change the password on your security system if there is one installed.

I’m probably forgetting a few things, but hopefully this will give you a few ideas.

My wife is calling the locksmith as soon as we take possession, and the security system guys are coming out around the first of the year. Garage door opener is getting changed, too. Smoke detectors, good one.

The stuff about the breakers – that’s perfect, that’s precisely the kind of thing I am not thinking about now. Thanks!

That’s a solid argument, but I still prefer the cordless just for the convenience of not dragging twenty feet of cord along behind me to trip over or get tangled everywhere. YMMV, etc, but be sure to have some sort of drill + screw bits either way.