Like most major milestones in life, becoming a first-time homeowner comes with quite a few learning curves. Even after you close on the house and it becomes officially yours, there’s still a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of the place—and setting yourself up for long-term success.
Having recently purchased my first home, I’ve had a front-row seat to all the trials and tribulations that come with learning how to be a homeowner. Here are seven of the biggest mistakes first-time homeowners make (myself included), plus some helpful tips from the experts on how to avoid them.
1. Calling a repair person with the wrong specialty
This might not sound like a big deal, but it can actually end up costing you quite a bit of time and money—especially if there are significant household repairs on the line.
“This is the most common mistake committed by first-time homebuyers,” says Joshua Haley, founder of Moving Astute.
“When you hire a repair guy who doesn’t specialize in fixing what’s broken in your home, the cost of repairs could skyrocket,” says Haley. “Homeowners have been known to spend upward of $135 an hour on a contractor who they thought was coming out for a couple hours at most.”
One way to avoid this is by doing some research beforehand. Try to gain a rudimentary understanding of what’s wrong, so you can explain the problem over the phone. This will help you avoid any confusion about the extent of work that needs to be done, and it will also help ensure you’re hiring the right person for the job.
2. Blindly hiring contractors
Speaking of hiring the right person: There are a million ways for home upgrades and repair projects to go wrong, and one of the best ways to avoid this is by making sure whichever contractor you hire has a long list of glowing reviews.
No matter what kind of work you’re having done—construction, repairs, or even just some landscaping—always make sure the people you hire come highly recommended by someone you trust.
“Always ask for recommendations,” says Michael Branson, CEO of All Reverse Mortgage Inc. “Your neighbor may know a good contractor or handyman who could help fix up your home. Remember, the biggest compliment a business can receive is word of mouth."
3. Not budgeting for new expenses
While you might have your mortgage and utility bills under control, there are a lot of other expenses that come with homeownership that you’ll want to plan for as well. This includes any homeowners association fees, homeowners insurance, regular maintenance fees, and even property tax.
“Consult a real estate professional who will inform you of the neighborhood’s usual property taxes and insurance costs,” suggests real estate investor Richard Mews. “Another idea is to request the seller’s utility bills for the last year or so.”
Though the latter might seem weird, most sellers will understand: Whatever information you can get will help you feel more prepared for all those new expenses.
4. Ignoring routine maintenance
One thing a lot of first-time homeowners overlook is the simple fact that they’ll have to do routine maintenance—like, usually something every month.
These are things you’ll want to learn about relatively quickly, since putting them off can end up costing you a lot in repairs.
“Keep a recurring list of preventive maintenance tasks,” says John Bodrozic, CEO of HomeZada. “Your home is essentially a collection of assets—like equipment, appliances, building materials, fixtures, finishes, and landscaping. All of these things need preventive maintenance to make sure the home is operating efficiently, which saves you money on your monthly energy bills and avoids expensive fix-it and repair costs.”
5. Making home improvements too soon
When you get into a new home, it can be tempting to start filling it with all of your dream furnishings—or even to embark on some expensive remodeling project.
My best advice to new homeowners? Hold off.
What you envision for your house will likely change, especially the longer you live in it. Start by using the furniture you have, and making small upgrades by shopping for used items.
Once you’ve lived in the home for a few months, and understand how you actually use each space and what you ultimately want from it, you’ll be in a much better position to start spending the big bucks on remodeling and those fancy new furnishings.
6. Not winterizing your home
Unless you live in Florida, chances are you’ll have some light winterizing to do around your new home before cold weather hits.
“Whether it’s because they don’t know where to start or they’re not sure if it’s necessary, (not winterizing your home) is a big mistake,” Haley says.
Whether that means draining pipes of water to avoid freezing temperatures or adding insulation to save on heating, these are some of the most important seasonal chores you’ll ever do as a homeowner.
7. Assuming you and your partner are on the same page
Becoming a first-time homeowner with someone puts a whole new twist on the relationship, which is why it’s so important to keep good communication throughout the process, and especially in those first few months.
“Don’t make decisions without discussion,” says Phillip Ash of Pro Paint Corner.
“If you’re buying your home with your partner, chances are that you’ve lived together before and know each other’s decor taste and habits. But once you own a home, it becomes even more imperative that any decisions that affect the other person are talked about. This is important—whether it’s paint color, home decor, or bigger things like renovations and taking on additional monthly expenses.”
Bottom line: Homeownership will be much more rewarding when both of you are involved in the process.
LariRunkle divides her time between a cabin in the San Juan Mountains and traveling in a converted van with her partner and pup. She writes for finance, real estate, and lifestyle publications, and is also at work on several fiction projects.
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