Home Buying Moment: 5 Essential Tips for New Homeowners

Disclosure: I am blogging on behalf of Trulia, but the views expressed here are my own and are not Trulia’s. To learn more, please visit: http://on.trulia.com/postcards

As I was walking through our first-time home with our home inspector, he asked me if I’d ever owned a home before. I told him that this would be our first. He laughed uneasily and said, “Well this will be quite the first!” We were 26 years old and full of naive energy. Our first home was a 100-year-old Victorian that had been badly renovated by some over-ambitious DIYers before us. It had wall-to-wall soiled mauve carpet on all three levels, but in my mind’s eye I could envision the heart-pine floors buried underneath! I was smitten with the millwork, chunky moldings, and gorgeous staircase, and looked past the sagging ceiling and aging roof. I knew I could make this house a home! Admittedly, our home inspector’s comment rattled my confidence a tad, but I figured we would somehow figure it all out as we went along.

Here are 5 essential tips for new homeowners that I really wish I had known back then:


1. Find Out How to Turn On/Off Water, Electric, Gas

Unfortunately, your new home doesn’t come with a seminar on how to work every button, knob, and switch. As you do your walk-through with your home inspector, don’t be shy to ask how things work. Find out how to turn on and off all the major utilities for your home. The first year in our new home, we didn’t know that we needed to turn off the water running to our exterior faucets. After a few costly frozen and burst pipes, we learned exactly where all of the water valves were for our home and how to shut them off! It’s also important to become familiar with your electric box and practice shutting off the main power to your home. You will need to do this to change out those ugly light fixtures and replace that ceiling fan, so you might as well practice now! If the circuits in your box aren’t labeled, be sure to elicit the help of a family member to discover which switch controls each area of the home and label them accordingly.

how to turn off water, electric, gas

Image sources: 1/2/3/4

It is also important to get acquainted with your home’s heating and cooling system, and learn how to shut off your furnace. Our first home had a gas boiler in the basement, which fed our gorgeous, yet ancient, radiators with steam heat. We had to periodically relieve some of the water pressure by turning a valve on the boiler and letting some gunky water stream into a bucket. I never understood this process. One day, I decided to clean out the dirty, disgusting water in our boiler, so I emptied it all and refilled it with fresh, clean water. That night when the heat kicked on around 12am, our entire household (including our overnight guests) awoke to water blasting like mini-fire hoses out of every radiator, soaking everything and everyone within its range. I had apparently overfilled our boiler and the water was “relieving” itself through the radiators’ relief valves. Oops. The moral of the story here is to educate yourself on your home’s utility systems as soon as you move in!

2. Invest in Essential Tools and Befriend a Handy-Person

During our first year of home ownership, we spent so much time at the home improvement store that I swore we should have just moved in there instead! Unfortunately, we hadn’t thought through all of the thousands of dollars we would need to spend on tools for maintaining our home. Granted, we probably didn’t need the fancy leaf blower or the expensive vacuum cleaner, but there were countless items we had to buy in order to properly care for our home.


Gorgeous tool display by The Creativity Exchange.

Here are a few essential tools every first-time home owner should own:

  • Tape measurer
  • Level
  • Screwdriver set
  • Hammer
  • Utility knife
  • Hex wrench set (Hello, Ikea furniture!)
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Hack saw
  • Stud finder
  • Drill and bits
  • Putty knife
  • Plunger and snake (to unclog drains)
  • Electrical cord
  • Flashlight
  • Ladder
  • Shovel
  • Rake

It is also a good idea to educate yourself on who to call when problems arise. Consulting friends and neighbors for trusted contractors and handy people in your area will help you feel prepared when the time comes for repairs and help with home maintenance.

3. Learn How to Prevent All Types of Water Damage

Water is your home’s number one enemy. Roof leaks, a flooded basement, an overflowing toilet, a leaking dishwasher, burst pipes, and backed up gutters are just a few of the real-life water problems we have encountered in our home over the years. Water coming into your home, or not flowing properly away from your home, will cause damage and the need for costly repairs. Check your kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry room regularly for leaks. Outdoors, be sure your gutters are free from debris and that your downspouts are leading water away from your home. Depending on the material of your roof, it may be necessary to hire a professional to check your roof annually for any needed repairs. When it comes to water damage and your home, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

copper gutter

Image source: Guttersupply

4. Be Emotionally Prepared for Homeowner Hassles

When you own a home, things are going to leak, malfunction, break, and deteriorate over time. Being emotionally prepared for these hassles to enter your life will help you navigate the bumps of home ownership. And let’s face it, even when you have properly budgeted for home improvements, it can be emotionally taxing to have to shell out money for unexpected home repairs. Knowing upfront that home ownership comes with the responsibility of maintaining, repairing, and upgrading the property will help you cope when things go wrong.

control perspective

5. Comparison is the Thief of Happiness

Owning your first home is an incredibly special and exciting time. Chances are good that you have pored over shelter mags, read DIY/home blogs, and created Pinterest boards for each room of your home in preparation for this very moment! Making your new home truly YOURS is the joy of home ownership and something I highly encourage here on this blog. However, remember that making your house a home is a journey and not a sprint. Don’t compare your new home to those glossy and staged photos, and remember to look for ideas that fit your budget. You have just handed over a huge chunk of change for your down payment, closing costs, and basic moving expenses, so money is tight!  Embrace the process of slow decorating and enjoy the creativity that comes from having to decorate frugally.

house envy

If you have questions about the home buying process, I recommend checking out Trulia. They make it easy to find a home, a neighborhood and a real estate agent, and understand that the home-buying process is an emotional roller coaster. Trulia truly understands the highs and lows of buying a home, and to showcase these relatable moments, they have created six digital postcards to enjoy and share with other home owners. This one is my favorite! Ha! So true :). To see all of the Home Buying Moments postcards by Trulia, please click here.

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  1. says

    I am a regular reader and love your Blog!! I am a DIYer and also a Real Estate Agent.. all this advice is truly valuable for a first time Buyer! I could not have said it better :)

    • Beth says

      I’m sort of thankful for some of the naiveté! It was a great first home and a got to practice a lot of DIY skills before moving to this home and starting the blog :).

  2. says

    What a great post! I am/was a single homeowner of a 70 year old Cape Cod and I THOUGHT I knew about maintaining a home when I bought mine, but I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn. In fact, ironically as it was, I has a door knob break off during the actual move, so DAY NUMBER ONE I had repairs and I still do.
    I have lived with my fiancé in a new home and even a new home demands upgrades and maintenance. NOONE’S home is perfect and I had to learn that over time.

    My favorite point you highlighted was being emotionally prepared. I used to get all depressed and upset every time one little thing went wrong. I still get upset when life throws me a bad hand from time to time, but I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, and that is a lesson I had to learn the hard way!


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