You finally did it. After what seemed like endless showings and open houses, you made an offer and purchased your first home. No more landlords to deal with -- you can finally paint your family room that daring shade of blue you’ve always loved. And that clause in your lease that bans adding Fido to your family? It doesn’t apply anymore. You just can’t beat the flexibility of owning a home.
“To me, the best thing about being a first-time homeowner is that you suddenly have a place that is your own,” said April Straus, Principal Broker at Bobby + April, a concierge real estate company that focuses on buying, selling and renovating historic homes in Richmond. But after dragging your beloved college futon to the curb and purchasing that new couch you’ve had your eyes on for years, you may be left wondering “what do I need to know as I transition from a renter to a homeowner?”
Most notably, you are now solely responsible for maintenance, upkeep and repairs at your home. When things go wrong, you no longer have a landlord or maintenance company to rely on. “You need to have a fund to pay for things that are going to break … just assume something is going to. It’s just the way it works,” Straus said. “Whether the toilets are backed up or the water is running off the roof and is collecting at the foundation, it’s whatever wasn’t found during the inspection.”Straus suggests putting away roughly $2,000-$3,000 during your first year of homeownership to help pay for untimely repairs or simply to spruce up the place.
Although there isn’t an owner’s manual that comes along with your new home, these 10 do-it-yourself tips will prepare you to survive homeownership.
CHANGE YOUR LOCKS
Replacing the door locks, or having them rekeyed, should be at the top of your to-do list when you move into a new home. Your family’s security is a top priority. Chances are the previous owners still have copies of the keys as well as anyone else they gave a spare to, such as neighbors and contractors. You can expect to spend around $200-$300 changing the locks on your new home, depending on the number of locks that need updating. You can call a locksmith to get the job done, or consider the DIY route. Many home improvement stores sell new locks, or you can purchase rekeying kits that typically include multiple locks. You will, however, need to purchase a separate kit for each brand of lock found in your home.
PAINT ON A FRESH LOOK
A fresh coat of paint is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to transform a space and make it pop. If possible, paint before you move your furniture and belongings into your new home to avoid the hassle of protecting it from paint splatter. Once you decide on a color, you can always call a professional painter, but painting a room yourself is relatively easy as long as you dedicate some time to the project.
Purchasing a two-in-one paint product with primer included not only speeds up the project, but it also ensures proper wall coverage. If you need help deciding what colors to paint your new home, check out some great suggestions from Ben Dial, a Richmond interior designer.
Before you grab a paintbrush and get started, take some time to prep your walls. Fill in all holes by using spackle or wall patches if needed. Both can be found at any home improvement store. Once the spackle is completely dry, sand and smooth the area with a sanding sponge. Next, lightly wash your walls with a damp sponge to remove any dust or grime on the walls. Using painter’s tape, snugly cover any trim, windows or doorframes. This will help to create clean and sharply painted edges. Using a two-inch angled brush, paint roughly 3-5 inches around the trim, doors and corners of the wall. Once the perimeter of the surface is complete, you’re ready to roll on the rest of the paint. Pour paint into a roller tray and be sure to distribute the paint on the roller evenly by rolling it back and forth through the paint several times.
Start at one side of the wall and work your way up and down across the wall using one fluid “W” motion with the roller. Be sure to use as much of the paint on your roller as possible before applying more paint. If you’re also painting doors, try using aluminum foil around the outside of the knob, instead of painter’s tape, to help prevent stray brush marks from getting paint on the hardware.
And if you don’t finish the project in one session and you plan on continuing to paint the next day, you can skip cleaning the brush. Tightly wrap your brush or paint roller in plastic wrap or a plastic grocery store bag instead and stick it in the refrigerator to prevent the bristles from drying out.
You adored the tile work in the bathroom and kitchen before you purchased your new home, but upon closer examination you notice dirt and mildew starting to form on the grout. Fortunately, cleaning grout is relatively easy and affordable.
For mild stains, fill a spray bottle with a one-to-one ratio of warm water and vinegar. Spray onto the grout and let it stand for five to ten minutes. Then, scrub the grout with a stiff-bristled brush. If that doesn’t do the trick, form a paste with baking soda and warm water and apply it directly to the grout. Spray the vinegar mixture on top of the paste, and once it stops foaming, begin scrubbing again. For extreme cases, spray bleach directly on the grout, but be careful to not overuse. Harsh chemicals can damage the finish of the ceramic and eventually eat away at the grout. Be careful not to mix bleach with any ammonia or acid-based products while cleaning and always use these products in a well-ventilated area.
HANG PICTURES ON PLASTER WALLS
Plaster walls can crack when you tap them with a hammer and a nail. The best way to hang decorative items on plaster walls is to use picture molding, a feature that you’ll often see in many older homes in the City of Richmond, says Straus. Picture molding is a piece of molding found towards the top of the wall, underneath the crown molding. You can put hooks direct into the decorative piece of wood and then use wires to hang your pictures on the wall.
If you don’t have picture molding, or aren’t interesting in installing it in your new home, the best way to hang something on your new plaster walls is to put scotch tape on the wall and then gently tap your nail into the wall. The tape helps hold the plaster in place while you’re hammering.
REMOVE A STRIPPED SCREW
Gently hammer a screwdriver into the head of the lodged screw. Then, pushing down as hard you can, slowly turn the screw counterclockwise to remove it. If that doesn’t work, try using the same methodology, just utilizing a screwdriver with a larger head. You can also use a pair of pliers to clamp down over the head of the screw and help break it free. This works for rusty screws, too.
LABEL YOUR ELECTRICAL BOX
Many older homes don’t have properly-labeled breaker boxes. This is important not only from a safety standpoint, but it also makes shutting off appliances convenient without having to power down your entire home. It also helps to know which fuse or circuit is powering each appliance or area of your home if you ever need to get electrical work done, or if you blow a fuse or have to reset a tripped breaker.
After locating your electrical panel, which is typically found in the basement, garage or utility room, move each breaker from the on position to the off position. If your home still has fuses, look to see if any of the fuses have a melted piece of metal inside the glass window or are discolored. This means you have a broken fuse and needs to be replaced. Grab a friend, a pen, a blank sheet of paper and white labeling stickers. Draw a diagram of your electrical panel on the paper. While one of you starts at the top of the circuit breaker box turning off one breaker on at a time, the other one will identify which light or appliance was turned off in your home. Use the labeling stickers to document the information on the electrical box.
If at any time you feel uncomfortable or notice an odd smell, experience sparks or a loud buzzing noise, it could mean that your breaker is tripping and you should contact a professional electrician.
PUT OUT A GREASE FIRE
Don’t add water if you’re cooking and start a grease fire. Adding water will only cause the fire to spread.
The easiest way to extinguish the fire is to smother it with a pot lid or a cookie sheet. Be sure to turn off the burner to remove any heat. You can also dump baking soda on the fire. This requires a significant amount of baking soda, typically more than what you may have on hand, to put out the flames. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to call 911.
DOCUMENT YOUR BELONGINGS FOR INSURANCE
It’s important to document your belongings in case there is a disaster. This includes tools, dishes, jewelry, furniture, electronics, antiques, appliances and high-end clothing and accessories. Wherever possible, be sure to record the make and model number in case it needs to be replaced.
Walk through your house and snap photos of each room. For exceptionally pricey items like electronics, jewelry or antiques, take an individual photo of the item and keep a copy of the receipt so you can prove the value. Keep this information safe either by uploading it to your online data storage destination of choice, or by keeping the information in a safety deposit box. Keep in mind that each homeowner’s insurance plan is different, so become familiar with what yours covers. (Straus suggests that you get in touch with your insurance agent with questions.)
KNOW WHO TO CALL
If there is an emergency that endangers you or your property, call 911 immediately.
When your power goes out, contact Dominion Virginia Power at 1-866-DOM-HELP (1-866-366-4357). You can monitor repair status by using Dominion’s website.
If tree branches are growing or touching power lines, call Dominion Virginia Power for pruning or topping. If you prefer a more manicured appearance, call a professional arborist and consult their services.
Virginia law requires anyone performing any type of excavation to call 811 or 800-552-7001 before digging. This is a free service and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For additional information check them out online at va811.com.
Many older homes found in the City of Richmond use natural gas for heating and cooking. If you suspect there is a gas leak in your home, call the Richmond Department of Public Utilities at 804-646-7000 immediately. Typically gas leaks smell like rotten eggs.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CALL A PRO?
When it comes to electrical, plumbing or roofing, it’s important to hire a trained, licensed and insured contractor. Straus recommends calling at least three contractors to get a quote, as well as getting three references from people how have used the contractors’ services before. Be sure to inquire about how much they are going to charge you to come by your house just to make an assessment. Yes, it may cost money to hire someone, but it could prevent a small problem from turning into a huge one. “People become electricians and are licensed and certified for a reason,” Straus said. “If something goes bad, it can go really, really bad. You can burn the house down, just to save $75.”
If you own an older home, your pipes could be fragile and narrow. If you can’t free up a blockage with a few attempts with a plunger, then it’s time to call a plumber. Applying too much pressure could burst the pipe, which could result in costly drywall repairs. Straus recommends having your home’s sewer lines inspected by a certified plumber before making a purchase because it can be very expensive to fix when a problem arises.
Contact a roofer if you notice your roof is missing shingles, leaking or sagging. Not only do issues with your roof contribute to damage to the structure of your home, but they can lead to mold and mildew growing behind hidden walls.