The First-time Home Buyer's Guide to Home Maintenance

Ah, your first home. You're finally free to paint that wall bright green if you want and there's no limit to how many nails you put in the wall to hang your art.

The only problem is, now when a pipe leaks or a rail on your deck breaks, it's up to you to figure out how to get it fixed. If you're handy (or would like to be) there's definitely the DIY route. But don't worry, we've included the list of professionals you'll definitely want in your corner for those bigger projects. Here's what you're going to want to do. 

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Get your tools

  1. Hammer. If you don’t want your walls to be completely bare, chances are you’re going to need a hammer and nails to hang your pictures and art. But hammers come in handy for all sorts of things, from nailing down a loose floorboard to digging a hole.
  2. Screwdrivers. Note the “s” at the end of screwdriver. At a minimum, you’ll want both a flat head and a Phillips head. But your best bet is to get a set that has a couple different sizes. That way you’ll be able to hang pictures, take the battery casing off electronics, or even install new hardware on your cabinets and drawers.
  3. Tape measure.  After all, there’s a reason people say "measure twice, cut once." Your tape measure is one of your most valuable tools to save you money on any project. It can keep you from buying too much paint or building a fence too high for your homeowners association’s standards. Keep one at home and one in your car or bag, because once your a homeowner, you'll see all kinds of things you want to make your house more like a home. And you'll want to do more than eyeball that final sale, antique dining table to see if it'll fit in the room before you load it into your car.
  4. Level. You can use the one on your smartphone in a pinch, but you should have one that’s about four feet in length. That way, you won’t go crazy wondering if your pictures really are straight or if that one on the end is just a teensy bit skewed. And if you're living with a partner and you disagree about the pictures, that level will settle the argument in a flash.
  5. Duct tape. Duct tape is just short of magic. It’s great for temporary, and sometimes permanent, repairs for just about everything.  It works in a pinch until you can get a pro to come over and finish the job.
  6. Flashlight. A good light will help you with a lot of repair work. But you’ll also be glad you have it when the power goes out or if you blow a fuse. And if you want to replace a fuse, you'll really need it, because step one is turning off the power. You really, really need to turn off the power before you start yanking out fuses.
  7. Allen keys. If you buy any sort of pre-fabricated, put-it-together-yourself furniture, you’re going to need an Allen key. And who doesn't shop at IKEA? Save the Allen keys that come with furniture, because you may have projects that call for them when they aren't included. Now if you could only figure out why you have all those extra parts in the box.
  8. Extension cord. You’re going to find yourself using this one a lot more than you might expect. It’s great for everything from Christmas lights, to vacuuming your car, to using your power tools outside. 
  9. Hose. Unless you have a drought-resistant yard, you’re probably going to need a hose to keep your landscaping vibrant and green. You'll also want to wash your car, and use it to hose off the porch, so make sure it can reach those.
  10. Ladder. You're going to need a ladder for projects like pruning your trees or painting your walls. You'll also need it to keep your gutters clean, one of those things that'll end up costing you if you wait.

Get your people

Unless you're a jack of all trades, you're going to need to have some good repair people on speed dial. 

  1. Your plumber. You need a plumber you can trust, obviously, but also one that doesn't charge a huge premium to come on weekends. Because you never know what might happen, and plumbing problems aren't always something you can live with until Monday morning. DIY Tools: Plungers for the sink and tub drains and the toilet, and an auger, or a simple toilet snake, for the tougher jobs. By the way, never search the internet for "toilet snake," because you'll be sorry. 
  2. Your electrician. Unless you're very meticulous, pretty knowledgeable, and super into safety, you probably shouldn't be your own electrician. Knowing a good one can help when you have pesky problems like a light switch that doesn't do anything, or you need a ceiling fan installed. DIY Tools: If you need to change a breaker, it's actually super easy to do yourself. Take the old one to the hardware store, and they'll make sure you get the right replacement. Learn how to change a breaker on YouTube.
  3. Your appliance repair person. There's no need to throw away a perfectly good 14-year-old washing machine. The right appliance repair person can extend the life of your dishwasher, your fridge and freezer, and any other appliance, so you won't have to replace them as often. DIY Tools: YouTube. If you're handy, and the appliance is particularly old, you might enjoy tinkering with it. Just do a search for your make and model and the problem you're having. Do not do this if your appliance is still under warranty!
  4. Your homeowners insurance provider. Eventually, you'll have questions, maybe right away. Find someone you can reach on the phone, when you need to know if you need riders or flood insurance, when you want to find out how much coverage you have for accidents, or when you need to find out if you're covered when a tree or a helicopter crashes through your roof. DIY Tools: Nope.
  5. Your roofer. Your roof may be relatively new, and it doesn't seem like you need to know a roofer. Until it rains for three days, a few branches hit the roof, and all of a sudden there's water dripping on your pool table. The pots and pans start to look unsightly, and you can't play pool around them. (Well, you can, but it's a different game.) DIY Tools: This is another job for the pros, mainly because unless you really know what you're doing, you could fall.
  6. Your non-emergency law enforcement officers. When there's a car parked in front of your driveway (and you've already politely asked the neighbors if it's a guest of theirs), or there's a consistent noise issue with one neighbor, or you see something suspicious, but you aren't in danger, you don't need to call 911. You need the number of the law enforcement station that covers your neighborhood. You should be able to call the local precinct, give them your address, and get the number. DIY Tools: Your neighborly manners. Remember that you don't always need to get the police involved. It might just take a polite request and an invitation to share some lemonade on the porch.
  7. Your locksmith. Locked out? Or need to change the locks after a break in, or after you realize you've given out too many keys? Or maybe something came loose and your dead bolt just stopped working. Knowing a good locksmith is key. DIY Tool: Dry lubricant. This charming Australian guy explains why.
  8. Your heating and air repair and service person. You need to get your heating and air systems serviced once a year, and you may need repairs in between. If you have a contract with a certain provider, it can include some service calls. DIY Tool: Air filters, because they're usually fairly easy to replace. Your service person will probably replace them if needed during yearly inspections, but it's good to know how to do it if they need replacing at other times.
  9. Someone to fix everything else. Got a hole in the wall? A broken window pane? Need someone to replace a strip of trim that got water damaged? Is that one piece of broken tile just not something you can look at another day? You need what's known as a "handyman," (or woman). Just make sure you find someone capable, with a variety of skills and a cell phone, so you can call her anytime you're in need. You may be able to save money by waiting until you have a few small jobs that can all be done at once. DIY Tools: Unless you love doing this stuff yourself, you can make do with a cell phone and a check book. If fixing things is a hobby for you, and you enjoy it, as many people do, go for it. But otherwise, remember that your time is money, and it may be worth paying someone, even for seemingly small jobs. (Which are never quite as small as I think they'll be when I start.)

Get on a maintenance schedule

Now that you're a homeowner, there's a lot of tiny maintenance and cleaning tasks that you just never thought about when you were renting. If you're not the type of person that can remember your schedule on your own, try using a scheduling app like BrightNest or HomeSavvy

Spring

Summer

  • Get on a watering schedule 
  • Spray for bugs
  • Test your smoke detector

Winter

  • Clean refrigerator coils
  • Test your smoke detector 
  • Trim your trees

Fall

  • Clean the gutters
  • Get your HVAC system serviced 
  • Add weather stripping to your windows and doors
  • Put up storm windows
  • Turn off outdoor faucets
  • Remove any dead plants and replace with cold-hardy varieties 
  • Test your smoke detector 

Now that you've got everything you need it's time to get started on those DIY improvements. Or just sit back and bask in the delight of homeownership.