Survival Guide for New Homeowners

If you’ve recently taken the home-buying plunge, our survival guide is a must-read that will help you avoid common pitfalls, budget your time and money, and glide smoothly into the joys of owning your own home.

We hope you’ll take away two essential things from this guide: an awareness of what you can expect in the first year of living in your new home, and some sound advice on being prepared for the most important aspects of being a new homeowner.

You’ll need to get all utilities into your name, so make a list and work through it. Call the electric, phone, and gas companies. Contact the county for your sewer and water, if it supplies both. Does the town pick up garbage/recycling, or do you need to contract for that yourself? If you want Internet and broader TV service than an antenna will get you, research your options and start calling for the best bargain. With all the digital entertainment options available, you may decide to cut the cord on cable.

Get on Utility Provider Budget Plans
With so many new variables, the first year in a new house is usually challenging financially. Get on budget plans where you can. Many utility providers will estimate your use for the year, and then break your bills into 12 equal payments. This reduces fluctuations in your charges throughout the year, which can be helpful. Money can feel extra tight after the big move.

Triple-Check Your Billing Address
Make extra sure each service provider has your contact information recorded correctly—down to the last digit of your zip code. If you don’t receive bills due to some administrative error, you may come home to find your water turned off.

Some work is more easily done before you get all your stuff in the house. If timing and budget allow, consider doing painting or floor refinishing before your move-in date. Do you need help with cleaning? If you want professional help with anything, bundle that into your move-in budget.

Don’t fret if there’s no money left for these things right away. Sometimes it’s better to live in a house awhile before deciding on paint colors, carpeting, or a new kitchen backsplash. A home is a work in progress, and it takes time to get the feel for a new place. Doing too much at once can be overwhelming and can kill the joy of the experience. Feel free to take a slow approach and live in your house as is for six months to a year or more. Who knows—you might just grow to love that vintage 1950s tile in the bathroom and use it as the inspiration for your interior design.


Homeowner’s Insurance
If you have a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance was probably required for the loan. But it’s smart to reassess your insurance needs within the first six months of owning your home. You may discover you have too much (or too little) coverage. Once the dust has settled, take a critical look at your policy and solicit a second round of quotes from insurers.

Most mortgage companies require your taxes and homeowner’s insurance to be escrowed, which means that the mortgage company totals those expenses, then charges you one-twelfth of the sum each month. (Some mortgage companies allow you to opt out of escrow, for a fee.) If you don’t have escrow, remember to budget for your tax and insurance expenses! If you do have escrow, take pains to make sure that the mortgage company is making all payments on your behalf in a timely manner; after all, it’s your house and your credit that are on the line. Also, double-check the accuracy of the estimate made by your lender’s escrow department. If there’s a shortfall, you can expect a bill for the difference at the end of the year. And if that estimate was way off, the bill you receive could be a real whopper.


If you have a lawn, you’ll need to purchase some lawn-care equipment or hire a landscaping service. Start researching lawn mowers and learn how to use a string trimmer. If you don’t have them already, acquire a rake, shovel, and some pruning tools, at the very least. If you decide to fertilize your lawn, you’ll want to purchase a spreader or hire someone for the job. Your new neighbors should have good references.

Service Checks
Plan to have a service check on your HVAC, hot water heater, fireplace, and/or chimney, and any major appliances that require it. Check any filters, and replace if necessary. In short, evaluate all of your home systems.

Go through all the breakers in your electrical box and label them. Label the incoming and outgoing pipes, as well as the shut-off valves, for your water and sewer service. Taking a little bit of time now will make it much easier to diagnose and fix any problems that may arise in the future.

Utility Location
Before you start any new landscaping, call a utility location service to come mark where all your services are in the yard. You do NOT want to break a water main or cut off your electricity while you’re planting a tree or installing a fence. It’s worth making yourself a map to keep on file for reference in the future.

Yes, moving into your first home is a lot of work. But you’ll reap so many rewards—you’re building equity, lightening your tax load, and establishing roots in a community. With any luck, some of those new neighbors will become lifelong friends. Congrats, again, on your new home!


If you’re packing your own boxes, pack them room by room, and label them very clearly, so they can be taken immediately to the right place after being unloaded. Make some quick signs for each room that correspond to the box labels. If you organize your move effectively, with any luck, you’ll be able to park in the garage by the end of the week.

Set manageable goals for yourself. You probably have several wonderful years, if not decades, to enjoy your new home, so you don’t need to finish unpacking in one day. Decide how many boxes you’ll unpack each day—one or two is completely acceptable—and stick to that number. If you’ve unpacked them and still have energy, turn your focus to another task, like hanging window treatments or shopping for drawer organizers.

Change the Locks
You can throw out the keys got at the closing—right after you change the locks! You have no idea who has copies of those keys, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, before you do anything else, call a locksmith or do it yourself—just do it.

Set Up the Move
Will you hire someone or do it yourself? If you’re hiring movers, get as many references as you can and at least three quotes. Make sure anyone you consider has insurance. If you’re doing it yourself, reserve your truck. Get one that’s slightly bigger—and reserve it for slightly longer—than you think you’ll need. That’s one place you can reduce stress.

How to Budget

Budgeting for new homeowners starts with understanding the true costs of owning a home.

Ready to buy your first home? While open houses, mortgage paperwork and the planning of your housewarming party may have you busy, creating your budget as a new homeowner and uncovering the hidden costs of owning a home should be top of mind as you take this big financial step.

“It’s extremely important to determine how homeownership will affect your monthly budget before you purchase a home and not afterwards,” says Emily Graham Stroud, president and owner of Stroud Financial Management, Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. “One of the biggest mistakes people make financially is house hunting and falling in love with a home before they’ve analyzed their monthly budget.”

“How do I adjust my budget after buying a home?” is a question to tackle as soon as possible during the buying process. Learning the rules of budgeting for new homeowners can help you avoid money headaches once the ink is dry on your mortgage.

Plan regular budget reviews

Once you add up the hidden costs of owning a home and the not-so-hidden ones, budgeting for new homeowners means regularly reviewing and adjusting your spending and savings plan.

“It’s important to review your home’s budget and expenses at least four times a year, perhaps even monthly if you bought an older home,” Bodrozic says.

Checking in with your budget regularly can help you track things to budget for after buying a home, like maintenance and repairs and seasonal changes that may affect your utility bills. It’s also a good way to stay on top of all of your expenses, not just homeownership costs, and monitor your savings progress, which can help you avoid overspending and taking on debt.

Break down the costs of owning a home

When adding up homeownership expenses, your mortgage payment is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things to budget for after buying a home beyond what you pay to your lender each month.

John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management app, says budgeting expenses for a first home usually fall into four categories:

  • Mortgage, insurance and property taxes
  • Utilities, including electric, water, pest control, garbage collection, internet and phone services
  • Maintenance and repair costs
  • Remodeling expenses

In addition to the principal and interest on your home loan, your mortgage payment may also include escrow for your annual property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and homeowner’s association dues (if you live in a condominium or neighborhood with an HOA). If not, you’ll need to separately include these hidden costs of owning a home in your budget.

“If you don’t escrow for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, then you need to create your own escrow savings account that’s earmarked specifically for these expenses,” Stroud says.

For example, if your annual homeowner’s insurance premium totals $2,400, you could budget $200 per month toward this cost and stash that money in a high-yield online savings account. You’ll need to do the same for your property taxes. When it’s time to pay for these hidden costs of owning a home, you’ll have the cash on hand to cover all of it.

Determine your new disposable income

The hidden costs of owning a home could affect how much money you have left over each month after your bills are paid. While your monthly mortgage payment could be less than your previous rent, your property taxes, homeowner’s insurance and other home-related expenses may mean you’ll pay more on housing each month.

Stroud says if owning a home means having less disposable income each month, then you need to be clear about distinguishing between your wants and needs to better adjust your spending plan.

On the other hand, budgeting for new homeowners could mean monthly housing costs that are less than or equal to what you previously paid in rent. If you have more wiggle room in your budget, you could funnel any “extra” cash into your emergency fund or home maintenance savings.

Once those are fully funded, you could find room in your budget to pay down credit card or student loan debt, or increase the amount you’re saving for retirement each month. As you’re working toward your financial goals, be mindful of purchases you may be tempted make as a new homeowner—especially if lower housing costs mean you have more discretionary spending to play with in your budget.

“Many first-time homeowners find that their first home causes lifestyle changes,” Bodrozic says. That could mean buying new furniture, upgrading your TV, purchasing an expensive lawn mower or rushing into costly renovation projects.

Include a line item in your budget for home savings

You likely already know that an emergency fund can help you cover unexpected expenses, like a flat tire or an unplanned visit to the doctor. When buying a home, budgeting for new homeowners should also include setting up a separate savings account for unplanned home maintenance and repairs.

“A good rule of thumb is to save between 1 and 4 percent of the purchase price of your home for annual preventative maintenance and repair costs,” Bodrozic says.

When considering things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic says if you’re dealing with a newer home, you may be able to aim for a one percent savings goal, as things like the roof, appliances, and heating and air system should still be in good shape. “If your home is 20 to 25 years or older, a budget of 4 percent is more appropriate because many of the home’s equipment and assets are near the end of their useful life.”

When determining which things to budget for after buying a home, remember that repair costs may increase over time as the property ages, and you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. Bodrozic says keeping up with regular maintenance can help preserve your home’s equipment and structural elements, potentially allowing you to delay spending on major repairs.

Think ahead

One final thing to consider is how much you will be chipping away at your mortgage over time. Though it’s not one of the things to budget for after buying a home, Bodrozic recommends being aware of how much equity you’re building up in the home over time because it may influence your future housing expenses.

For example, if you took out a conventional loan with less than 20 percent down and are paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), you can request that it be removed once you reach 20 percent equity in the home. That in turn can reduce your monthly mortgage payment. If you think you might consider a cash out refinance at some point to make upgrades or renovations, you’ll need to have equity available that you can draw on later.

How to Easily Save Money as a New Homeowner

Just bought a home? Here are 4 money saving every new homeowner should know: from spring maintenance items to DIY home improvements.

Keep an eye on that spending! Whether you’re a homeowner for the first time or you’ve just moved into a larger home, there is a strong tendency to overspend at the outset. Here are some tips to help you avoid this common pitfall of new homeownership.

1. Get down and dirty with DIY

Speaking of decorating, here’s some golden advice for new homeowners: The possibilities are endless — and much less costly — if you’re willing to do a little bit of the hard work yourself. DIY home improvement projects such as painting and switching out hardware can make a huge difference in the look and feel of your new home without sending you spiraling into debt.

Note: Don’t spend time and money on projects that you aren’t qualified to do. Doing a project incorrectly can end up costing you quite a bit more time and money to fix. Play it safe. Stick to fairly simple projects until you get a better grasp of your home improvement skillset.

2. Get the boring stuff out of the way first

You’ve just shelled out for a down payment, closing costs and moving expenses. Your savings account is pretty drained, right? So what would be the worst thing that could happen right now to your home? A costly and unexpected issue — especially one that could have been avoided with some simple maintenance. Unfortunately, it’s not up to a landlord to handle these issues now.

Sure, your home inspector took a thorough look at the house before you purchased it, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make your own rounds. Before you even consider picking out that new sectional or king-size bed, perform some new homeowner maintenance, including getting a head start on simple spring maintenance items. Then, make sure your budget stays protected by taking advantage of a home warranty — the rest-easy solution to those inevitable system and appliance breakdowns.

Bonus Tip: Was your new home vacant for a while before you moved in? Were some appliances missing, causing you to have to install new ones? Since you’re officially living there now, take a minute to ensure everything is hooked up and functioning correctly throughout the house. Any strange noises or smells? Water leaks? Have them checked out by a professional right away!

3. Get comfortable

Ask yourself: What absolutely must be done now, and what can wait? As exciting as this new lifestyle is, it will take some getting used to. Think about all the new expenses you have now, versus before. And the fact that you didn’t just want to get into the new house — you plan on staying there for a while. The best way to ensure that is to be smart with your money and take your time making this new place your home. Upgrading your master bathroom can wait until you’ve saved up for it. And adding on that deck doesn’t have to be something you do this year. Simply ensure you’re comfortable in your new home. The extra projects will happen. The new items will come. And they’ll be that much more exciting when you can easily afford them.

4. Get thrifty with your décor

Now that you’ve gotten the boring stuff out of the way, it’s time to get excited about adding your personal touch to the home. But how can you do that when your funds are running low? Open your mind to the idea that not everything has to be brand new — just new to you. Have your in-laws been talking about switching out their dining room chandelier? Tell them you’ll take it off their hands! Have your friends been talking about getting together for a group garage sale when the weather gets warmer? See if you can get a sneak peek of the items that they’re wanting to part with. And don’t hesitate to take advantage of all those resale groups online. You can find some incredible items in excellent condition at a fraction of the retail cost. No one will ever know the difference!

Tips Every New Homeowner Should Know

Congratulations! You’ve just purchased your first home. Buying a home is a smart investment and offers a lot of benefits for you and your family. But owning a home also comes with a few disadvantages, like not being able to call your landlord when something goes awry.

But don’t worry. We have some homeowner tips and tricks that will help you prepare for those surprises and maybe even save you a few dollars down the road.

Use these new homeowner tips to make your transition to property owner a little smoother.

1. Change Your Air Filter Regularly

This probably sounds obvious, but it is an often overlooked homeowner maintenance tip. When you move into your home, change your air filter right away. Mark the date on your calendar and change it every 90 days moving forward. Consider changing it every 60 days if you have pets or if you suffer from allergies.

Changing your air filter not only helps keep your air clean, but it also reduces dust in your home and extends the life of your furnace.

2. Know How to Turn Off Your Water Valve

Picture this: You wake up in the middle of the night to find a busted pipe filling your basement with water. It takes you five minutes to locate your main water valve and two more minutes to turn it off. That’s seven additional minutes of water flowing into your basement.

It’s a good idea to locate this valve when you move in and learn how it works to save yourself time during an emergency. Learn how to shut off your power and gas lines while you’re at it.

Another homeowner tip is to turn off your main water valve whenever you leave on vacation. This will prevent flooding if something should go wrong when you are out of town.

3. Create a Homeowner’s Binder

You may have noticed during the purchasing process that there is a lot of paperwork involved in owning a home. Before you move into your new home, create a binder for important documents, such as mortgage and home insurance paperwork.

After your move in, use the same binder to store all of the guides and warranties for your new appliances. Store receipts for any home improvement and moving expenses here as well. You’ll want to hang on to these for your taxes. You can also start collecting contact information for reliable contractors in this binder.

4. Wait to Start Any Large Projects

One thing every homeowner should know: home improvement projects are expensive. Avoid completing unnecessary projects. Unless your new home is not livable, hold off on any major construction projects until you’ve lived in the home for at least six months.

Waiting a few months to make any huge changes will allow you to get a feel for your home and put your priorities in order. After a few months, you may learn that the floor plan doesn’t bother you as much as expected, but you’ve discovered you can’t live with the current bathroom configuration. Waiting will also give you time to save for the cost of any upcoming projects.

It is a good idea to complete small projects such as painting or removing carpet before moving into your new home.

5. Start an Emergency House Fund

You never know when something is going to go wrong, or how much it is going to cost. A great homeowner tip is to start an emergency savings account as soon as possible.

The longer you live in your home, the more likely you are to experience a surprise plumbing, heating or roofing issue. Start saving early to take a little stress out of this typical homeowner experience.

6. Pay Attention to Your Energy Usage

Owning a home means paying your own utility bills. Pay attention to how your home is using energy and use the information to reduce your carbon footprint and save money. You’ll be surprised how small changes can affect your electric bill.

Homeowner tips and tricks for reducing your energy costs:

  • Move your refrigerator away from your oven.
  • Schedule a home energy audit.
  • Lower your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees.
  • Switch out lightbulbs for energy-efficient LED lightbulbs.

7. Learn How to Identify Potential Issues in Your New Home

One of the best homeowner maintenance tips is to detect minor problems before they become huge issues. After purchasing your home, take some time to learn about some of the common issues homes face, especially if you’ve purchased an older home or one that was unoccupied for a period of time. Being able to identify a potential problem early on could save you money later.

Learn to recognize:

  • Basement leaks and flooding.
  • Signs of a roof leak.
  • Foundation issues.

If you can catch these issues early, you can prevent further damage to your home and save yourself a lot of headaches.

8. Make Friends With Your Neighbors

As many homeowners know, having bad neighbors can make your living situation less than pleasant. Work to be a good neighbor right away by introducing yourself and making friends as soon as you move in. Building a relationship with your neighbors will help you learn about your neighborhood, find reliable contractors and maybe even allow you to borrow tools when you need them.

Knowing your neighbors will also make it easier to address any issues that arise later, such as property line or noise concerns.

9. Invest in New Tools

Now that you’re a homeowner, it’s time to get yourself a toolbox. From measuring for a new couch to hanging curtains and photographs, you’re going to need tools even if you’re not planning any big DIY projects.

Best tools for new homeowners:

  • Ladder
  • Electric drill
  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
  • Stud finder

Owning these tools will make following the rest of these new homeowner maintenance tips easier.

10. Complete One Project at a Time

Don’t work on multiple home projects at once. You may want to get all your improvements finished as soon as possible, but this isn’t the answer. Not only will you exhaust your finances, but you will also make your new home unlivable and add unnecessary stress to your everyday life.

Instead of starting all your projects at once, learn how to plan a home remodel that won’t make you miserable.