Buying a new home in 2021? Once you find the home you’re looking for, get approved for a mortgage and close on the property, you’re pretty much done, right? Not so fast.
You still have interior painting and decorating before you fully settle in. That’s the easy part of homeownership. What’s harder is knowing what not to do. So we pulled together some tips on what to avoid during your first year as a homeowner.
Six mistakes you don’t want to make
- NOT ANTICIPATING BREAKDOWNS
Your home may be new to you, but chances are you’re not the first occupants. Something’s bound to go ‘kablooey’ down the road. Before too long your “to-do” list will grow, and minor repairs will be easy to sidestep because — you know — “it’s not that a big deal right now.”
Instead, take out a home warranty contract as soon as you buy your new home. Home warranties are designed to protect your home’s critical systems and appliances from breakdowns caused by normal wear and tear. Highly recommended if you’re buying a home with older but still functional home appliances, but they can also help with repairs to your home’s electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems. Some even cover pools, hot tubs and that storage freezer unit you bought during the pandemic.
A home warranty should not be confused with homeowners insurance, though. The latter covers damages and loss caused by fire and unexpected weather events, but they won’t do you much good if your dishwasher breaks down.
- NOT HAVING A SAFETY NET
Saving up for a 20% down payment may have helped you avoid paying mortgage insurance, but if you’re cash-poor once you’re in your home, what’s the point? Don’t let your home purchase clean out your savings account.
There are always unexpected costs that come with buying a new home, so we suggest that homebuyers leave themselves some wiggle room. Let’s say you lose your job or some other expenses — like a baby or a need for a new car — suddenly comes up. Do you have enough saved up to continue paying your mortgage and other bills until you get back on your feet? If not, start saving (again) right away.
Consider how much money you might need in an emergency fund. The golden rule for homeowners is to have a financial safety net of between three to six months. Having little to no savings cushion to fall back on means you risk going into debt over any little emergency that comes your way — and with homeownership, little emergencies are pretty much unavoidable.
- NOT KEEPING RECEIPTS
Once you move into your newly purchased home, the last thing on your mind is selling and moving out. But don’t ignore the idea entirely. Every time you make an improvement or repair to the house, keep a record of the activity. You never know if a prospective buyer might ask when the sump pump was replaced, how long ago the roof was repaired or whether the garage door is still under warranty. You’ll want to be able to respond to whatever a future buyer might throw at you.
Having a record of even small improvements lets prospective buyers know the home was well tended to from the very beginning. That “journal” of repairs and replacements — especially if they include dates, receipts and contact information for contractors familiar with the home — can really help boost your asking price.
Even if you stay in your home forever, being organized about home repairs will come in handy if problems reemerge later on. Knowing how to quickly put your hands on contracts, instruction manuals and warranty information for something you replaced years ago could save you thousands down the road.
- NOT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF TAX BREAKS
Depending on where you live, new homeowners can often take advantage of tax benefits, credits and deductions that might help reduce both your taxable income and the actual taxes owed.
Mortgage insurance deductions may be available regardless of whether your home was purchased with a conventional loan or through a government-backed loan, like an FHA, VA or USDA loan. You may also be able to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage every month.
If you paid points on your mortgage, those might also be deductible. Likewise, some portion of state and local property taxes may be deductible. Even more, you may be able to receive renewable energy tax credits if you upgrade your home with energy-efficient improvements, like solar panels and water heaters, residential wind turbines and energy-efficient HVAC systems.
Just remember that doing taxes as a homeowner is much more complicated than doing taxes as a renter. So don’t wing it: make sure you consult with a professional tax preparer. They will be knowledgeable about the tax breaks available to you.
- PUTTING OFF BASIC MAINTENANCE
Saying goodbye to renting means saying hello to home maintenance, over and over and over again. It’s more than just keeping the new place clean; it’s about keeping on top of issues that you may have never considered before. If you live in an area that gets hit hard with winter weather, you’ll want to make sure that your roof is well sealed and that debris is regularly removed from gutters. Tree limbs and dead bushes close to the home might need to be removed, especially if you’re in wildfire or tornado country. Lots of rain? Chipped paint and caulking around doors and windows should be regularly checked.
In fact, a lot of home maintenance has to do with preventing water damage. Leaks and moisture issues aren’t always immediately apparent, but they’ll cause structural damage, rot and mold, all of which can be devastating to your health, your wallet and your potential resale value.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and ignore these issues entirely, although that can be a big and costly mistake. Our advice is to create a home maintenance checklist that you can refer to year after year. If you have the means, consider hiring a reputable contractor or home inspector to give your home an annual once-over. A professional will catch hidden problems that you might not and, together, you can prioritize your projects. Just remember to make sure that anyone you work with is licensed, bonded and insured.
6 – NOT HAVING A SAFETY PLAN
Last but not least, you want to be sure that your new home is safe for all occupants. Fire alarms, smoke alarms and CO detectors should all be tested regularly, and their batteries should be replaced annually. Keep in mind that the devices themselves may need to be replaced over time.
Take the fire safety idea one step further and help keep your home and family safe by investing in fire extinguishers. Keep one in the kitchen, one in the garage and one in each bathroom. Make sure everyone living in the house knows where they are and how to use them.
It’s also a good idea to install and regularly check outdoor lighting. Consider investing in security features like deadbolt locks, safety cameras and alarm systems. Another thought is to write out and display emergency phone numbers on the fridge door. Include the local police station, fire department, poison control and personal “in-case-of-emergency” contacts. Check to make sure that your house number is visible from the street. This will make it easier for emergency vehicles to find your home if needed.
Finally, we suggest establishing an emergency escape plan for your family just in case you ever need to quickly evacuate. Map it out and go over it with all family members — children included — so everyone understands the safest escape route and meeting point.
Relax. You’re doing great.
We’re a little biased, obviously, but we think being a new homeowner is just great. Being a smart homeowner is even better. If you haven’t bought a home yet, why not consider getting pre-approved. Try our online app to get started, or find a local loan expert in the area you’re looking to buy. Then check out these other articles from our archives to help you make the most of your new home: