So you’re finally a homeowner — congratulations! This is an important step in anyone’s life, and it’s absolutely normal to feel somewhat (or wildly) unprepared for the realities of owning a place of your own. What if there’s an emergency, or what if something breaks? Do you know what to do?
Here’s the good news: Like so many things in life, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Some homeowners take years to get all of these names and numbers in their mental address books or their smartphones, but if you start trying to find these essential people in your homeowners’ network early, then you’ll have an easier time handling any problems.
AN INSURANCE AGENT
If you have a mortgage loan on your home, then you’re going to need homeowners’ insurance, which protects the asset being backed — otherwise known as “your house” — from risk. And to get the best deals on insurance and make sure you’re fully covered for everything that needs to be addressed, you’ll probably need to talk to an insurance agent about your options.
Most home insurance policies cover things like fire, for example, but they don’t automatically include coverage for other adverse events like a flood or an earthquake. Do you really need earthquake insurance? Well, your insurance agent can tell you!
You may also be eligible for discounts on other insurance policies when you become a homeowner, like your car insurance. In addition, you may want to increase your coverage for policies like car insurance; now that you’re a homeowner, you have a big asset that could become part of a claim if you get into a bad car accident, you’re at fault, and your insurance doesn’t fully cover the other party’s damages or injuries. A good insurance agent can make sure you’re covered from all angles so that you can get on with the business of living your life.
Maybe you’re the type who really likes to clean — you find it relaxing or rewarding. Even so, you’ll still want to think about finding a cleaner who’s worth the cost in case you’re ever in a bind, such as if a health issue prevents you from cleaning and the mess is driving you bananas, or if you’ve got to leave town for an extended period of time and are thinking about turning your house into a vacation rental while you’re away.
“Worth the cost” can be a relative term! Try to find someone who has references so you can get a good idea of how thorough their cleaning is and how flexible they are with times. A really detail-oriented cleaner might charge more and have fewer time slots available every week or month, but like anything else, you get what you pay for, and it’s probably better to find someone who really knows how to deep clean instead of hiring a relatively cheap cleaner who isn’t actually going to evict all the dust bunnies.
Like cleaning, landscaping can be a home maintenance activity that many homeowners prefer to tackle themselves. Nonetheless, it’s never a bad idea to have a landscaper or two on call in case you need them. Allergies, recovering from a surgery, or any number of life events can slow you down, and in some climates, yards just won’t wait a week or two for you to get back on your feet.
In many areas, you’ll find high-school students with a truck, lawnmower, and weed whacker who operate their own small business in the summertime to earn money, and that could be completely sufficient for your needs. If your lawn space includes a garden or requires shrub-trimming or more specialized work, then you might want to talk to a landscaper who has year-round experience dealing with lawns in the neighborhood.
House paint doesn’t last forever, whether inside or outside — but especially outside. To keep your house and fence looking nice and crisp, you’ll need to hire someone to touch it up every now and then. This is also a job you could potentially do yourself, but if you don’t have the ladders or the head for heights, it’s definitely worth contracting out, especially if your home has a funky Victorian paint job or some other specialized paint need.
Many painters are also general contractors, but especially in the summertime, you can find groups of college students or other seasonal workers who do nothing but paint, paint, paint, and many of them do a spectacular job. Think about what makes you most comfortable and add the painters to your network accordingly.
A GENERAL CONTRACTOR
As a homeowner, there are always going to be little things that need attention here and there, possibly as soon as you move in. Chipped crown molding, holes in walls, broken windows, or doors that creak — whatever your issue, living with it might be fine for as long as you can stand it, but at some point, you’ll want your house to look as nice as it possibly can, even if that only happens right before you get ready to sell it. Or maybe you want to do some renovations or even add a room, a shed, a garage, a deck … if that’s the case, it’s even more important to find a reliable general contractor.
A reliable general contractor is one that shows up on time and who can accurately quote a project so that you can budget for it. Reliable contractors can explain timelines, the cost of different materials, offer options, and get the job done on time (or within a reasonable window).
Of course your home is your castle, but everyone needs a break from the homestead every now and again, even if it’s just for a night out at a nice restaurant and trip to the theater. If you have kids, then hopefully you’re already aware that you probably shouldn’t leave them home alone if they’re not old enough to take care of themselves, so you’ll need a babysitter to hold down the fort while you’re out on the town.
For longer trips like going to work or even heading on vacation, you might want to find a petsitter or a housesitter. A petsitter or dog-walker can come let your dog out for a walk or feed your animals if you won’t be home in time to do it yourself, keeping the fur babies hapy.
If you don’t have pets or kids, you’re ahead of the curve, but you still might want to find a good housesitter you can trust to keep everything in line while you’re away. Some of the best petsitters already have their own place, but they might be living with roommates or parents, so you can entice them to come and keep your house in order with the clear perk of having more space to themselves.
There are some emergencies that a general contractor can’t fix, so you’ll need to have some specialists on hand, too, in order to make sure your homeowner network has the right contacts in it. Water-related emergencies are a big one, so if you’ve got a clogged drain or leaky pipes — or, ideally, well before either of those things happens to your precious house — find a trustworthy plumber who’s willing to come help you out.
Because water-related emergencies are usually acute (you can’t wash dishes with a clogged sink, and a leaky pipe can seriously damage the rest of your house), make sure you’re also asking questions about your plumber’s availability. Do they make calls after-hours? Is there a cutoff time at night? How much is the after-hours surcharge? Maybe you’ll find one plumber for regular daytime emergencies and another for evening/overnight issues, but it’s never a bad thing to have several people on call when you really need them.
Like water-related emergencies, most electrical emergencies need to be dealt with immediately; they can be extremely dangerous and your house might not even be habitable until they’re fixed. And like plumbers, some electricians have more flexible hours than others, so it’s a good idea to have more than one on hand so that you can call for help no matter when you need it.
Depending on the type of shingles on your roof, you may not need to get them replaced at all while you live in the house, but you can bet that any buyers are going to ask when the roof was last replaced. Composition shingles usually last more than a decade but less than 20 years, wood shingles last somewhere between 20 and 25 years, and asphalt shingles can last anywhere from 15 to 30 years.
If you’re not sure how much longer your roof has, then talking to a roofer and making any necessary repairs before they’re needed — so a leaking roof doesn’t damage your house — is a good move.
First-time homeowners might not be aware of the different financial perks of homeownership, like the ability to claim mortgage interest as a deduction on your taxes. But there’s a lot more that even experienced homeowners could be missing, which is why hiring an accountant or a tax specialist can be wise.
For example, do you know how to handle the home office deduction on your home? If you work at home most of the time and use a home office to do that work, or you operate a small business from your home, then you may be entitled to an even bigger tax return. Plus, some of the money you spend on necessities like electricity and water can be looped into the tax return because you use it (at least in part) for business.
We know what you’re thinking. “Wait, didn’t I already hire an inspector?” Yes, you did! But if you make any major changes to your home or disaster strikes and the house becomes uninhabitable for a time, then you might want to have an inspector on hand to help you figure out what needs to be done and whether it’s safe to live there.
Inspectors have specialties, too, which you might or might not know. There are inspectors that can test for radon in your basement in states where that’s an issue, and there are inspectors that look for pests, too. So it’s a good idea to find an inspector you trust and who has a specialty you might need so that you don’t end up scrambling to find someone who can tell you just how bad that termite infestation is.
Again, you did hire an appraiser before you moved in — and again, this is someone who might be useful to tap in the future. Your home will be regularly assessed for property tax purposes so that the powers-that-be can make sure they’re getting a fair shake from you, but you might not be willing to trust the assessor’s take, or perhaps you think they were way off. In that circumstance, it can be handy to have an appraiser on the horn who can offer an additional opinion.
And if you plan to make any upgrades or additions to the house, an appraiser can also be useful; he or she can tell you how much the value of your home is likely to increase as a result of your renovations.
A FRIEND AT THE CITY/COUNTY PERMITTING OFFICE
On that note, you probably don’t want to plan any renovations until you’ve secured the permits to do it. What types of changes require a permit? It really depends on the city or county where you live — different cities and counties have different guidelines for which improvements require a permit.
So make yourself a friend at the city and county building in the permitting office, someone who can answer your questions and guide you toward the permits you need to make your dream come true.
A MORTGAGE EXPERT
About six months after you move in to occupy your new home, you can expect to start receiving offers to refinance your home in the mail. These will be followed by offers to take out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (also called a HELOC) if your home’s value increases.
Should you take these offers? Well, it depends. A mortgage expert who’s familiar with homes in your area (and, ideally, familiar with your home in particular) can help explain the advantages and drawbacks to a HELOC or a refinance. If you’ve already got several years’ of payments under your belt, you might not like the idea of starting over with a 30-year loan despite a lower monthly payment, and not everyone likes the idea of having to pay back two house-related loans at once; a mortgage broker can assist you with sorting out the pros and cons.
One of the best but most unheralded perks of owning your own house is the fact that you can get to know your neighbors over time. Neighbors you know are usually good neighbors, and good neighbors are worth their own weight in gold. A good neighbor will grab your dog before the dogcatcher gets there when your canine has escaped and is ambling down the road. A good neighbor can also water your flowers when you’re out of town, spot you some eggs if you ran out, alert you to any suspicious activity happening on or around your property — and even introduce you to some or all of the other people in your homeowner network if you’re missing pieces.
A REAL ESTATE AGENT
Of course you aren’t ready to sell your house as soon as you move in — but keeping in touch with a local real estate agent is still a good plan. Your agent is often the first to know not only who’s buying (and moving in) and who’s selling (and moving out), but also whether there are any new developments planned nearby, where the best restaurants and home improvement stores are located, if there’s a new hiking or biking trail planned, and much more.
And when you are ready to sell, your real estate agent can help you decide what needs to be changed or fixed to make your home one of the most enticing in the neighborhood, can give you a good idea of when would be the best time of year to put your house on the market, how to price the place, and hold your hand from beginning to end. That’ll be easier to do if you’ve maintained a relationship with the same agent over time instead of scrambling to find one only when you’re trying to sell.
Plus, like your neighbors, a real estate agent can often help you fill in any gaps that are missing in your own personal homeowner network of helpers.