What do you wish you had done to your new house before you moved in?
February 18, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

What do you wish you had done to your new house before you moved in?

If all keeps going as it has been, it looks like my wife and I will be closing on our first home in the next few weeks.

We do not need to move into the new home immediately. In fact, the week after closing is spring break and would therefore be ideal for me to take off to spend some time working on the new house. I've been making up some to do lists as to what to tackle in this time, but am having problems prioritizing and am worried that I will over-commit my time to a project with little utility. I don't want to spend three days painting a bathroom to realize on day four that I should have been swapping out light switches or something.

We'll be moving our stuff piecemeal over the course of the month and a half between closing and the end of our current apartment's lease.

So if you had your new home to yourself for at least a week (plus a few weekends) to do it all over again, what would you do? As an added bonus, keep in mind that the sweet, sweet $8,000 first time home buyer credit will be at your disposal.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Home & Garden (52 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Hire a leaning service and have them go through the house.
When we moved into out home, we discovered that the previous owner had left the place a filthy mess. We spent move-in day scrubbing floors and hauling out trash. It wasn't trashed, mind you. It was simply left as-is, after many years of having been lived-in.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:11 AM on February 18, 2009

That is sweet! I don't think you can overestimate how much easier it is to paint before moving all your stuff in. I'd also swtich out all the lighting fixtures you don't want, maybe figure out how to organize your closets before moving stuff in.

I'm also a big fan of built-in bookcases and shelves (before painting, of course).
posted by JoanArkham at 7:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Cleaning...not leaning. stoopid sticky keys...
posted by Thorzdad at 7:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Anything that would suck with all your stuff in.

paint, definitely, but also floors, as well as big rehab projects like kitchens. (Just did that in place and will never do that again.)
posted by brian60640 at 7:14 AM on February 18, 2009

Refinishing hardwood floors.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 7:17 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wiring! Plan out where all of your electrical and connected devices will go, then hire someone to hide the wires. Telephone, internet, cable, everything.
posted by jbickers at 7:20 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Window treatments - shades, blinds, curtains. Without such, you'll be spending your first nights either putting on a neighborhood show or have unattractive newspaper tacked up over the glass.

If your not ready to go shopping for window treatments yet (they can be expensive, and I spent about $1.5k and 3 months of thinking before covering up 5 large windows), then you can get yourself some easy-yet-attractive temporary paper shades like the have at Ikea. $10 for a 4 pack.
posted by spoons at 7:21 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Anything that has the potential to make a big mess is better done before the furniture arrives. So your higher priority items should be refinishing the hardwood floors, replacing any tile or laminate flooring, plastering or drywall repair and painting walls and ceilings.
posted by pixlboi at 7:29 AM on February 18, 2009

If you need to sand anything, do it ASAP. Otherwise, dust will get everywhere.

Paint rooms that need painting. Bathrooms aren't usually much easier to paint before you move in because there doesn't tend to be a lot of movable furniture. Paint bedrooms and living rooms first.

If you have a lot of crap that will be in storage, put shelves up. Get it off the floor of the basement. You don't want to just toss all your crap on the floor and then in a month find out you have a wet basement.

Clean, clean, clean. Clean the windows. You'll never get around to it later.

If you have any heavy furniture like a piano, make sure you know where it's gonna go and if it will obscure an outlet that you need, plug in an extension cord before it is put in place.

Remember, when you move in you'll tend to drop boxes everywhere. Try to keep one room box-free. That way, at the end of the big day, you'll have one room you can escape to to get away from the mess.
posted by bondcliff at 7:31 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone upthread; painting, anything electrical including appliances, plumbing and floors. If you want overhead ceiling fans than definitely consider doing that before bringing furniture.

Remodeling, in place, is HORRIBLE. Any remodeling should be done before move in or with the anticipation of being able to move any room's items easily to another place.

From the furniture perspective, I definitely wish I had done all the bookcase work before I had 3,000 books to house pronto. IKEA's Ivar line is quite good and takes to sanding and staining very well. People actually comment on my bookcases. It was an awful, headache inducing job that is better done outside in nice weather. I was doing it during winter with a closed basement and a houseful of boxes in between.
posted by jadepearl at 7:33 AM on February 18, 2009

Have your provider come set up internet in the house before you move in. Every apartment I've lived in we've had to wait at least a week for things to get installed and set up. Those truly are dark days. Don't let it happen to you.

And put some drinks and snacks in the fridge.
posted by phunniemee at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

*If you have any hardwood floors to refinish, do those first, possibly to the exclusion of everything else. You can move furniture to the center of the room to paint the walls. You can't do that to refinish the floors. Plus, it's dirty (sanding) and really smelly (the stain, even if you go for low fumes and green products). We've refinished floors twice since we've lived in our house and both times we left for a week.

*Paint, paint, paint! Do every room possible and all the trim you can stand. Like I said above, you can move furniture to the center of the room but it's so much easier if you don't have to. And, if there's wallpaper removal involved, clean up is much easier if the room is empty to begin with.

*Any remodeling that needs to be done is ideally done when you don't live there. Just like brian60640 did up there, we did our kitchen last year and I will never. ever. do that again. EVER.

*Measure your rooms and windows and keep those measurements in whatever filing system you have. You will refer back to those measurements time and time again when buying furniture, rugs, window treatments, etc. If you don't do it now and keep them somewhere you'll remember, you'll just have to measure over and over. Kind of a pain.
posted by cooker girl at 7:37 AM on February 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

Bathrooms are lowest priority unless you've only got one, in which case you'd want to do anything that'll restrict access to the toilet and shower before you move in. Same rule for cooking appliances. If you need an icemaker line run, do it before you've got crap in your cabinets and a fridge in the way.

Floors, painting, and ceiling - any popcorn you want removed? Crown molding/baseboards removed/added?

As soon as you take possession, go in with a bright (100w or better) mobile light source and look at all your surfaces up close - walls, baseboards, floors, cabinet doors, cabinet interiors especially around wet areas, tile, etc. If you're going to need something patched, sealed, varnished, replaced, or special-cleaned, those are usually your stinky, dirty, and/or inconveniencing jobs. (You will, in the process, find at least 10 things your inspector should have at least pointed out to you. Don't freak out.) A pack of Super Sticky Notes will help you mark anything that you see that needs to be done/considered/looked at again.

Light switches generally aren't blocked by your furniture so that's not a big deal to replace. Electrical outlets, though, are SO much easier to deal with before anything moves in.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:38 AM on February 18, 2009

Floors. I wanted to do mine before I moved in but couldn't for a variety of reasons. Now I'm almost going to have to move again - everything, but everything, will have to come out for at least a week - to get the floors done so it probably won't happen for a year or more. And yes, it is a lot easier to paint an empty house!
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:39 AM on February 18, 2009

For me it was painting and wiring. The house I'm in now does not have enough outlets in the right places. It' would have been easier to fix that prior to having stuff in the house.
posted by magikker at 7:41 AM on February 18, 2009

Inspect and repair/replace any electrical outlets and switches that aren't in top shape.
Install ceiling fans in rooms that need them.
If it makes sense for your climate, install a whole house fan.
Prep kitchen for possible new appliances (water hook-ups for fridge, power circuits, etc.)
Run cables for satellite/cable TV to proper locations.
Run ethernet cables as needed and any prep for broadband hookup.

Can you tell I'm an engineer?
posted by Argyle at 7:41 AM on February 18, 2009

Clean the HVAC and the air ducts. I lived with 40+ years of dust once I moved into my house. I don't know if the air duct cleaning services live up to their promises, but I would have been grateful to have ridded my house of old dust prior to moving in.

Hire a cleaning service to completely clean the empty house and focus on the forgotten nooks and crannies: windowsills, cabinets, ceiling fans, behind the refrigerator, washer and dryer, etc.

Before you close, go through the house and run the dishwasher, open and close the garage door, flush the toilets, check the water pressure in the showers, turn on the exhaust fans in the bathrooms, find doors that stick when you open/close them, find outlets that don't work... try to find anything that will annoy you once you own the home. A really good home inspector should help here, but they don't have to live in the house or endure the minor annoyances.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 7:42 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I thoroughly agree with the earlier posters. cooker girl in particular has nailed it.

We did not install central AC prior to our move and I regret that to this day. The painting and refinishing of hardwood floors were, in hindsight, really, really worth having done prior to the move.

Congratulations on your purchase!
posted by cheapskatebay at 7:51 AM on February 18, 2009

paint it.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:58 AM on February 18, 2009

Another vote for refinishing the hardwood floors. Such a messy task. Best to do this when the house is empty.
posted by caddis at 8:02 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agree with floors. If you can afford it, new carpet will make the biggest difference as far as bang for your buck. Fresh paint and then have the carpet replaced. You will be shocked at how even good looking carpet will hold dirt, odors and no telling what else. New carpet is always a priority with us.
posted by pearlybob at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2009

I don't mean carpet over hardwood floors, just replacing any existing carpet.
posted by pearlybob at 8:12 AM on February 18, 2009

2nding removing popcorn from the ceiling. Huge (HUGE) mess and pain to take down after you have moved in. (Not very expensive to remove either-- just some water and a paint scraper, as far as I remember.)
posted by Flamingo at 8:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Nthing refinishing any hardwood floors, if they're there. I didn't have the extra cash at the time, and it's a massive AAARRRGH now.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:19 AM on February 18, 2009

In my last house, I had to strip paint from a brick fireplace and pull out wallpaper. I did both before moving in and it was much, much better than having to live with the chemical smells and mess.
posted by 26.2 at 8:35 AM on February 18, 2009

This is going to sound obvious, but if your shower requires a curtain, make sure you put one up before your first night there! Trying to take a shower without a shower curtain is a mess.
posted by radioamy at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2009

Get those little furniture pads for the feet of anything that will be on hardwood. You'll probably be pushing stuff around a bit trying to figure out where it will go, and you can scratch the hell out of your floors without realizing it.
posted by orme at 8:46 AM on February 18, 2009

I painted before I moved in, but because I hadn't moved in yet, I didn't really notice that the previous owners were giants who mounted all their towel rods about two feet higher than i'd prefer. And now I can't move them, because then i would have to repaint, and i don't want to, since I just did.

So: pay attention to the things that are mounted on the wall, and evaluate them before you paint.
posted by Kololo at 9:03 AM on February 18, 2009

We had about six weeks between when we took possession of our house and when we needed to be out of our apartment.

We painted, took out the really gross looking carpet on the second floor (and removed all the old paint splatters on the floors underneath).

Also, if you're currently renting, don't forget to set aside time to make sure the place you're leaving is clean so you can get your full security deposit back...
posted by Lucinda at 9:06 AM on February 18, 2009

First priority should be to paint the garage. Paint the garage even if they're stud walls. If you're up to it, hire a crew to sheetrock the walls then paint it.

Secondly, hang one or two 4 x 8 pegboard sheets in the garage and put 30 or 40 hooks on them. This will make your physical move much easier as you'll have a place to put things.

Paint the basement walls too. Use good quality seconds from a big box for the first coat then cover it all with a medium priced white paint.

I wouldn't worry about the interior rooms as much.
posted by qsysopr at 9:16 AM on February 18, 2009

Is it an old house? Fumigate for bugs. You may not see them.
Then the spray doesn't get into your stuff. Also they can do it more easily and get into cracks.
Weird, I know, but we ended up with carpet beetles that we didn't know were there and they are a pain to spray for with all your stuff in the house.
posted by Toto_tot at 9:26 AM on February 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Last time on "Pimp my house"...
posted by Rock Steady at 9:27 AM on February 18, 2009

We did something similar to you before we moved in to our new place just over a year ago. It is *so* much better to do the smelly noisy work before you move in, when you can retreat to a clean quiet home to sleep in. You've gotten a lot of good advice about floors and painting.

The one thing that I wish we had done before we started all the work was actually spend an overnight in the new place before starting anything. We would have caught a couple of relatively small annoyances that we could have very easily changed had we known about them before starting all the renovation. Things like light switches in inconvenient places, or hall closets that turn into impenetrable caves at night. If you can stand to camp out for one night with an air mattress and sleeping bag, you might discover some things that are easiest fixed when the house is empty, or that are easily combined into other projects.

Congratulations on your new house!
posted by ambrosia at 9:31 AM on February 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Take pictures of the empty rooms. It's fun to look back on how the spaces evolved over time.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:49 AM on February 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

One thing not mentioned yet is insulation. Have an insulation contractor come in and evaluate your home. It is almost always a good idea to blow in more insulation in the attic.

Another possibility is blown-in insulation for your walls if they are not already insulated. It is much easier to do this from the inside than the outside of the house. It is easier to patch the installation holes on the inside, especially if you are repainting anyway.
posted by JackFlash at 9:53 AM on February 18, 2009

pearlybob's already said it, but the Great Nasty of a home is concentrated in old carpets (and other textiles). They might look new, but they have a sample of every sneeze, every dinner, every"thing" from the past occupant(s)'s occupation. Animal hair? Allergic? If you can remove and replace, that would be money well spent. Maybe even consider using the 8K to replace the carpet with hardwood (if there isn't hardwood underneath).

nthing hiring a professional cleaning service to do the detailed cleaning. They do this everyday and are well worth the cost.

A couple thingies that make house work easier: earplugs, kitchen gloves (for cleaning), heavy duty gloves, protective glasses, and [depending on what you're doing] dust masks.
posted by elpiconeroalcognac at 9:57 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

After owning a house for 20 years, these are what I wish I had done right away:

Replace the old water heater with a new tankless model.

Install a whole-house water filter system.

Replace single-pane windows with double-pane windows for thermal insulation and noise abatement. New windows are expensive, so maybe just do the bedroom at first, especially if noise is an issue.

What's the condition of the kitchen floor? Consider replacing or covering it with linoleum tiles or sheet.
What's the kitchen faucet like? If it isn't wonderful, replace it with something special.

Upgrade the showerhead to the Cadillac of showerheads - Speakman.

How is the lighting in the kitchen? Consider having task lights mounted underneath the cabinets or ceiling lights installed.

Subscribe to Angie's List.
posted by conrad53 at 10:07 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

We did it all, but I'll nth:
Walls (paint, patch*, etc)

*I cut holes everywhere, in everything, to wire the house completely with CAT-6, CAT-5 (can be used for multiple phone lines or ethernet), and RG-6 (coax). Yes, I went overboard, but I never have to worry if I want a TV in another room, or a wired connection or phone line anywhere. After all the cutting, you'll get REALLY good at patching drywall. :) And having hidden wires for my surround sound is awesome (even if it was in place WELL before speakers ever were).
posted by pkphy39 at 10:12 AM on February 18, 2009

Nthing fumigation. Especially if the previous homeowners had pets. Not fumigating prior to move-in was the worst, costliest, and most inconveniencing mistake we made.

Also, if you're considering a whole-house music system, best to install prior to move-in.
posted by terranova at 10:17 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

All of these suggestions are great, but if you really want to know what I wish I had done before moving into my first house, it was: going through all of my crap and throwing away 2/3rds of it. I mean, with the extra time you have you'll be able to plan your space better that I did, but we have so many boxes we just shoved in closets that are still there 2 years later.

So yea, with the time you have to pack and move, take the time to be ruthless about getting rid of possessions you don't need anymore.
posted by cabingirl at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

We had about a week between when we took ownership of our home and when we moved in. We did the following:

- Painted the master bedroom. This was a priority for us because we knew once we moved in our king size bed and other furniture, there would be no easy access to the walls for painting. So glad we did this ahead of time!

- Had a locksmith change all the locks.

- Made sure everything was thoroughly cleaned.

- Got rid of a lot of the junk the previous owner left behind.

Things I wish we had done:

- Raised the ceiling fan in the master bedroom. Because of the high peaked ceiling and it's location directly above the bed, we have no way of reaching it now. Doh!

- Gotten rid of ALL of the junk the previous owner left behind.

So, my advice is to take care of anything that may be difficult to get to once you move in furniture and/or start living in the space. Unless you only have one bathroom, I imagine that will be easy enough to paint after you move in. Painting the master bedroom and/or kitchen (if needed) would be a better use of the time, in my opinion.
posted by geeky at 10:46 AM on February 18, 2009

I wish we'd recaulked the bathtub before we moved into our apartment.

The caulking is stained from mildew and I'd love to replace it, but replacing it means not using the shower for 3-4 days. Since we only have one bathroom, it's not going to happen anytime soon.

If you do recaulk the tub, make sure you fill it with water before you lay down the caulk. You don't want to break the seal of the caulk the first time you have a bath.
posted by burntflowers at 10:50 AM on February 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

As an added bonus, keep in mind that the sweet, sweet $8,000 first time home buyer credit will be at your disposal.

Since you wont' be living there immediately, you should verify that you quailify for it that there are no primary residence restrictions and the like.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:02 AM on February 18, 2009

Repeating some of these, but who cares:
1) Wiring. Figure out how many outlets/cable/ethernet jacks you'll want where, then put in twice as many of them in twice as many places. Or install raised flooring.
2) Tear up all of the carpet and put in hardwood floors. Would have done it myself if I'd had a week to do it. If it's already hardwood, re-finishing them.
3) Painting. A tinted primer is the difference between "this room was painted blue" and "this room was meant to be blue".
4) Buy a case or two of beer, another of water bottles, and put them in the fridge. If you're being moved by friends, they'll appreciate both. If you're being moved by professionals, they'll appreciate the water and then you can appreciate the beer yourself when you realize there's still a ton of work to do.
5) Meetup housewarming party.
posted by Plutor at 11:28 AM on February 18, 2009

Is this an old house or a new house? I wish I had stuck another 10 grand on the mortgage and used it for renovations and new furniture. Disclaimer: I am economically inept, so this may be a bad fiscal idea.
posted by mecran01 at 11:31 AM on February 18, 2009

If you plan to refinish hard wood floors, do that before you paint. Sanding machines tend to scrape paint off of baseboards.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 12:13 PM on February 18, 2009

Having spent three months renovating before we moved in, I'm going to take a different tack:

Make A Plan.

A detailed one, with jobs prioritized and a list of supplies needed for each. Create a tentative schedule. Line up contractors, if needed, or at least get recommendations. Start borrowing tools that you know you'll need.

Making a plan also gives you time to research some of the less-obvious associated tasks so that you don't have to waste time doing it on the fly. Are you going to pull down drop ceilings and rip up carpet and other such things that create an enormous amount of junk? You'll need to figure out how you want to dispose of the trash (rent a dumpster, hire a truck to haul, etc.)

We did an absolutely staggering amount of work in three months, but we could've done even more if we'd been better organized, had a more detailed list of tasks, and had spent less time running back and forth to Home Depot and Lowes.
posted by desuetude at 12:52 PM on February 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all you input, folks. Looks like I'll be spending a week sanding, painting, and putting up shelving (so much shelving). If anyone is in the Salem, MA area around St.Paddy's and has an urge to paint, drop me a line...

...assuming of course, I don't electrocute myself while swapping out some light switches.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:27 PM on February 18, 2009

Epoxy the garage floor.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 8:28 PM on February 18, 2009

I really wish we had painted the inside of our garage. It's too full now to ever do until we move out.
posted by gt2 at 11:07 PM on February 18, 2009

I wish I had torn it down. Razed it. Made a big hole. Built a new house in the old hole. Alternatively, I wish I had just bought a plot of land without a house on it. Alternatively, I wish I had just bought a bright shining new house.

Other than that, I wish I had not moved into it until it was ready to live in. I've lived here for six years, and as we speak there's a guy in my bathroom putting in some tiles. I expect to be putting in new floors later this year. After that, dry walls. A new chimney. The list goes on. Each renovation requires parts of the old renovations to be demolished and redone. This is costing me considerable amounts of money. It's also causing stress, and it causes my inlaws to be present more often than I would like them. These things are avoidable, I now believe, if you buy a new house.

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, then by my example (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein)
posted by NekulturnY at 1:20 AM on February 25, 2009

I think the vote is pretty unanimous, but I do have a different perspective.

We bought our house brand new, so the painting and flooring was not a huge issue. What I wish for now, is more electrical outlets in some areas of the house. (especially the room with the computers) We all seem to become more and more dependent on electrical items, and a few extra outlets would be handy, even though the house is only about 14 years old.

Also, I second tott_tot, on doing bug control before moving in, especially if you have pets.
posted by annsunny at 8:38 PM on March 16, 2009

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