Moving in, Setting up in the new (old) house. What do we need to know?
January 6, 2010 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Moving into our first house, what do you know now that you wished you knew then? Tips? Suggestions?

Just purchased our first home. What do you wish you done, had or prioritized when moving in, or just after, that you realized only too late? What will make it easier?
posted by Any Moose In a Storm to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
Don't buy snowblowers, lawnmowers or other expensive garden-related things until you see if the neighbours are the sort of people happy to share for a beer.

Write a list of all your belongings as you unpack/buy them for a fire insurance home inventory. Takes much much longer (and often ends up being procrastinated away) when everything's in place.

Don't rush to fill rooms with new furniture/art/whatever, wait until you see how your daily patterns will develop and where you end up gravitating to most of the time.

Get a programmable thermostat if there isn't one there already.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:00 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take it easy for a few days when you get a chance. You probably don't realize how keyed up you are from house-hunting, mortgages, down payments, inspections, etc, etc, etc. Blow off some steam.
posted by ian1977 at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wish I had refinished the floors before I moved in. Would have been a lot less work.
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:04 AM on January 6, 2010

Learn from my mistake: Don't move anything into the house until you paint!

If you're planning on buying/building storage units for the garage, attic or crawlspace - see what you can do about getting those installed first as well.

Planning the painting and organization ahead of the actual move-in will save you from more of the clutter and stacks of boxes that always seem to languish after a move.

Next house I get I'll seriously pay to get this done for me or move nothing but a mattress in until the prelim work is done before I worry about the furniture and boxes of stuff.
posted by emjay at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

From my sister's experience: seconding the not moving until having painted.

Also, springing for a professional deep clean of the empty house would be a wonderful way to start things off!
posted by 2003girl at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2010

Yep, if you want to paint or redo anything, now is the time. Use the moving period to pare down your possessions to the things you need/love. Sort of hate your couch? Craigslist it, then get one you really appreciate, even if it means living in folding chairs for a bit to save up the cash or find the right one. Take the opportunity to surround yourself with a few quality possessions, and drop the crap in the move.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:11 AM on January 6, 2010

Advice I always give to first time homebuyers:

- This is *not* going to be your permanent house where you will live happily ever after. First time owners commonly think it is, but ... no.

- Given that, do not do stupid stuff to the place "because we can." No painting rooms black. No painting ceilings dark colors.

- Do make changes that will enhance your enjoyment. New dishwasher, new fantastic refrigerator.

- Set up one of those "split pay" mortgage arrangements where you pay 50% of the monthly mortgage twice a month. Costs you no more, but pays off the house years earlier.

- Start a file - "Household maintenance", and file every last thing you do to the place in there.

- As you move your stuff into closets and such, take a moment to label the shelves. It helps more than I could believe, even if it seems anal.

- Meet your neighbors! Be nice to them, and it will pay off immensely. You don't have to be friends, but friendly relations are invaluable. Get their phone numbers.

- Mow your lawn, regularly.

- Take your trash can in after it is picked up.
posted by Invoke at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Make an electrical map of the house, detailing which outlets/fixtures are controlled by various switches and circuit breakers. Way easier now than after all your furniture is arranged and stuff is plugged in.
posted by ldenneau at 10:27 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "pare down before you move". Similarly, if you live in the same town as your parents and they have furniture that's been waiting for you to move into your own house, really think about it before you take it in. If it's not right for your life, don't take it. It'll be a weight on your house and your soul. And if it was that great, why wasn't it already in your old place?

The big thing I wish I'd known is how much time, mental effort, and cash it takes to maintain a house. The only thing to do about it is to start setting aside money for household emergencies (heat/AC fails, roof leaks, appliances fail, etc.) immediately. It's no fun but it would have saved us some financial pain later.
posted by immlass at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2010

Take food out of your mouth if you have to to set aside a monthly House Repairs budget payment that goes to a House account. When a pipe backs up or the roof leaks or your cistern cracks, you will be very glad you have these earmarked savings.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:30 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, don't feel bad if you don't paint first. If there's a fresh coat of "neutral" on the walls, or if there's nothing *hideous* that needs to be killed in the face, you might be the sort of person who wants to see what the light does inside the house before you paint. I had a head full of "spicy orange/teracotta-type dining room", but after 6 months I realized what the dining room really wanted was the world's best green painted above the chair rail.

If it's a new neighborhood/area/town/whatever, ask neigbors for numbers for the Roof Guy, the Plumber, stuff like that.

Learn the schedules and rules for Trash Day and Recycle Day - in our neighborhood we also have twice-yearly Bulk Trash Day and in the summer we have regular Yard Waste Day.

Do you have an HOA? Read their rules before you get your heart set on a bright red front door.

HEARTILY agree with the "household maintenance" file - ours is actually a *box*, and contains the manuals for ALL the appliances, files for stuff, even estimates we've gotten for having work done.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2010

If for some reason, you can't get the painting and floors redone before you move in, at least take a couple of hours and paint closets. You will never drag stuff out to paint them again.
Wait to see how you use the space before any big $$$ changes, often you'll find drafty windows superceding new cabinets.
posted by readery at 10:32 AM on January 6, 2010

If you're leery about repairs, it's also possible to get home repair insurance of different stripes. My first place has repair insurance thrown in as a sweetener to the sale, and I ended up using it.

Baking cookies makes the new place smell like home, and bringing cookies to neighbors means the neighbors will like ya.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2010

I discovered that doing what should be done--having the home inspected by a professional--turned out to be questionable. Though this is required to get the mortgage etc the inspection missed stuff that later I had to have done. Fortunately, nothing super major but something that should have been spotted. Not sure how to make sure you get a proper inspection but ask around.
posted by Postroad at 10:43 AM on January 6, 2010

Anytime you paint, put in new carpet, and so on, keep a file with the information about color, brand, source, etc. It will make it much easier down the road if you have any problems or need touchups.
posted by DrGail at 10:54 AM on January 6, 2010

If you previous residence was significantly smaller than your new house, remember, cleaning & maintenance will take way more effort now. Basically it was easy to catch up on chores (sweep, dishes, laundry, dusting) in one bedroom apartment, but in a 2 bedroom townhouse with double the square footage we found that these things blended in with the surroundings for a while longer. So while an obvious mess in an apartment was a 20 minute cleaning job, in the townhouse it was more like an hour! Moral? Clean 5 minutes a day instead of an hour on the weekend.
posted by aeighty at 10:55 AM on January 6, 2010

Take lots of photos of the house empty, right when you get the place, especially if you're planning on painting, doing any work, etc. It will never be empty again, and it will never look quite like that again (thank god, in the case of my fixer-upper), and I've found it fantastic to have all those "before" pictures to compare the "after" to.
posted by aimedwander at 10:57 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by ostranenie at 11:07 AM on January 6, 2010

nthing painting the closets first and putting up shelves in attic/basement/garage and getting rid of crap before you move.

Have the locks changed?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:07 AM on January 6, 2010

Put regular maintenance items on the calendar for the next few years. These might include:

- Changing furnace filters (every 1-3 months)
- Winterizing your house (draining hoses, sealing windows, etc)
- Clean behind fridge (or whatever)
posted by blue_beetle at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2010

Best answer: Here’s something I did two years ago after I bought my house and wished I'd done earlier: set up a home renovations/maintenance project binder. Get a basic school binder. Divide your house into rooms or sections (i.e., living room, kitchen, upper and lower hallways, upstairs bathroom, garden, exterior of the house), and for each area add lined sheets of paper and a hole-punched envelope to the binder. You can also use tab dividers if you want. I used plastic page sheaths for envelopes because I had some on hand, but there’s probably something better available at Staples, or you could make envelopes by stapling sheets of paper together. On the lined paper you can write your lists of what needs doing and jot down measurements, supplies needed, contact info for workers, estimates of costs, research notes about appliances, diagrams of the landscaping etc. In the envelopes you keep paint chips, fabric samples, receipts, warranties, etc.

Then take the binder with you when you hit the hardware store or shop for furnishings (I’ve got mine with me almost constantly). It really is so helpful for helping you feel organized and not overwhelmed. You never have to waste time searching for that paint chip or the phone number for the electrician your neighbour recommended. If you’re out shopping for something for one area of the house, and you happen to see an amazing sale on something you think will be perfect for another room you haven’t gotten to, you already have the measurements and paint samples in the binder, so you can tell whether it’s a good match or not, and take advantage of the sale. Keep the binder for as long as you have the house. If you ever want to get more paint for touchups, you still have the paint chips.

Do clean out the binder as you go - after you make a decision to go with a certain kind of wallpaper, for instance, get rid of all the other ones you were considering.
posted by orange swan at 11:23 AM on January 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

Projects that you do around the house (e.g., painting) will take twice as long as you think it will.
posted by puritycontrol at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2010

Best answer: Do NOT buy cheap paint. Benjamin Moore will not let you down. It'll go on in fewer coats, look better, and last longer. You'll kick yourself every time you make the mistake of getting paint at Lowes.

Also, most good paint stores will have samples of a few colors. Paint your house one of those colors. That way you'll be able to use the cheap $5 samples to do touch-up work rather that buying a whole gallon of something.

If you're going to do your own home repairs, learn how to do drywall. You'll be a hundred times more confident with everything once you realize you can fix the wall. :)

Find a good handyman (or, in our case, woman) that'll do basic wiring and plumbing and carpentry, whether or not you're doing your own repairs. Ours will happily come by and help with DIY projects that have gone awry to lend a hand or some advice for what always seems like a pittance (ie, completely rewiring my basement for a hundred bucks).

Anyone you need to hire to do work should be hired through a word of mouth referral. Small, local businesses that don't advertise much are going to do a better job because they live or die by the word of mouth generated by their last project. Hiring some big company to do work is asking for trouble, IMO.

Don't be afraid to do stuff yourself, as long as there's no water or electricity or wall removal involved. Most stuff can be undone, and you learn by doing.

Again: Benjamin Moore, Benjamin Moore, Benjamin Moore.
posted by paanta at 11:49 AM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

In the "paint/refinish floors before you move in" vein, take a good look at where the outlets are and if you'll need more, and then get them installed now. You're not going to want to do it after you paint the walls, and you'll grit your teeth every time you unspool the extension cord.

Not doing anything too bizarre to a house you plan to sell someday is wise, but don't get suckered into slavish devotion to the Official Recommended Resale-Value Selections. I know so many people who got a bunch of not-cheap but really generic fixtures because they had the ever-living pants scared off of them that they would never ever ever resell a house with a blue countertop or a taupe toilet. For the love of god, within reason, make the house look how you want it to look while you live in it.

Seconding programmable thermostat. The mid-range one is fine, no need to get the most expensive one.
posted by desuetude at 11:52 AM on January 6, 2010

Consider an alarm system, change all the locks, check all the window locks, check/replace all the smoke and CO2 detectors, check the sump pump, install a whole house GFI, install motion sensing outdoor lights, Be safe and enjoy your new home
posted by Gungho at 11:59 AM on January 6, 2010

Nth-ing refinishing wood floors before moving in.

Also, if it's an older house, check that at least some of the outlets are grounded with 3 holes (for surge protectors, computers, etc.). That can be done afterwards, but better to check that and electrical stuff in general before, in case anything got missed on inspections.

Love love love my programmable thermostat!

Before you move in with all the furniture and boxes, measure the dimensions of every room, marking up the doors, windows, and the spaces between. I used graph paper and did details for each room, and then the house as a whole. Keep this in a binder somewhere for future reference. If you later buy furniture, window treatments, rugs, etc, you don't need to measure with things in the way, all of it is done!
posted by southpaw at 12:03 PM on January 6, 2010

Best answer: I will third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. Benjamin Moore. Also, Purdy brushes and roll covers. I especially love the Impervo oil-based paint (Dove White, not plain White) for doorways and other trim. It lives up to the name and isn't that difficult to apply, just remember to get some thinner and get the right "For Oil Paints" brushes. We use Regal Flat in OC-64 Pure White for ceilings, and Aquavelvet on the walls. If you have really vivid colors, pay the extra for Aura.

</paint snob soapbox>

Most people's frustration with home tasks comes from having purchased cheap tools. Buy an expensive caulk gun with a stop release on it, not the cheap "no-drip" one. Buy a good Bosch drill-driver set with a Lithium-Ion battery, not the cheap Skil set. Don't bother buying battery-powered saws, it's a waste of money. Buy expensive brushes and keep them clean. Buy higher-grade Hyde scrapers and spackle knives from a paint store, not the cheap rubber-grip ones from Lowe's. Buy the nicely-balanced Estwing hammer with a full tang instead of the cheap Stanley one with the flashy grip. There's a reason that nice tools are expensive.

Other materials that are experienced-renovator (aka 'Dad') approved:
  • MH Ready-Patch
  • Polyseamseal caulk - Use this in bathrooms. Do not use GE or DAP products, you'll be peeling them out.
  • Werner ladders. If you're going to do a lot of electrical work, get fiberglass.
  • Minwax water-based polyurethane (polycrylic) -- avoid the wipe-on stuff. Polycrylic is great, but do NOT use steel wool with it. Use plastic 3m "sanding pads" instead, it's about equivalent to triple-aught.
  • Channel-Lock pliers
  • Blackjack Elastomeric roof-patching material -- useful for any patches or cracks that are in the roof. Make sure it's elastomeric
  • Big Stretch caulk - most useful around windows. Paintable.
  • Zinsser B-I-N shellac-based primer -- Oil paint is not self-priming, and latex paint and oil paint don't always mix. You can't put latex over oil, for instance. Shellac-based primers will stick to and seal everything, and everything will stick to it. We use this in bathrooms and on exterior wood. We also use it when old drywall starts to bubble after it's been stripped or patched.
Overtightening plumbing breaks it. Finger-tight, then a quarter turn. That's all you should need. Don't use putty except where directions say to use putty.

In an older home, replace electric outlets and switches, and use the terminals instead of the backstabs. Wires working their way out of backstabs is a big fire risk and has happened to about half of the switches in the 30 year old home I just bought.

Don't use ready-mix drywall compound. Get the mixing bin and the dry 20-minute stuff.

Last but not least: Get a subscription to Fine Homebuilding magazine and watch Holmes on Houses on HGTV. Not only do they show you the difference between
posted by SpecialK at 12:10 PM on January 6, 2010 [11 favorites]

Bought our first home 3 years ago... here's what I learned.

1) nthing painting and getting floors done before you move anything in. We did this and I can't tell you how wonderful it was not having to move furniture to paint. I'm thinking of repainting one room and I'm dreading it...

2) Get a home warranty. Has saved us a crapton of money.

3) Call the home warranty for everything. Even if you think it might not be covered. Sometimes it is and you'll be thrilled that you only have to pay 60 bucks for a $3,000 repair.

4) If you're having an electrician come in for anything, have them do the things you were going to put off, like having outdoor outlets installed in an old house. It's a pain to do later and you'll (I) keep putting it off until you've spent 4 summers with no lights in the backyard...

5) Don't start a project until you're sure you have the money to finish it. I ripped up the sod in the backyard 2 years ago thinking we'd go step by step and I still have a lunar landscape in my backyard because we didn't have the funds to complete the job.

6) Have fun and enjoy your new home!
posted by Sophie1 at 12:30 PM on January 6, 2010

Most important thing that we learned in retrospect:

Have your property surveyed either as part of the closing or as soon after as practical.
posted by mfoight at 12:54 PM on January 6, 2010

Nthing-nthing-nthing refinishing the floors. I wasn't able to do that, and I'm still refinishing floors eight years later. (One room per year...)

During the first couple of months, something will give up the ghost. In my case, the hot water heater. Expect that you'll have to cough up some additional $.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:22 PM on January 6, 2010

- Even a thorough inspector is human and can miss stuff or incorrectly evaluate stuff.
- Repairs are always more expensive than you expected.
- If there are any mechanical or structural issues (plumbing, electric, foundation, roof), take care of those before you take care of cosmetic issues (drywall, paint).
- Any plumbing repair job involves 3 trips to the hardware store.
posted by adamrice at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2010

I'm passing along a piece of advice that was given to me when I moved into my first (and only) house:

Don't go all nuts decorating it right off the bat. It takes time for a new house (or any new living space really) to "come to" you. If you have never lived in a house before (meaning your house, not your parents), you can't be sure how you will actually use the space until you are in it. You won't have a sense of the play of light throughout the day in the various rooms, which is something to consider when decorating.

If it is new construction, you also want to hold off on the expensive decorating until it has gone through at least one heating cycle and preferably several. Wood structural supports (which are usually not made from seasoned wood) need time to shrink. When this happens, it is not uncommon for sheet rock screws to pop, which sounds like a nail gun going off. This can wreak havoc with fancy-schmancy paint jobs and wallpaper.
posted by SuzB at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2010

Oh, and take a deep breath and realize that you have years to make the house what you want. It does not have to all be done right now.

Too many people have a slavish attitude toward getting it all done right away. Right away, in this case, is probably when you don't have any money. (New house *always* means no money in my experience. After all, you told the mortgage company exactly how much money you have, no surprise that they took it all.) I agree with the advice not to start a project until you have the money to finish it.

In fact, it is better to wait for a while before making big changes until you know how you and your lifestyle fit into the space.
posted by Invoke at 4:13 PM on January 6, 2010

If I'm assuming correctly that the title of your question indicate that you bought an old (40+ yr old) house, I'll also warn you that doing research can be a little maddening, as there are a LOT of articles written for newspapers every year that assume new construction. Old houses are built differently and "good general advice" does not always transfer.

Look for forums for the era/type/location of house you've got. Take estimates/advice/how-tos with a grain of salt, because there are a lot of people making a lot of money being "experts" on very expensive solutions that may be overkill or just plain wrong.
posted by desuetude at 4:25 PM on January 6, 2010

If you don't already have a home warranty, don't buy one. Someone above had good luck with theirs, but ours has refused to pay for anything that would actually be helpful for them to pay for, and most of their contractors are shady. YMMV, but I wish this was something we didn't have at all.

Also, yes, change the locks.
posted by crinklebat at 6:06 PM on January 6, 2010

Paint (and recarpet/refinish) anything horrid first. We moved into a house with some rooms I could live with and some I couldn't, but I was too overwhelmed with moving into my first house to deal with it. Five years later, there's STILL a god-awful wallpaper in the master bedroom and a hideous paint job in the kitchen, and now I'm thinking of moving. Probably has to be done to make the house saleable, and I won't ever get to enjoy it being not-ugly. There's something to the "wait-and-see" idea; it does take time to get a house lived-in, but the really ugly stuff at least get neutral when you move in.

Keep a list of small repair jobs that need to be done so when you call the electrician/plumber/handyman for something big, you've got your small-repair-list handy too, and you don't go, "Crap, I forgot to have him fix that drip," two days later. If you're having the electrician in for an older house, have a lot of 3-prong outlets put in. I put them in rooms I thought I'd have the computer/TV, and of course I ended up needing them in rooms I didn't think I would.

The first thing to do in a yard is patios/paths/concrete/brickwork of any sort, fences, and trees. The first two disturb the earth quite a bit, the trees take a long time to grow in. A garden takes a long time to get right, but if you know you'll want a patio HERE and a tree THERE, find the funds to make that happen as soon as possible. Flower beds grow in quickly, but trees take a long time, and the sooner you can get "hardscape" in, the less you'll have to disturb things later.

Also think about where you'll store your garbage cans and how visible your A/C is and things like that. We have a gorgeous garden in back, but the A/C and garbage cans just stand there looking ugly. There's not a lot we can do about it because of the arrangement of the driveway, but it's definitely something I wish we'd thought about earlier.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:52 PM on January 6, 2010

Seal anything stone. Make sure the water for the dish and clothes washers is turned on.
posted by brujita at 10:02 PM on January 6, 2010

SuzB writes "Wood structural supports (which are usually not made from seasoned wood) need time to shrink. When this happens, it is not uncommon for sheet rock screws to pop, which sounds like a nail gun going off."

Practically no one is building houses with green wood. It's all been seasoned via kiln drying and has shrunk as much as it's going to. Seasoning is an irreversible physical process that actually changes the physical structure of the the wood. Framing lumber that has been soaked with rain or other water will swell a bit but it's still seasoned.

Most nail pops though are caused by incorrect technique in either lumber storage or fastening the drywall, especially when nailed. Screws should be used whenever possible and driven by a clutch bit.
posted by Mitheral at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone for so many thoughtful and helpful answers.
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 11:31 AM on January 7, 2010

Similar to a suggestion above, take photos of the outside of the house as well, especially if you like the current gardening/landscaping.
posted by Gortuk at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2010

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