A very, very, very fine house.
April 29, 2015 9:26 AM   Subscribe

We are buying our first home (yay!). Every time we go over there to poke around, I notice another thing that we don't deal with in our current four-unit apartment building. What are some things we need to buy? What are the things we need to do right away? Any tips you wish you would have known? Any thoughts on order of operations -- can we move as soon as there are beds, or when the internet arrives, or what? Please help us rehome.

The house is two stories, built in the 1940s, kinda cottage-looking and located in Wisconsin. Everything is in good shape except for the driveway and garage, which will need to be replaced sometime or other but not now. Hardwoods downstairs, small closets, big master suite upstairs that will currently be used as a family room. (We have a 9-month-old and will be in bedrooms on the first floor for the next year or so.) No pets involved.

Things currently on our list (and specific recs very much welcome):
--gas grill, basic but nice (we don't entertain a lot... but maybe we will!)
--basement dehumidifier
--upright freezer (especially since we have a small fridge)
--new mattress/bed for Mom and Dad
--maybe some patio furniture

Things planned for the early stages:
--the requisite trip to Ikea
--replace a couple things in main bathroom (extra bathroom upstairs)
--carpet the stairs with something thin that will give traction
--paint a couple bedrooms

My husband is a network engineer, potentially looking at bringing in a giant training setup for his CCIE, and will likely want to set up the goods ASAP. Hopefully that won't be too bad. We do have the ability to use smartphones as wireless hotspots, so that might smooth the transition.

We will have two weeks between closing and occupancy and then two more weeks until the end of our lease. I think the owners (who have been great so far) will let us put some stuff in the garage after closing. Both of us are only moving within a two-mile radius.

posted by St. Hubbins to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
No matter how clean it looks at your closing walkthrough, do your own (or hired) deep clean before anything is moved into the house. This is the cleanest the house will ever get, at least until the house is sold again. I'm talking full mopping (multiple times until the mop head stays perfectly clean), cleaning baseboards, brushing or vacuuming out little nooks and crannies like the corners of cabinets and drawers, etc. Basically all the stuff you just can't get to when your own belongings are in the way.

You can get a cheap gas grill that will last you at least a couple years for around $100 if you look for sales - maybe wait until Memorial Day.

Snowblowers are probably on clearance this time of year - even if you don't see them on the floor at your local Home Depot/Lowes/Sears/etc. ask the manager if they have any leftover stock they can mark down for you.

Will you have a lawn? If the owners aren't leaving behind a lawnmower and you're not using a service or a neighborhood kid you'll need to factor that in too. Unless it's a passion of yours, don't do any major gardening or landscaping your first year, it just adds to the stress.

If you're doing any repairs (i.e. replacing bathroom fixtures) - do it before you move in. Same with painting. You don't want to be living in an unfinished home. Once you start moving stuff in, focus on unpacking and organizing in your new space.

Also - resist the urge to go all out when you first move in. It's really easy to move to a bigger space and start buying stuff to decorate and fill up the space. Then a few months later you find other things you want more, or like better, and the house quickly becomes cluttered. Wait until you find the things you really want before you buy more than the basics needed for living.
posted by trivia genius at 9:37 AM on April 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Well, the good news is that nothing on your list looks like it's going to generate a lot of dust. If I were you I'd prioritize painting pre-move, giving it a few days to dry/air out, then do a deep clean if it needs it (or hire someone to do same), then move furniture in and start living there. If your husband's going to do some serious re-wiring and has it all mapped out, have him do that before the painting. Otherwise, get your layout set up first so that you know where you want your ports & such.

The dehumidifier might be the only must-have, depending on how humid your basement is. But all that outdoor stuff on your list you can really wait on, especially the snowblower. Ikea has great prices on patio furniture if you're going to buy new. Craigslist is also your friend for stretching your Just Moved Into A House And Need All The Things! budget.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2015

My biggest suggestion is to do as much fixing up as possible before you move in: paint those bedrooms, carpet the stairs, and repair anything else you want to repair. Dealing with painting and flooring without furniture in the way is MUCH easier. If there are carpets, get them shampooed before you move furniture in (ideally, after painting and at least 3 days before moving in). If there are squeaking floorboards upstairs, now is the time to pry up the carpet and screw them down.

Next, you might want to live in the place for a while first before you buy a ton of stuff. You are likely to not be moving for a while, so you'll want to really figure out if your things work in the space, and if you really need what you think you need.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lawnmower if you don't hire someone to do that
Edger if you don't hire someone to do that
posted by cecic at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

A library card! Really. There will be a LOT of things that you want to do and have no idea, or some vague understanding after watching hometime (or some such). Don't just dive in blind, go to your public library and check out the DIY book on that subject. Taunton publishing is the best, but even the sunset books from the 70 and 80's or the time life how to books are decent. (also a subscription to Fine Homebuilding is good if you REALLY want to get into doing it yourself at a level that is better than most contractors).

DON'T go buy a bunch of tools, and especially a bunch of cheap tools. Buy as you go and rent the heavy expensive stuff. Fine homebuilding puts out a tool guide every year geared toward contractors but they also include a best value tool that wouldn't be the best choice for daily use, but is almost always just fine for homeowner use. Cheap tools don't work right, can make the job go bad and are usually a waste of money-buy what you need when you need it and only cry once.

Be realistic about timelines. I have a rule-I don't set a specefic end date for projects, but I don't start another one before the current one is done. Watch Renovation Realities (available on netflix if you dont' get HGTV network) for why I have this policy (actually a good show to watch on how NOT to do renovations).

For hardwoods-a good broom and dustpan and a shop vac are all you really need with an occasional mopping. Get a shop vac that can also be converted into a blower-it will make some cleanup jobs outside much easier.

If you have trees (especially that overhang the house) get a pole pruner and loping shears for trimming your trees-this often overlooked and neglected. I have found yard maintenance takes up way, way more time than interior maintenance and renovation and IT NEVER, EVER ends. Plan accordingly-and buy the right labor saving tools. A good lawn mower will make a great leaf mulcher and yard vacuum for instance and drastically, dramatically cut down leaf clean up time (if you have big trees).
posted by bartonlong at 9:41 AM on April 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Even if you have a snowblower, you're going to need a snow shovel. And a good outdoor broom is really handy. A step stool/step ladder is so much better and safer than climbing on a chair, too. Along with the hose, get a sprayer head thingy, and maybe splurge on the connectors that let you just push the hose onto the spigot rather than having to screw it on every time.
posted by lemniskate at 9:43 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed that everything on your list is a want, not a need, except maybe the dehumidifier (is there one there currently? otherwise not even that) and moving is expensive. Let the house speak to you a little, or start with cheap proof-of-concept (like cheap folding or plastic outdoor furniture, so you can decide how much outdoor living you'll actually be able to do before committing major $$ to real stuff).

Don't go to IKEA until you've unpacked completely, and then keep a running list of real needs as you both pack (and throw out stuff you hate or doesn't work) and unpack, otherwise you'll buy a bunch of stuff just because you haven't unpacked those things.

Probably the most urgent thing you need is a ladder/stepladder, broom, mop, vacuum, telescoping duster, hose and sprayer. You probably have most if not all of those things already. Then you need a way to bathe without putting water everywhere, if your bathing space isn't enclosed. That's pretty much it for the first month at least.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 AM on April 29, 2015

Actually, the suggestions of lawnmower do remind me of a few things we did actually need in the first month or so:
- an extension cord
- power strips. more power strips. still more power strips.
- more lamps to deal with our greater square footage
- a good pair of indoor/outdoor work gloves to fit my hands (I am not a size large, which is all the big box stores seem to carry)
- shop vac, surprisingly useful
- brooms
- fire extinguisher
- smoke alarm, CO2 alarm (why our house did not have these, I don't know)
- a good stepladder
posted by deludingmyself at 9:48 AM on April 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Check the gutters. Use your new ladder (as others note above) and go up and pour some water into them. See where it comes out. Clear out any debris that might still be in there.
posted by Etrigan at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2015

• Repairs/rewiring
• Painting
• Big cleaning.
• 2nd big cleaning.
• Dance with your partner in your big empty living room.
• Move in all your stuff
• Throw away half the stuff as you unpack it, because what were you thinking.

Don't buy too much new furniture beyond essentials. Try to live in your house for a year to get to know it before you start dropping lots of cash on big items. By then you'll know how the house "works" and how you live that space.

In your excitement to buy new furniture and appliances, do not forget to first carefully measure doorways, stairways, and hallways in your house. Doorways in older houses are often weird and variable widths, and getting a chest freezer, for example, through your front door does not guarantee it will get through other doors and down to your basement! (Ask me how many times I had to return washer/dryer sets that were just a 1/4" too big in one dimension or another! The original washer and dryer had to be disassembled to be removed from the house.)
posted by Kabanos at 9:54 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing do as much as you can before you are in the house.

Spend a bit of money to replace all the switchplates, outlet plates, and cabinetry handles and knobs. It's an exceptionally cheap way to freshen up an older house and make it yours, and also saves quite a bit of cleaning.

With regard to moving: buy yourself a cheap hand truck, of the style that can be used flat or upright. The linked one is $80, but I bought an identical one for $40. These things are WAY useful and your back will thank you.
posted by scolbath at 9:56 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have the heating and cooling ducts cleaned.
posted by Oyéah at 9:59 AM on April 29, 2015

Make sure that you know exactly how to get all of the utilities turned on, kept on, or transferred to your name.

Reconsider your choice of Home Depot and Ikea for your furniture and fixtures. I have been disappointed by the quality of plumbing, appliances, electrical, lumber, and flooring from HD. Try to find actual lighting stores, appliance stores, etc. The higher cost will be offset with a longer and more enjoyable life with the items. Likewise, Ikea. I have been frustrated by their compressed fluff style furniture. Consider, instead, a resale shop with used but solidly built furniture.

What are you doing with your windows? Will the sellers leave their curtains? Do you like them? Window treatments are expensive and a hassle, but also part of creating an enjoyable atmosphere.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:22 AM on April 29, 2015

new mattress/bed for Mom and Dad the requisite trip to Ikea

First off, you've got lots of good advice here. I would like to add some of my experience and thoughts as I moved into my new house last August. I'm working on that first big change project, redoing the shower including extending and tiling as well as a new free standing tub in the bath. I am also changing sliding patio doors to french. I am waiting on the gardening landscaping till I get this stuff settled and can learn how to do native landscape changes here in Calif.

Yes I am way too far from Ikea to shop there but in my opinion Ikea is in many ways a place of expendables. I bought a new mattress while my place was in escrow at an estate sale. You may not have these sales like we do as I am in an area loaded with retirement communities. Bought my bed from Craig's list years ago. I was patient as heck looking till I found one I liked fervently - a Broyhill. I would use that resource and be patient. I saved hundreds off the cost of new high end furniture. Look for great brands like Broyhill and Duncan Phyfe. Other resources for that are Restore (a thrift from Habitat for Humanity they sell furniture and appliances, paint, light fixtures, doors, windows, flooring, etc, etc. I bought a my tub there brand new for half price or less as well as the expensive faucet for it for hundreds off, also brand new) , Salvation Army, Goodwill and more. Salvation Army garnered me many fine things including an electric mower in as new condition for less than $50.00. The missing charger cable was sent to me by the manufacturer at no cost.

All of my gardening and many hand tools, save the good power ones (also showing up at yard sales came from yard and estate sales.
posted by Jim_Jam at 10:28 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

-gates for your crawler assaulting the stairs / basement
-smoke alarm / batteries
-ikea (or other) electrical outlet covers
-lead test any paint you suspect
posted by nickggully at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've said this in previous new homeowner threads, get a copy of The Virgin Homeowner. It will help you understand all the systems that make up your house and how and when to maintain them.

For sure, plungers and a snake for when the toilet clogs.
We something like this to our garage and when you rebuild, seriously, seriously consider asking the carpenter to quote this. It's called "French Cleats". I'm very good with woodworking, so Mrs. Plinth and I did this together by ripping several sheets of plywood into cleats and hangers. You would not believe how wonderful it is.
posted by plinth at 10:35 AM on April 29, 2015

Nthing delaying any utterly non-essential purchases, especially fixtures and furniture. I lived in our house for over a month with no overhead lighting before I decided on which light fixtures to get (prior owners took the old ones), and I am SO glad I did. The ones I ended up buying look great with the flooring, paint, and our furniture and they aren't necessarily what I would have bought immediately after buying the house. Same with the bathroom mirrors, I lived with the house for a while before deciding on the look I wanted.

One thing that you should get a handle on quickly but not necessarily shop for immediately is garage storage. We only have a one car garage so we just use the whole thing for storage/workshop/laundry room. I have spent a LOT of time over the years trying to optimize the space. Regardless of whether you intend to park your cars in the garage or just use it as a big workspace, you'll want to make sure you buy new tools and snowblowers and mowers etc. with the mantra, "a place for every thing, and everything in its place." It is horrifyingly easy for the garage to become a giant disorganized junk room, so you'll want to think about how you want to maximize the storage possibilities very early on. Our garage is actually a somewhat pleasant garage now, but only after making a lot of careful decisions about how to best utilize the precious floor and wall space .

As for moving, we moved in after we did a thorough cleaning but before we had TV/internet, and it was fine. We had more than enough projects to keep us occupied during the week that we waited for the cable company to come hook it up.
posted by gatorae at 10:36 AM on April 29, 2015

While the house is vacant and the fresh paint is drying, check all of the switches and power plugs, replacing any that are dodgy. If the kitchen and bathrooms don't have ground fault circuit interrupter (CFCI) receptacles, now's a good time to add them.

Find the fuse box. An empty house is the ideal time to verify, by flipping fuses one by one, that you understand which plugs go to which fuse. Redo the labeling if it isn't clear enough to read at 2am on a moonless night lit only by your cell phone. With two people and desk lamp to plug in, this can be a fairly quick job.

If your home inspection didn't cover it, check the age of the water heater against predicted lifetime. Check that it'll drain somewhere safe if it decides to dies. If it's a model that needs to be manually drained periodically, now's a good time. (We missed that. The heater that came with the house crapped out a month in and trashed some boxes that we hadn't unpacked.)

Drop off a pack of toilet paper early on.
posted by dws at 10:47 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have gaps and cracks in the garage, the roof, etc., you're probably going to get rats/mice/squirrels. Get these entry points sealed now, even if you're going to redo the garage later.
posted by wintersweet at 11:06 AM on April 29, 2015

Get your baby proofing plan set up too, you might not want to deal with a gate on the stairs when you are moving furniture, but with a 9month old you definitely need safe spaces set up to entertain babe while you unpack.
posted by Swisstine at 11:16 AM on April 29, 2015

> It is horrifyingly easy for the garage to become a giant disorganized junk room

It is horrifyingly easy for any non-defined space that you didn't previously have to become a giant disorganized junk room. We've had our house 4 years, and every time we have Defined An Area it has been a major success for neatness and stress-lowering. You don't need to buy anything yet, but give some thought to where the following types of things will live: tools, last year's baby clothes/toys, current toys, extra blankets, off-season clothes, winter hats and boots, keys, extra kitchen stuff, inbox/outbox type papers. (We haven't perfected any of these but they're all bugaboos we've had with the new kid/new house combo.)

As baby is right on the cusp of a bunch of things, another thing I'd do very early on is childproofing. Buy a pile of outlet covers, stove knob protectors, and ways of preventing access to stairs, basements, cabinet-tipping, etc. Chain locks quite high up on the door are convenient to already have in place the first time they cheerfully prance out the door. Childproof for an energetic 3 year old, your 2.5-years-hence self will thank you.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:19 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

We bought a new mattress upon moving - that was so much easier than moving the one we had.

I wish we'd refinished the floors before moving in.

Don't go to Ikea until you've been there a few weeks. (Or, don't go to Ikea at all.)

Get a shower curtain, bathmat, toilet paper, sponges right away.

Check the hot water before moving in.

It's nice to have a suitcase or box of very basics so you don't have to scrounge around for stuff that you want to spend a little bit of time organizing and unpacking - a couple of glasses, a bit of silverware, dishtowel/dishsoap, a wine/bottle opener, trash can, bath towels. Change of clothes, sheets, toiletries.
posted by vunder at 11:26 AM on April 29, 2015

Check that your phones get good signal in your new place - and if not, consider buying a Mi-Fi device to give you internet connectivity for the first few days/weeks until regular internet arrives. If you're planning to do any DIY jobs, you may need decent access to Youtube.

On the same topic - if your husband's planning to carry on with networky goodness throughout the house, before you move in is a good time to get it all cabled up with ethernet ports in each room rather than relying on wireless signals through multiple walls/floors.

Delay any major furniture purchases until you've lived there for a few weeks, so you have a better feel about how you want each room to look and be used.
posted by dvrmmr at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2015

Buy the ladder longer than you think you need while you still have the moving truck.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:44 PM on April 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you have the means, have someone address the small closets issue now. Once you're moved in it will suck to try to have even that minor construction work done, but it will suck so so so so much more to try to live with small closets (going on 40+ years now at our house).

Closets, then paint, move in any heavy, stationary objects like the appliances, then have the carpets/floors done.

In the long run it will be cheaper and way less hassle to extend your rent at your current place for another month if you need to in order to get this stuff done.

Nthing all the advice to not buy any furniture until you've been there for a while. As far as baby-proofing, for a 9mo I would immediately get outlet covers, but otherwise I think you can baby-proof as you go.
posted by vignettist at 2:10 PM on April 29, 2015

Regarding the yard - don't dig up or plant for a year, but pay attention to your yard. I moved in late summer and had wanted to put some arborvitae on a property line but ran out of landscaping budget. Good thing I did or I would have dug up the beautiful, long patch of daffodils that bloomed in the spring. Waiting also gave me a chance to see how the property weathered the elements throughout the year - which spots stay wet after a rain, which spots get more wind, or which spots get more sun. That information has been helpful now that the landscaping budget is back in business!
posted by NoraCharles at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Forgot. Find all the plumbing shut off valves and tie neon toe tags on them. Way easier to find when you have an emergency.
posted by plinth at 6:37 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Emphatically nthing the cautions not to go crazy buying stuff and to buy as you genuinely have the need.

I bought my first house a year ago January. Moved from a tiny 1 bed appt to a townhouse with front and back gardens.

The first 3 months I bought stuff for house/garden related projects practically every week. And there was a big trip to ikea. All totally justifiable! Then life happened and I realised that buying a house didn't magically give me enormous amounts of energy for DIY on weekends and my lovely spacious new home was now cluttered with piles of guilt inducing stuff. This year has been all about freecycling all the stuff I bought without thinking, grrr. And I don't know how many newly purchased plants I killed because I'd come home from the nursery and realise that I had no plan where to put them and they'd sit on their pots and die of neglect.

So current me would like to tell 18 months ago me (and current you) that buying things as you need for a project you have planned, considered and scheduled to do in the very near future is much better for bank balance and a sense of satisfaction then being all 'oooh, I'm sure I need one of those, better get it now!' and realising later it doesn't fit at all. Of course, YMMV a bit if you are a proven energetic DIY fiend but if you weekends are usually spent lounging on the sofa, turns out, home ownership doesn't really change that much :-)

Enjoy and congrats becoming house owners. Despite the mistakes I made, I love it :-)
posted by kitten magic at 7:11 PM on April 29, 2015

Paint NOW. I was gonna ... And now I've live with ugly paint for 11 years because it isn't worth the hassle.

A 1940s house is probably lacking in 3-prong outlets and upstairsay be short on outlets period. (My upstairs had one in each room. One!) I keep a running list on my phone of small plumbing and electrical projects of the "upstairs sink cold water tap sticks" or "need 3 prongs behind couch" and when I either have a big project that actually requires my plumber or electrician, or I reach criucal mass of small things, I have my wish list handy.

Also have a couple outlets with USB plugs near where you like to charge things.

Get good patio furniture that you'll Luke yo sit in. We eat dinner outdoors every night this time of year. Do you know how much less cleanup there is with a toddler when the crumbs are already outside? Its aces.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:15 PM on April 29, 2015

If you haven't already

Get and asbestos check on all the walls and insulation. This will make it easier to decide how/if to renovate later (asbestos will limit your options) - and will provide due diligence for any tradesman.

With a baby and an old house also check for lead paint. I don't know when the use of lead in paint was stopped in the states - but its worth checking for piece of mind.
posted by insomniax at 10:28 PM on April 29, 2015

Paint now! Paint the walls, paint the ceilings, paint the baseboards, paint the closets!

Clean now! Clean everything. The closet shelves, every kitchen cupboard, the door frames, the top of the shower curtain pole, the top of the fridge, behind the stove, under the sink, the air ducts.

Deal with the floors now! Clean or replace the carpets, refinish the wood, clean the grout in the bathroom tile, scrub the floor under the appliances, clean the garage floor.

Once you move furniture in, it will become so much harder to paint, clean, and deal with floors. You say, "We'll do it in a few weeks!" and weeks turn into months turn into years turn into never. It is so much easier to do this stuff in an empty house.

(We finally refinished the floors in our house last summer. It meant moving all the furniture out, and we had to live elsewhere for a week with our pets. I painted two rooms before we moved all our stuff back in.)

Don't spend money on stuff you don't need yet, because you don't know yet how the house will work for you. Wait until you've lived there awhile and figure out what you need. This goes DOUBLE for gardening projects, especially in the springtime. It's tempting to go all out, but it's a great way to waste a lot of money.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2015

You shouldn't go out and buy a million tools you don't need, but a basic set of hand tools is something you will be happy to have right away—to put together furniture, tighten up that wobbly drawer front, etc. It's easier to buy them as an all-in-one set; yes the tools will be sort of junky but that's fine for occasional use—in most situations a crummy version of the right tool is still going to be miles better than the best version of the wrong tool. A small set with a ratcheting screwdriver (with slot and Phillips bits of different sizes), pliers, socket wrenches, and a hammer will do you for most around-the-house things. Add a power drill/driver (corded is fine, probably better for casual use), a level, and a rubber-covered mallet and you'll be set for a while. Maybe a set of hex keys (or hex bits for your drivers!) if you have a lot of stuff to assemble.

Make sure you have a fire extinguisher. And flashlights, you must have flashlights.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2015

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