My wife, Holly, and I just bought our new home a few months ago. And while Money Under 30’s first-time homebuying guide helped us nail the buying process, there were still surprises waiting for us after closing and during the first few weeks of move-in.
So what were those surprises? Which home repairs should you prioritize? Where’s the best place for Gen Z homeowners to save on tools and supplies. And what’s the “magic phrase” for negotiating down your utility bills?
Let’s cover five things to know after buying a house!
1. Be sure to factor utility setup fees into your budget
If you did your research on the costs of homeownership, you probably already factored utilities into your monthly budget. Those can typically include:
- Trash and recycling (sometimes separate providers).
- And more.
What might catch you off guard, however, is that many of these utility providers — even the city — will have utility setup fees. These can range anywhere from ~$20 to $120 per provider per account, so they can add up quickly.
In addition to an initial setup fee, sometimes providers will also require you to pay upfront for your first three to six months of service. My trash and recycling provider did that — so although the monthly rate was just $40, my first bill was $180: four months plus their $20 setup fee.
In our case, our monthly budget for utilities was around $400, but we had to pay closer to $1,000 during the month of move-in to cover the upfront setup charges, pre-payment for several months, etc.
The moral of the story is to be prepared to factor all of your utility fees (not just your monthly fees) into your budget.
Luckily, most third-party utilities providers (read: not the city) are actually open to negotiation. That’s especially true if they don’t have a monopoly on supplying that specific utility to your address.
That’s why I recommend calling them and asking these two questions:
- “What promotions are you currently running that could lower my bottom line?”
- “Thanks for the quote. Before I call [your chief competitor in the area], what is your rock bottom offer?”
These two questions end up lowering my final cost about 60% of the time. It also works when buying a car and purchasing auto insurance and virtually everything else that’s negotiable.
2. Triage home repairs and table home improvement
Before buying a house you almost certainly got a home inspection done. That means that at some point during closing, the inspector emailed you a PDF report that looks something like this.
I’m sure things are already a little crazy with the move, but if you have the time and mental space, now is the best time to start scheduling those recommended repairs.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to have contractors coming and going before you’re fully moved in since home repairs tend to create a lot of noise and mess. Plus, it’ll save you the hassle of having to move furniture out of their way or keep sections of the house cordoned off.
That being said, it’s not the end of the world if you have to wait until you’re fully moved in to schedule contractors. You may also find that certain contractors aren’t even available for a few months. But the sooner, the better.
Now, let’s circle back to your home inspection report. Which repairs should you prioritize?
The easy answer is to call your home inspector and ask. After all, they saw firsthand where your house needed the most help.
But in general, repairs that prevent much bigger repairs — like patching the roof, sealing the basement walls, and filling cracks in the foundation — are top priorities. Anything that keeps moisture out of the house should be done pronto. Your HVAC actually falls into that category, too, since circulating air prevents mold and mildew buildup.
Aesthetic stuff, like repainting the living room or replacing the ‘70s motel tile in the bathroom can be done second, when time and budget allow.
Finally, home improvement stuff, like new garage flooring or building a back deck, can and should wait a few months.
My REALTOR gave me some interesting advice: he said before you invest in any expensive, non-essential home improvement projects (new floors, new shower, etc.), try living in the house for six months first. You’ll be surprised by what you can actually live with, saving yourself $1,000s in the process.
Read more: How much should you be saving for home maintenance?
3. Find some affordable tools and learn some DIY
One of the most rewarding aspects of new homeownership is completing your own minor DIY repair/home improvement projects. Not only is it kinda fun and satisfying, but it can save you time and money spent hiring contractors.
For example, I was a click away from hiring someone to install several TV mounts in the new house. Then, at the last second, I switched over to YouTube and taught myself instead.
All I needed was a $20 stud finder, and I ended up saving $400+ that I would’ve spent hiring the TV mounting squad. Plus, I got a new (niche) skill for life.
Landscaping is another example. I don’t know jack diddly about grass, gardening, none of that. But after spending another hour on YouTube/Reddit, I had all the basic knowledge I needed to plant some rose bushes.
Here they are!
A few weeks later, surprising Holly with a rose from our own bush felt like a milestone I didn’t even know I was trying to reach. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than a plain pile of dirt!
Now, while DIY around the house is great, it does require you to spend money on tools. You’ll want to invest in nice tools, too, since cheap or used tools can present a big safety hazard.
Luckily, there’s a perfect place for Gen Zs to buy their first drills, socket wrenches, spades, and more. It’s a place my carpenter friend Zac calls his personal Disneyland: Harbor Freight.
Harbor Freight is like the Aldi of tools. They sell generic, high-quality products for half or a third of what Home Depot charges. You can get everything a new homeowner needs — a basic toolkit, utility knife, flashlight, level, drill, wire cutter, stud finder, extension cords, and more — for well under $200.
They don’t pay me to say this; I just think every Gen Z homeowner should know about Harbor Freight.
4. Update your monthly budget based on your new expenses
Once the dust settles on the move, you’ll want to spend 30 minutes resetting your monthly budget based on your new overhead.
There’s a chance that this may even be an enjoyable process since your new mortgage might be cheaper than your rent was.
Sure, you’ll have to budget for repairs and homeowners insurance, but even still… with rent prices so crazy, you might be saving money by owning your own property.
If you’ve never set a budget before, you don’t need to worry about maintaining a tedious spreadsheet or paying some monthly fee for a fancy app. A lot of folks stick with the simple, timeless 50-30-20 budget their whole lives and it serves them just fine.
Or, if you would like the assistance of an app, there are tons of free options out there. Check out our list of the best budgeting apps to take control of your finances. I’m personally a fan of Mint — check out our full review.
5. Less is more — don’t hesitate to donate stuff
Finally, one of my biggest mistakes was actually bringing too much stuff from the old place to the new place. I brought chairs, old TV stands, even a whole dining room set into the new house thinking, “I’ll find a place for this somewhere…”
Nope. Never did. So I ended up with the same piles of junk and disused old furniture.
This made it much harder to settle into our new home, both physically and psychologically. Every time I passed by a corner full of stacked old chairs and that half-broken TV stand, it reminded me of a chore I had left to do.
In short, I should’ve Marie Kondo’d way more stuff way earlier.
If it’s not too late, I recommend making two stops in your moving truck: one to a donation center, one to the new house. Not only is cleaning and donating your old furniture the right thing to do, but it’s a nice tax write-off as well.
Now, while Goodwill is great and they tend to take anything, I’d encourage you to consider some alternatives in your area. Halfway houses, retirement homes, and women’s shelters all need good-condition furniture, too. Better yet, many of these smaller nonprofits will even do curbside pickups so you don’t need to invest in another truck rental.
Holly and I only just moved into our place a few months ago, so I’m still learning as I go. But I found these simple tips, from triaging home repairs to budgeting for unexpected setup costs, would have made my experience a little more seamless. I sincerely hope they help you in your own journey as a new homeowner.
Featured image: Michael Dechev/Shutterstock.com