Buying & Selling Homes - Bob Vila

Category: Buying & Selling Homes

8 Things Every Home Inspection Checklist Should Include

Buying a new property? Get a head start on your home inspection by reviewing the typical checklist.

8 Things Every Home Inspection Checklist Should Include


Buying a new home can be a thrilling and terrifying adventure. During the process, you’ll need to address dozens of details regarding your new abode, including potential problems with the foundation, structure, appliances, fixtures, electricity, plumbing, and more. But, thankfully, there’s a simple and effective solution to ensure your new dwelling doesn’t turn out to be a nightmare: getting a home inspection.

A critical component of the buying process, a home inspection is like a “test drive” for a new house. First, the potential owner should hire an experienced and qualified professional for the job; a smart place to search is the American Society of Home Inspectors, a not-for-profit association that establishes standards for property inspections. The inspector will conduct a thorough examination of the house, identifying problems that the buyer may want to negotiate with the seller to fix—as well as any catastrophic issues that might make them rethink the purchase. After the examination, a home inspector will present a report that includes a checklist of the home’s main features, a summary statement about each major living area, and notes and photographs documenting problems. What’s more, the report should estimate the remaining useful life of major systems and equipment, the roof, the structure, paint, and finishes—and give a list of recommended repairs and replacements to boot. A systematic home inspection ranges from $200 to $700, depending on region and home size, but it can save thousands of dollars in unexpected repairs down the road.

Since the home buyer is an integral part of the inspection process, it’s vital to conduct some groundwork before the professional takes over. Spend some time reviewing the seller’s property disclosures, reading documentation about the house from the local building department, and preparing a list of questions and concerns regarding the home. Then familiarize yourself with the process by looking over this list of eight things every home inspection checklist should include.

Your home inspection checklist should include…

1. Grounds and Exterior. During an inspection, a professional should first examine the home exterior and overall condition of the property. Areas of interest include grading and drainage, evidence of standing water or leaks, the integrity of the foundation and siding, the condition of the exterior paint and landscaping, and any damage to the deck, garage, patio, stairs, or driveway.

2. Roof, Windows, and Doors. The exterior structural components of the home are some of the most expensive to repair or replace, so a home inspector should carefully evaluate the condition and expected lifespan of these elements. On the attic and roof, he’ll likely focus on the shingles, gutters, exterior vents, flashing, soffits, chimneys, and fascia boards. When inspecting windows and doors, he’ll search for decay and rot, cracks, improper installation, lack of caulking, and other damage.

8 Things Every Home Inspection Checklist Should Include


3. Attic. The attic is often overlooked when a prospective buyer visits a home, but it can hold important clues to the overall structural integrity of the property. The examiner will make sure he doesn’t find poorly installed insulation, structural damage, improper ventilation, and exhaust or plumbing pipes that end in the vicinity.

4. Basement/Crawl Space. Moving to the opposite end of the house, the basement or crawl space is another component of the home inspection checklist. The inspector will look for moisture and evidence of pests, as well as foundational, structural, and insulation-related issues. If your house has a crawl space, the area will be inspected for similar problems.

5. Interior Rooms. When it comes to interior rooms, you have to worry about more than choosing the perfect paint color, since these inner spaces can reveal critical structural issues. The inspection checklist should cover the floors, walls, ceilings, windows, interior doors, paint and trim, lights and switches, outlets, temperature control, insulation, and fireplaces.

6. Kitchens. The kitchen is often called the heart of the home, so it’s important to ensure every feature is in tip-top shape. Some aspects of the kitchen to scrutinize include the size and functionality of appliances, the exhaust fan, the drainage and water flow, the safety of outlets, and the condition of cabinets and drawers.

7. Bathrooms. Bathroom problems can be a pricey proposition to fix, so an inspector will want to carefully examine the following areas: toilet, exhaust fan, sink, tub and shower, tiles, caulking, flooring, and fixtures. What’s more, the water flow and water pressure should be properly scrutinized, and the inspector should note any issues with plumbing and leakage.

8. Major Systems, Electrical, and Plumbing. Any home inspection must include a thorough evaluation of the heating and cooling systems, as well as the plumbing and electrical work. The examiner should first indicate the age and expected lifespan of all components, then pay attention to certain areas of concern. For the HVAC system, this includes airflow, ventilation, filters, ductwork, the condition of flues, and the presence of rust, asbestos, or odor. In regards to electrical systems, the inspector will examine wiring, the main service panels, cables, fuses, and breakers. Finally, he’ll check the plumbing system for pipe damage or leaks, and ensure the water heater and pump are working properly.

Solved! How Much to Tip Movers

Enlisting the help of a moving company for your upcoming relocation? Find how much to tip the movers for hauling your prized possessions to your new house or apartment.

How Much to Tip Movers


Q: My wife and I are moving to our first house next week and were told that the move would take a full day. Will the movers expect a tip on moving day, and if so, how much do you tip movers?

A: Tipping movers is optional, but most homeowners adhere to the customary practice. After all, relocating heavy belongings can be back-breaking work, and professional movers help eliminate the risk of personal injury and property damage. A general guideline is to tip $10 minimum per mover for a half-day (four hours) of service, or $20 for a full-day (eight hours) of service. Of course, most homeowners adjust this tip based on the quality of service, relocation distance, and difficulty of the move. They may also forgo the practice in scenarios when tipping is not customary. Read on to learn about which factors affect how much to tip movers after a haul.

Understand that tipping isn’t always necessary. The question isn’t always, “How much do you tip movers?” but rather, “Do we tip the movers?” Before moving day, call the company to verify that it accepts tips. If their policy prevents tipping, consider showing gratitude by supplying food or non-alcoholic refreshments to your moving crew instead; this is particularly welcome when a move falls on a hot day or overlaps meal times. You can also skip tipping if gratuity was included in the moving cost—a practice adopted by some moving companies for long-distance moves. Finally, tipping is unnecessary if the process was excessively delayed, your property or belongings were damaged, or you otherwise received poor service.

How Much to Tip Movers


Budget for a larger tip. In the case of a job well done, you might extend more than the $10/$20 tipping guideline mentioned above to reward the movers who greatly exceed your expectations. Say, for example, that one mover completed a two-man job on schedule; you may want to adjust the minimum tip to $15 to $20 per four-hour interval to reward him for doing double duty. Other scenarios that call for an increased tip include completing a move well in advance of the quoted schedule and agreeing to disassemble or reassemble furniture.

Decrease the tip for sub-par service. Sometimes a relocation may be successful, but the homeowner is displeased with certain aspects of the service (poor communication, late arrival without explanation, aggressive handling of delicate items, etc.). In this case, unsatisfied customers can offer a tip below the stated guideline.

Increase gratuity for movers who navigate considerable obstacles or haul heavy cargo. Heavy possessions like pianos or armoires—as well as architectural obstacles such as steep property lots, narrow or winding staircases, or multiple flights of stairs—can make your move significantly more taxing for movers. If the crew must take on extremely labor-intensive work, consider providing an extra incentive by adjusting your tip to anywhere between $20 to $50 per mover per four-hour interval. Follow the same guideline if movers must enlist special equipment, like cranes or furniture lifts, to get the job done.

If making a long-distance move, tip the crews involved with both loading and unloading. When making a local move (less than 50 to 100 miles), the same crew will likely load and unload your belongings. Long-distance moves, on the other hand, are often handled by multiple crews: one for loading your belongings at the originating address and another for unloading items at the destination address. In this case, homeowners should tip both the loading and unloading crews separately, relying on the same $10/$20 guideline.

Give each mover a separate tip. After relocation is complete, stuff the cash tip for each mover into a separate envelope, and pass them out individually. Avoid paying a lump sum to the foreman (moving crew supervisor) to be divided up. Tipping each mover individually will ensure that your money gets to its intended recipient immediately upon completion of the work. Also, while it’s customary to tip each mover the same amount, you can give a higher gratuity to anyone who performs superior service.

Video: 8 Renovations That Pay You Back

Not all renovations are created equal. Get the scoop on the best investments you can make when remodeling your home.


Which projects are on your home improvement wish list? A modern kitchen? Maybe bathroom update or a basement remodel? Whatever upgrades you’re considering, you probably already know to research and consider all the costs before you ever pick up a hammer. Less commonly known is this: Some—but not all— renovations can actually put money back in your pocket. When it’s time to sell, the right improvements may be so tempting to buyers that you’ll earn extra dollars when you sign over the house to the new owners. Watch and learn to see which home improvements are most likely to earn you a few bucks.

For more home improvement ideas, consider:

The 15 Smartest and Smallest DIYs You Can Do for Your Home

Rescued from Ruin: 9 Extreme Makeovers You Need to See

9 Sneaky Ways to Get New Floors for Under $50

Bob Vila Radio: Pinpointing Property Lines

Where exactly does your land begin and end, do you know? Few homeowners do. But with a few simple pointers, it's often easy to determine. Read on to learn how.

If you’re thinking of building out toward the edges of your lot, you first need to determine the exact location of your property lines. The only legally binding way to do that is to hire a professional surveyor. Still, there are several ways you can do a little detective work yourself.

How To Find Property Lines


mp3 file

Listen to BOB VILA ON HOW TO FIND YOUR PROPERTY LINES or read the text below:

One is to pay a visit to your local zoning department. For a few bucks, they’ll give you copies of plats, the official maps that show the precise dimensions of your property. The location of streetlights can be another tipoff. They’re frequently installed directly on property lines. Same goes for expansion cuts that contractors add to sidewalks.

You can also poke around the approximate corners of your property to see if you can locate survey “pins”. Those are thin, iron bars, usually two or three feet long, that the original surveyors of your property drove into the ground (they often have a plastic cap that peeks out from the turf). Don’t necessarily assume, though, that survey pins tell the whole story. They’re sometimes inadvertently moved by contractors or city workers.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

How To: Find Property Lines

Before you start building or planting toward the margins of your property, head off disputes with the folks next door by first figuring out where your space begins and ends.

How to Find Property Lines


Good fences may make good neighbors, but accidentally erecting one on a neighbor’s property can lead to hard feelings, or even a lawsuit. Whether you want to build an addition, figure out who’s responsible for tree removal, or plant a border hedge, you need to know where your yard legally ends and the next guy’s begins. Here, we’ve put together the most common methods for figuring this out. Some are simple and inexpensive, adequate for satisfying your curiosity. Others demand skills and will cost a few bucks, but may be necessary for certain construction projects. Read on to learn how to walk the line—and ensure that your house and landscaping stay on your side of it.

Check Sidewalks and Streetlights
Examine the lines that are cut in the sidewalk in front of your house. Often, the contractor who poured the sidewalk started and stopped on the property lines, so those cut lines may coincide with the edges of your property. As well, the appearance of the concrete on your side of the property may be slightly different from that on your neighbor’s side. Streetlights, too, are often placed on property lines. While these visual clues are good indications of property lines, if you intend to build or install something on your land, you’ll need additional verification.

Visit the Local Zoning Department
The zoning department is the municipal office that records plats: the maps, drawn to scale, that show land division. Unless your home was built more than a hundred years ago, you can probably obtain a copy of your block and lot plat for a minimal fee. This will give you the exact dimensions of your lot—in other words, the property you legally own—in relationship to other lots on your block.

Retrace the Surveyor’s Steps
When the surveyors were laying out the original plat, they determined a starting point for all the lots on your block. You can retrace the original surveyor’s steps by locating the starting point, which will be labeled on the plat as either the “common point” or the “point of beginning” (POB). It is often the center point of a side street. The original surveyor’s measurements will all be listed on the plat. With a long measuring tape, follow the plat as you would a treasure map, measuring your physical property as you go. Your measurements should correspond with the ones on the plat.

How to Find Property Lines - Using a Metal Detector


Locate a Hidden Survey Pin
Survey pins are thin iron bars, two to three feet long and sometimes capped with plastic, which the original survey crew inserted on the property lines. If you have access to a metal detector, move the device over the ground along the sidewalk to the curb to locate the survey pin. Pins may be buried just under the surface, or up to a foot below. A few days before you dig, however, you must call 811, the free, federally designated number that will route you to your local utility company. Ask the utility company to come out and mark any buried lines so you don’t unintentionally hit one. There’s no charge for this service, but if you damage a buried utility line, you could end up having to pay to repair it.

Beware of Moved Survey Pins
Survey pins are not foolproof markers. Over the years, previous owners, utility workers, or even a tree-removal company may have dug up a survey pin and reinserted it nearby, or just tossed it aside. Your actual property line, however, does not change just because someone messed with the survey pin. For example, if you locate survey pins 60 feet apart on opposite sides of your property but the plat says your lot is 50 feet wide, one of those pins may have been moved, and your property is still just 50 feet across.

Dig Out Your Deed for Additional Info
In older neighborhoods, property owners may have purchased or sold off portions of their yards. Locating a survey pin won’t give you this information, but the most recent legal description recorded on your deed will list any such changes. If you don’t have a copy of your deed filed with your homeowner records, get one at the register of deeds office, often located within your county courthouse.

Consider the Metes and Bounds Survey
If your deed features a metes and bounds survey—a survey that describes the exact distances and directions from one established point on your property line to the next—you’ll have all the information you need to locate your property lines. Unfortunately, this type of legal description is notoriously difficult to comprehend unless you’re a surveyor.

The metes and bounds survey cites a starting point, located at one of corners of your property. From there, the survey will give you detailed directions and distances to help you locate the rest of the corners and boundary lines of your property. It’s similar to a connect-the-dots game, except you do it on foot, not on paper. You’ll need a long measuring tape as well as a good-quality directional compass so you can move systematically from point to point.

But egad! You’ll find that a metes and bounds survey reads like a Shakespearean play. A typical survey may tell you to “commence” from the point of beginning (POB), “running thence westerly 100 feet, thence southerly at an interior angle of 55 degrees to a point,” and so on until it brings you back to the original starting point.

Bring in a Professional Surveyor
Before you drive yourself too crazy with the metes and bounds survey, know that the only legally binding method to determine exact property lines—essential, for example, if you intend to build an addition to your house—is to have a professional survey. Local building codes will determine how close to your property line you can legally build. A professional survey could cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the size of your property and the complexity of the survey. Costly, perhaps, but adding to your dream house while keeping in your neighbors’ good graces is priceless.

Boost Your Curb Appeal with 4 Doable DIY Projects

Selling your home is a lengthy process, but it can be made easier with proper preparation. Follow these four steps to spruce up your façade and make it absolutely irresistible to potential buyers.

Curb Appeal Tips - Make an Entrance


When it comes to putting your house on the market, you spend much of your time considering how to stage your rooms to look as homey as possible. But while your interiors are crucial to the selling process, your exteriors are just as important to making a memorable first impression. With simple DIY maintenance and a few easy updates, you can boost curb appeal for maximum selling success.

Curb Appeal Tips - Sell Your House Quicker


Keep It Clean
A well-kept yard is the first sign that you’ve taken good care of the house during your time as owner. If the grass looks uncut or overrun, the whole property won’t look as attractive to buyers. Spend an afternoon clearing away fallen leaves, broken branches, and dead plantings to ensure your entrance suggests, “Welcome home.”

A power washer will come in handy, as it can rid the driveway, garage door, fencing, and garden paths of dirt and debris and leave them looking as good as new. You might also consider washing the inside and outside of the windows—not only to get them sparkling, but also to ensure your spaces are flooded with as much natural light as possible.

Take a look at the window trim and inspect the siding; if it’s looking a little worse for the wear, consider making the necessary repairs. Leaving them in disarray can make a home look older or in worse condition, which is not a characteristic most buyers are searching for.

Grow a Garden
Don’t underestimate the appeal of an lush-yet-manicured property. Even if your home is sitting on a small suburban plot of land, you can still beautify the yard you have:

• Trim the shrubs carefully for a streamlined look.
• Incorporate color by planting seasonal flowers, and ridding the yard of weeds.
• Mulch planting beds—the wood chips will promote garden growth as well as prevent weeds from sprouting.
• Consider planting a low-maintenance ground cover to fill bare areas.
• Remedy dead areas of the lawn by laying down sod.

And don’t feel limited to keeping your greenery in the yard! Window box installations can add a touch of classic curb appeal. Available in a variety of materials, sizes, and styles, there are options for every price range, making this an easy project you can achieve in an afternoon. Finally, place potted plants in visible areas like the entryway. In all of this, minimalism is key; you want to enhance the space, not add clutter to it.

Invigorate the Entry
Your entrance should make visitors feel comfortable and truly welcome. Inspect your entry, starting with the flooring. Fasten loose boards in wood floors, fill any cracks or corners of concrete, and repaint any areas as necessary.

Purchase a new doormat; then, while you’re at it, consider updates for your storm door, overhead sconces, knobs, knockers, and kickplates, too. An inexpensive fixture update can make all of the difference. Greet potential buyers with accents that are simple yet sophisticated, in order to appeal to the widest variety of people. Statement house numbers and a distinctive mailbox can offer the perfect finishing touches for a memorable entrance and exit.

Color with Care
It might be a challenge to sell your house if it’s in dire need of a new hue. Potential buyers could be turned off by uncommon, fading, or bright shades, so you need to consider your best strategy for updates—whether it’s a whole-house paint job or simply shutter and column accents. Traditional hues, such as classic white, creamy off-white, warm taupe, light blue, blue-gray, or pale yellow, will draw buyers in and help them visualize how they will fit into the space. When in doubt, take a look at the colors of surrounding homes; in a selling situation, it’s typically better to fit in than stand out.

House hunters form opinions extremely quickly, so it’s smart to put your best foot (or, in this case, footpath) forward. With these few outdoor upgrades, you can ensure that they will enter your home with a positive attitude and an open mind, which can easily mean the difference between “For Sale” and “Sold.”

Behind the Scenes of 5 Celebs’ “New” Old Homes

While many celebrities move in and out of unmemorable super mansions, these house-hunting stars recently snagged dwellings as nuanced and compelling as their best on-screen roles.

Stars, they’re just like us! When on the hunt for real estate, celebrities enjoy jaw-droppingly large budgets, sure, but they also look for many of the same features prized by us mere mortals—things like original architectural details, generous floor plans for growing families, and maybe even a fixer-upper opportunity. With springtime home-buying season in full bloom, scores of actors have made recent moves into new addresses. And while there’s something to be said for any property that costs over a million bucks, we’re particularly impressed by the handful of celebs who chose “new” old homes.



Joseph Gorden Levitt Paul Revere Williams Home


Young Hollywood favorite Joseph Gordon Levitt spent $3.25 million on this 1940s home designed by Paul R. Williams (the very architect responsible for the West Coast homes of Hollywood royalty like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball). Located in the beautiful Franklin Hills section of Los Angeles, the three-bedroom, four-bathroom house has all the right bones: high ceilings, natural light, and period details galore. Time capsule-like in its unchanged state, the mid-century gem hadn’t changed hands since 1957! Select areas, including the kitchen, may be ripe for an update, but we trust the place is in good hands.



Lena Dunham Greek Revival


Though she may be a reluctant Los Angeles resident, Lena Dunham obviously has great taste in California real estate. The New York City-based creator of Girls finally bit the bullet and bought a home in Hollywood—but not just any home. The beautiful 1919 Greek Revival is picture-perfect. Featuring cozy rooms with Swedish hardwood floors and beautiful casework—not to mention a saltwater pool and detached guest house—this quaint home packs loads of charm.



Jessica Chastain New York Apartment


Opulent is an understatement when it comes to Jessica Chastain’s preposterously fancy new Manhattan digs. The Zero Dark Thirty star purchased the three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom duplex across from Carnegie Hall for $5.1 million. Painstakingly restored, the home features no shortage of gorgeous original details, from inlaid parquet floors to Tiffany glass transom windows set over doors of solid mahogany. In a city where space comes at a absorbinent premium, the rambling 3,200 square foot apartment and its 14-foot ceilings give the elegant star more than enough room to breathe.



Bruce Willis Central Park West Apartment


A real estate connoisseur, Bruce Willis knows how to find amazing properties, whether it’s ranch in Idaho or a humongous New York duplex like this one. The 6,000-square-foot apartment looks through oversized windows onto the trees in Central Park and throughout, it features fine details ranging from crown molding to ceiling coffers. With six bedrooms and four and a half baths, there’s plenty of room, no matter how big the Die Hard star’s family gets.



Jason Segal Los Feliz Home


With Spanish Colonial flair to spare, this $1.4 million spread in Los Feliz, CA, will soon be home to How I Met Your Mother alum Jason Segal. Bright colors abound, even in the turquoise-and-gold stenciling on the main staircase. Vaulted ceilings showcase exposed beams, while arched doorways open into cavernous spaces with canyon views. Perhaps most stunning of all is the multi-level outdoor space made private by an abundance of tropical foliage.

How To: Get Your Security Deposit Back

When it's time to get your security deposit back, even the most conscientious renters can run into snags. Fortunately, as a tenant, there are steps you can take now to make the process go smoother once you're ready to move on.

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back


Oh, wait… you WANTED your security deposit back?!

Well, buckle your seat belt, responsible former tenant: You are entitled to that money, not the man who avoided your calls about a clogged toilet for a year. Unless you invited stampeding deer to your last soirée, the majority of landlords and management companies don’t make a fuss about returning your deposit. Most state laws require tenants to return apartments to their previous condition, along with normal wear and tear—a delightfully vague term that more often than not works to tenants’ advantage.

Small issues—chipped paint, matted carpet, or the occasional nail hole—all fall under normal wear and tear. Meanwhile, such things as stains and burns, broken windows, and pet odors are definitely considered your responsibility. And if these are not addressed before you move out, you can expect repair costs to be deducted from your deposit.

With that in mind, here are a few actions you can take over the course of your tenancy to help ensure a smoother return of your security deposit as you make your way out the door:

1. Photograph Preexisting Flaws
Before you even move in, snap pictures of anything that looks awry. These photographs are likely to be your only proof that certain flaws were preexisting.

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back - Floorplan


2. Be a Responsible Steward
Little problems are bound to arise when you’re occupying a rental. Don’t sweep these under the rug, literally or figuratively. Little problems get bigger. If you don’t deal with a problem now, by the time you’re ready to move, it may have become big enough to dominate any discussion about the security deposit.

3. Clarify What “Clean” Means
Cleaning fees are commonly subtracted from security deposits, but if you’re willing to put in some effort, there’s no reason you can’t get back the full amount. A month or two before the lease expires, talk with your landlord about the condition in which he expects you to leave the place. He might simply hand you a prepared checklist, and yes, that’s somewhat of a drag. But at least you’ll know where to focus your energy so that you won’t under- or—the horror!—overclean.

4. Actually Clean 
Ugh. You knew this one was coming. All the dirt you brought into the apartment? Well, it’s your dirt, technically, and you’re responsible for getting it out of there. Mop the floors, wipe the cabinets, clean the oven, scrub the bathroom, and so on. Shoot for a hotel level of clean. Even if you fall short—and let’s be honest, that’s a distinct possibility—the apartment will be clean enough to satisfy the powers that be.

5. Make Sure the Check Can Find You
Be sure to give your new address to your former landlord. We can’t stress this enough. It’s important because in many states, if a landlord cannot contact you, he’s legally allowed to keep the deposit.

6. Check In 
In some states, landlords must return security deposits within three weeks of your move-out date. But—how do we put this?— even the most responsible management company isn’t going to rush on your behalf, especially if you never asked for the money in the first place. So make the call, and be polite.

8. Wait
Yawn. What’s on Netflix? It’s reasonable to expect a check within two months. For now, it’s a waiting game.

In most cases, a little preparation and a lot of Windex are all you need. If you are still waiting after two months—yikes—we recommend sending a formal demand letter (talk to your lawyer about that one). But we really hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, good luck!

The New Homeowner’s Survival Guide

If you've recently taken the home-buying plunge, our survival guide is a must-read that will help you avoid common pitfalls, budget your time and money, and glide smoothly into the joys of owning your own home.

New Homeowner Tips


So you’ve bought your first house—congratulations! You’ve searched for and found a place that you love. You’ve secured a mortgage and successfully dealt with real estate brokers, lawyers, home inspectors, and insurance agents. You’ve learned about closing costs and the volumes of paperwork that must be signed, in triplicate, with a notary public as witness. No doubt, this has been an exciting time for you, and a very busy one. Believe it or not, there’s still more to do! So to help you through it all, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

We hope you’ll take away two essential things from this guide: an awareness of what you can expect in the first year of living in your new home, and some sound advice on being prepared for the most important aspects of being a new homeowner.


Homeowner’s Insurance
If you have a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance was probably required for the loan. But it’s smart to reassess your insurance needs within the first six months of owning your home. You may discover you have too much (or too little) coverage. Once the dust has settled, take a critical look at your policy and solicit a second round of quotes from insurers.

Most mortgage companies require your taxes and homeowner’s insurance to be escrowed, which means that the mortgage company totals those expenses, then charges you one-twelfth of the sum each month. (Some mortgage companies allow you to opt out of escrow, for a fee.) If you don’t have escrow, remember to budget for your tax and insurance expenses! If you do have escrow, take pains to make sure that the mortgage company is making all payments on your behalf in a timely manner; after all, it’s your house and your credit that are on the line. Also, double-check the accuracy of the estimate made by your lender’s escrow department. If there’s a shortfall, you can expect a bill for the difference at the end of the year. And if that estimate was way off, the bill you receive could be a real whopper.

You’ll need to get all utilities into your name, so make a list and work through it. Call the electric, phone, and gas companies. Contact the county for your sewer and water, if it supplies both. Does the town pick up garbage/recycling, or do you need to contract for that yourself? If you want Internet and broader TV service than an antenna will get you, research your options and start calling for the best bargain. With all the digital entertainment options available, you may decide to cut the cord on cable.

Triple-Check Your Billing Address
Make extra sure each service provider has your contact information recorded correctly—down to the last digit of your zip code. If you don’t receive bills due to some administrative error, you may come home to find your water turned off.

Get on Utility Provider Budget Plans
With so many new variables, the first year in a new house is usually challenging financially. Get on budget plans where you can. Many utility providers will estimate your use for the year, and then break your bills into 12 equal payments. This reduces fluctuations in your charges throughout the year, which can be helpful. Money can feel extra tight after the big move.

New Homeowner Tips - Bills


Some work is more easily done before you get all your stuff in the house. If timing and budget allow, consider doing painting or floor refinishing before your move-in date. Do you need help with cleaning? If you want professional help with anything, bundle that into your move-in budget.

Don’t fret if there’s no money left for these things right away. Sometimes it’s better to live in a house awhile before deciding on paint colors, carpeting, or a new kitchen backsplash. A home is a work in progress, and it takes time to get the feel for a new place. Doing too much at once can be overwhelming and can kill the joy of the experience. Feel free to take a slow approach and live in your house as is for six months to a year or more. Who knows—you might just grow to love that vintage 1950s tile in the bathroom and use it as the inspiration for your interior design.

New Homeowner Tips - Moving



Change the Locks
You can throw out the keys got at the closing—right after you change the locks! You have no idea who has copies of those keys, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. So, before you do anything else, call a locksmith or do it yourself—just do it.

Set Up the Move
Will you hire someone or do it yourself? If you’re hiring movers, get as many references as you can and at least three quotes. Make sure anyone you consider has insurance. If you’re doing it yourself, reserve your truck. Get one that’s slightly bigger—and reserve it for slightly longer—than you think you’ll need. That’s one place you can reduce stress.

Related:  Moving 101—10 Ways to Make the Best of Any Move

If you’re packing your own boxes, pack them room by room, and label them very clearly, so they can be taken immediately to the right place after being unloaded. Make some quick signs for each room that correspond to the box labels. If you organize your move effectively, with any luck, you’ll be able to park in the garage by the end of the week.

Set manageable goals for yourself. You probably have several wonderful years, if not decades, to enjoy your new home, so you don’t need to finish unpacking in one day. Decide how many boxes you’ll unpack each day—one or two is completely acceptable—and stick to that number. If you’ve unpacked them and still have energy, turn your focus to another task, like hanging window treatments or shopping for drawer organizers.


Service Checks
Plan to have a service check on your HVAC, hot water heater, fireplace, and/or chimney, and any major appliances that require it. Check any filters, and replace if necessary. In short, evaluate all of your home systems.

Go through all the breakers in your electrical box and label them. Label the incoming and outgoing pipes, as well as the shut-off valves, for your water and sewer service. Taking a little bit of time now will make it much easier to diagnose and fix any problems that may arise in the future.

New Homeowner Tips - Gardening



If you have a lawn, you’ll need to purchase some lawn-care equipment or hire a landscaping service. Start researching lawn mowers and learn how to use a string trimmer. If you don’t have them already, acquire a rake, shovel, and some pruning tools, at the very least. If you decide to fertilize your lawn, you’ll want to purchase a spreader or hire someone for the job. Your new neighbors should have good references.

Related: Ultimate Lawn Care Guide—12 Steps to a Prize-Winning Yard

Utility Location
Before you start any new landscaping, call a utility location service to come mark where all your services are in the yard. You do NOT want to break a water main or cut off your electricity while you’re planting a tree or installing a fence. It’s worth making yourself a map to keep on file for reference in the future.

Yes, moving into your first home is a lot of work. But you’ll reap so many rewards—you’re building equity, lightening your tax load, and establishing roots in a community. With any luck, some of those new neighbors will become lifelong friends. Congrats, again, on your new home!

Hire a Photographer If You Want to Sell Your House

When it's time for you to sell, a professional real estate photographer can help make sure that your listing really stands out from the crowd.

Real Estate Photography Tips - Interior


You don’t think twice about commissioning professional photos of your children, right? Even if you don’t have any immediate plans to move, it’s wise and cost-effective to hire a real estate photographer. The reason is that in today’s real estate market, when so many house hunters are browsing image-laden listings online, better-quality photos attract more interest, helping you to sell your house more quickly and for a higher price than you might have gotten otherwise.

For advice, we reached out to Brian Balduf, CEO and founder of VHT Inc., a national firm that links homeowners with professionals who are skilled in the art of creating glamour shots of home exteriors and interiors. (If you’re curious about the economics here, know that VHT charges $100 to $500 for a portfolio.) There are many good reasons for commissioning professional real estate photography. Five especially opportune situations are listed below, along with one type of photo that, according to Balduf, should never be taken.

Completed renovations. Before the paint chips and the carpet frays in the home addition you’ve completed or in the kitchen you’ve remodeled, look into real estate photography as a way of capturing that project in its best possible light. Remember to snap your own “before” photos to highlight the improvements.

Real Estate Photography Tips - Exterior


Details and polish. Buyers want to see points of distinction up close. “What makes your house different from the one next door?” asks Balduf. “If you think it’s the fireplace, get high-quality shots of what makes it special.” In other words, identify your home’s selling points, then make sure the real estate photography emphasizes them.

Capture the best light. Even the best apps on the fanciest smartphone cannot match a photographer’s skill and expertise in correcting for deep shadows, fluorescent lighting, and miscellaneous other factors that typically compromise the work of an amateur. If there is a showcase room in your house that looks best at a certain time of day—late afternoon, for example—then schedule your appointment with the photographer during those hours.

Front and façade. Studies indicate that house hunters online pay the most attention to façade photos. The real estate photographer is very likely to understand that for a stunning shot of the exterior, it’s best not to capture a panorama of the nondescript driveway and unadorned garage door. “Obtuse angles often work best,” says Balduf.

Professional ambitions. If you’re considering a career (or a sideline gig) in real estate sales, home design, or property development, then you may be able to advance your career goals even as you source beautiful photos of your own home. Not only should you be sure to include these images in your professional portfolio, but you should also expand your network of contacts by hiring a different real estate photographer each time you complete a new renovation.

Finally, Balduf warns that there is one set of photographs a seller ought never to include in a real estate listing: unfinished remodeling projects. “You see what it could be,” he says, but house hunters see only what it isn’t.