The housing market is tough right now, but you’ve finally managed to close on your dream Victorian in a town, open floor plan home in a development or farmhouse in the country.
Now what? Break out the paint cans and get a contractor on speed dial?
Slow down. Experts say there are a few precautions that should be among the first things new homeowners take care of.
Realtor John Brown was a little disconcerted when a stranger knocked on his door a year after he’d moved into a new home and handed him a spare key. It turned out to be a former dog sitter who’d had the key for about three years, he said.
“My first suggestion (for new homeowners) is really change the locks,” said Brown, broker/owner of Coldwell Banker Faith Properties in Utica. “I know that sounds crazy, but you never know who’s got keys to the past property. There could have been contractors working on it. … You never know. Keys are out there.”
Look online and Brown’s advice is repeatedly echoed on lists of tips for new homeowners as a common-sense way to avoid unwanted visitors and worse.
Physical safety of the house, its systems and appliances should also be a top priority for newly minted homeowners, experts stress.
If you’ve had a home inspection, start fixing any problems the inspector found that the seller didn’t fix for you before the sale, said Joshua Amodio of Priceless Inspections LLC in Utica. Also address any maintenance recommended in the inspection report, he said.
But given the competitiveness of the market right now, which favors sellers, many home owners are now agreeing to purchase homes without a home inspection, hoping to make their bid more competitive, Brown said.
It’s a risk.
“They don’t know what they bought,” said Robert Aldi, of Aldi Home Inspections in New Hartford. “And unfortunately, in many homes, there are safety issues. For instance, when I perform an inspection, I check for gas leaks. And I find them.”
Homeowners who didn’t get a pre-closing home inspection might want to consider getting one after closing, Aldi and Amodio agreed.
Aldi said he’s seen houses with all kinds of electrical wiring problems, some of them hazardous, furnaces and hot water heaters with lots of rust or leaks; attics with mold; and renovations that removed a support wall or support column in the basement.
“For a little bit of money, it might be worth it to understand (your new house),” Aldi said. “As these issues get progressively worse over time, the costs go up.”
And sometimes undetected problems can be dangerous. Amodio once inspected a house with an improperly vented gas water heater, he said. He was very ill that evening, probably with a minor case of carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.
Most homes do not harbor life-threatening emergencies, he noted, but it’s best to know for sure about things like the condition of the roof, the age of appliances and hidden mold, he said.
“It’s peace of mind when you have a home inspection completed on your home,” Amodio said.
Here’s some other advice Brown, Aldi and Amodio had for brand new homeowners:
- Do a radon test if you didn’t get one before you moved in. Radon is prevalent in Central New York and can cause long-term health problems, but can’t be detected without a test. Hardware stores sell home test kits.
- Contact your local assessor to find out if you qualify for a STAR exemption, which provides a big reduction in school taxes.
- Before you start tackling your list of renovations and home improvements, talk to your Realtor about which improvements will increase your home’s value and which you would do for your own satisfaction without an eventual payoff.
- Have your power company do an energy audit of your home, especially if this is your first home. You’ll find out how you can make your home more comfortable while saving money on your heating bill.
- Get your furnace serviced and cleaned, especially if it’s an older one. And if you have forced hot air heating, be sure to at least change the filter, which could be full of allergy triggers.
- Make sure there are smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, with working batteries, on every level of the home. Replace older alarms, perhaps older than about eight years.
- Stock the house with a fire extinguisher or some other kind of fire suppressant.
- Test for lead paint if you bought a home built before 1978 and a home inspector didn’t already look for it. Don’t sand painted surfaces or do anything else disruptive until you’re sure it’s not lead paint.
Amy Roth is the health and education reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Amy Roth at [email protected].