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How to Make the Most of Your First Year of Homeownership

Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions that most of us will ever make — and one of the most exciting! After weeks of searching through properties, calling and emailing with your agent, making an offer, and navigating the whirlwind that is closing, you’ve sealed the deal on your new home. 

Now it’s time to enjoy all the wonderful benefits that come with owning a home while taking some simple steps to make the most of your investment and set yourself up for long-term success.

The first year of living in a new home is sure to be a thrilling time, especially if you’re a first time homeowner. It’s important to go in knowing what to expect, and how to prepare.

Here are some important steps that new homeowners can take in their first year to get as much as possible out of their new home, while making the transition smarter and more seamless at every step of the way:

Make the Space Yours

This is your home — make it yours! The first few months in a new space are a great opportunity to personalize it for your comfort and safety. Change the locks, bring in your furniture and decor, and make small changes and repairs right away — such as checking and replacing your alarms, replacing hardware on doors, and painting. Take some time to deep clean inside and around the home’s major appliances, as well as the closets and pantries. 

But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Many home experts will encourage you to take some time to settle in before taking on larger projects. Give yourself some time to get to know your new space, and get a handle on your budget. How do you use the space? What do you really need to do to make the space more functional?

Purchase What You Need

A new home often comes with more space, indoors and out. Before you move and as you start to settle in, take an inventory of what you’ll need to buy. 

For example, if you’re purchasing a home that comes with a lawn or garden, you may need to invest in gardening tools, a lawn mower, and other outdoor equipment that you don’t already have on hand. Transitioning from a rented apartment to a condo? You may need to purchase a toolkit, now that you won’t be able to call up your landlord for minor fixes. Upgrading from one bath to two? Make sure you have enough mats, shower curtains, and other essentials for each bathroom space.

Get a Handle On Your Utilities

One thing not to overlook in the hustle and bustle of moving is your utilities, including water, gas, electricity, cable, and so on. Make sure to transfer your accounts and billing over to your new address, or activate and set-up accounts for any utilities that you’re not already paying for. 

In your first several months, have your home’s systems inspected and serviced by a professional, including your HVAC and plumbing. 

Change out your home’s filters, and make sure that you know exactly where your new home’s water shut-off valves and electrical panels are, in case of an emergency. 

At the same time, keep in mind that your utility bills may go up if you’re upsizing into a larger space. Take some time to think about your budget. You may be able to work with your service providers to explore payment options, estimate your future usage, and set up a billing system that works for you. You can also take some simple steps to control your power and water usage, especially during the winter and summer seasons. 

Plan for New Expenses

After making your downpayment, handling closing costs, and paying for all of the expenses involved with moving, it’s very common for your first few months in a new home to be a relatively tight time financially.  

Meanwhile, first-time homeowners should expect new expenses to come up as they hunker down in their new home — including common costs such as home insurance, property taxes, utilities, maintenance, loan payments, and HOA fees. These new bills can be intimidating, but they don’t have to hold you back from enjoying your new home.

As you move forward with your transaction, talk with your real estate agent about new costs you can expect in your new home. Go over your expenses and set a realistic budget, including saving for unexpected emergencies. Create a system for remembering the dates when all your payments are due, so that you can get in the swing of things more quickly. This might include setting up reminders on your phone, or writing out billing dates on a paper calendar. 

Keep track of receipts, and organize your documents and paperwork such as insurance records and information from your loan servicer. If you could use a helping hand figuring out how to manage your expenses or prepare for tax time, consider bringing on a financial advisor or accountant to offer some professional guidance. 

Create Your Five-Year Plan

What does your future hold? While nobody can ever know the answer for sure, a big life transition like buying your own home can be a great time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you would like to go. 

After you’ve spent some time in your new space, you can begin to prioritize future upgrades and renovation projects. Create a realistic timeline for when and how you want to tackle home projects moving forward. Give yourself some time to get to know the house, and how it functions. For instance, you might find that you don’t actually want to change out the bathroom tile or knock down that wall after living with them for a few months.

Meanwhile, think about your life goals in the short-term, and how your new home might play into your plans and ambitions. For example, if you want to start your own business within two years, you might benefit from creating a dedicated home office where you can focus on work. If you are planning to have kids, it may be important to start figuring out the timeline for setting up a nursery. Buying a home may also be a great time to think about other big steps, like researching life insurance policies or revising your estate plan. Look for local professionals who can help you understand how your new home fits into your big picture. 

Enjoy Your Time at Home

It’s easy to get overwhelmed handling all the little things that come up in your new home. Don’t forget to take some time to really enjoy your new space! Host a housewarming party — which you can easily do online during COVID-19. Watch a move in your new living room. Unwind on your new patio or porch. Take advantage of your new space to start a hobby you’ve always dreamed about, whether that means baking up something amazing in the kitchen, tending to your yard, or learning a new instrument. 

You’ve earned the chance to enjoy yourself. Savor the little moments — and all the joys that come with being a Chicagoland homeowner!

We’re Your Real Estate Team for the Long Haul

Buying a home is a big deal — and you want the very best helping you move forward. That’s exactly what our One-Stop Shop provides.

At Baird & Warner, Key Mortgage, and Baird & Warner Title Services, we know our jobs aren’t over when you walk away from the closing table. Our One-Stop Shop is your real estate team for life. That means keeping you in the loop about any changes in the market that could help you whenever you’re ready to buy or sell again, while also helping you find ways to make the most of your investment and save money.