You bought the house and secured the keys. Now what?
Real estate expert Sid Davis says maintenance crises, financial demands and renovation disasters can become overwhelming to inexperienced property owners. "They were renters before, so whenever they had a problem, the landlord or supervisor would come by and fix things," says Davis, who wrote "The First-Time Homeowner's Survival Guide" ($16, Amacom, 2007). "Now they are on their own."
1. Act now to save later
Pull out the home-inspection report and reread it. Use the report as a handy maintenance checklist.
Most inspections take place during a stressful time when the buyer's main concern is closing the deal, Davis says. "A lot of small problems tend to be overlooked and dismissed," he says, "but in time they grow to bigger problems that can max out your credit card."
One of Davis' real estate clients watched for three months as a water stain crept across his ceiling. Then one night while the man was eating supper, the entire ceiling collapsed. The lesson: Be proactive. Take care of issues as soon as or before they arise.
2. Know thy enemy
"Water is 90 percent of a homeowner's problems," Davis says. A home's basement, foundation and roof are the most susceptible to costly water damage.
Inspect bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens regularly for water leaks. The fix can be as simple as tightening a nut. Caulk around doors and windows to prevent water from seeping into the walls. Outside, keep water routed at least 5 feet from the foundation.
Maintaining a home's gutter system is a major line of defense against water damage. Leaves, dust and dirt from shingles can result in a clog that forces water out and down into the foundation. Use a ladder and a water hose to clean out the gutters regularly, and make sure they drain properly.
Wade Williamson, owner of Axium Inspections in Denver, says many homes he sees have missing downspout extensions. Inspectors suggest checking a new home's landscaping to make sure the slope of soil and sod doesn't push water toward the house. Always turn sprinkler heads away from the house.
3. Heads up
Roofs should be next on the maintenance checklist. If a roof is more than 12 years old, get it professionally inspected, experts say.
A homeowner should avoid climbing on the roof. Shingles can break, or a person can get hurt. Instead, use binoculars to check for broken shingles and spots where the mineral coating has worn off, curled up or is getting brittle. To avoid leaks, make sure that flashings are intact and not getting flaky or deteriorated.
4. Circuit party
Map out the home's electrical system by determining which outlets serve which circuits and then labeling the breakers. Don't trust that the previous homeowner labeled the circuits properly.
A tripped circuit is a red flag for an overloaded breaker. Read appliance labels to figure out how many amps (electrical current) each one draws.
Many household circuits can have only 15 amps. Update electrical wiring in homes 10 years or older.