7 Home-Maintenance Rules to Live By

published Sep 14, 2022
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Buying a home comes with a ton of perks. Financial benefits aside, you now have your own garage for tackling DIY projects, your own backyard for hosting barbecues and planting a garden, and maybe even your own basement for practicing yoga or lifting weights. But all these new, exciting private spaces also come with one potential downside, depending on how you look at it: Maintenance and upkeep. 

Going from a teeny tiny apartment or a room in a shared house to your own home can be freeing. So much space! So much privacy! So little time! But between work, school, social obligations, and other general life stuff, how the heck do homeowners manage to maintain an entire home and yard?

We asked a handful of real estate agents to share their tips and advice for upkeeping a house. With these maintenance commandments as your guide, you’re sure to have a smooth transition from renter to homeowner.

Adjust Your Mindset

As a renter, you were accustomed to shooting off a quick text or calling your landlord when something broke down in your unit. But as a homeowner, this simply isn’t an option.

Instead, from the moment you sign the closing papers, try to adopt a problem-solving mindset, says Cameron Miller, a real estate agent in Toronto. Whether you plan to fix that leaky toilet yourself (thanks, YouTube!) or hire a landscaping company to mow your lawn once a week, this subtle mindset shift can help.

“Even the simple task of finding a person to take care of maintenance concerns on your behalf requires problem-solving skills,” he says. “How do you find the right people to perform the necessary maintenance service? How do you determine or evaluate their costs? Is the maintenance problem you are currently facing something that really requires outside services in the first place?”

Know When To Call in a Pro

On a related note, recognize your own limits as a handyperson. If you trust yourself with a weed wacker, then by all means, go ahead and start whacking. But if you’re totally confused by plumbing or you have a fear of heights that will prevent you from cleaning out the gutters, know that it’s OK to ask for help — this doesn’t make you any less of a responsible, home-owning adult. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Hiring a professional can save you time and, often, money in the long run.

Another important note: always, always work with a professional when you’re tackling a project that has the potential to be unsafe or dangerous (to you, your guests, and the home’s future occupants).

“We tell our buyers that anything that could potentially be a safety concern for them or their family should be handled by a professional,” says Debbie Remington, a real estate agent in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “If it’s an electrical issue, for instance, contact an electrician. If a water leak occurs, you may need to reach out to a licensed plumber.”

Credit: Diana Liang

Save, Save, Save

You’ve heard the oft-repeated financial advice that you should save three to six months’ salary for a rainy day. Well, your house needs an emergency fund, too.

Once you get over the financial shock of handing over your down payment, start putting aside money for house maintenance and emergency repairs.

“I have told my first-time homebuyers that so long as they can save 20 percent of their monthly house payment, they will be fine,” says Chuck Vander Stelt, a real estate agent in Indiana. “On homes less than 10 years old, those that have had major rehabs, or have a notably higher monthly payment, I sometimes say 10 to 15 percent. If you have a $1,000 per month house payment, you should be saving $200 per month for a rainy day. And it will rain.”

Get on a Schedule

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the upkeep and maintenance your house requires, create your own seasonal task list. You don’t have to do everything at once.

“Create a schedule to remember to change the air filter in your furnace and air conditioners, clear gutters of leaves, remove any moss from the roof so water doesn’t creep under shingles, and prune trees and bushes so they are several inches away from the house to keep pests at bay,” says Patricia Matus, a real estate agent in New York. “Also, have furnaces professionally serviced yearly, have chimneys inspected and cleaned yearly, and pump septic tanks every four to six years.”

Don’t Skip Out

Remember that this routine maintenance is really an insurance policy to help stave off larger, more expensive problems from cropping up down the line. Make time for routine maintenance — or at least spend some time checking things out — even if it feels like overkill. You’ll thank yourself later.

“Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish,” says Chris Totaro, a real estate agent in New York. “Something may cost a few dollars to fix today, but if neglected, it could cost significantly more as the damage gets worse.”

Keep a Log Book

As soon as you move into your home, start tracking your maintenance tasks in a notebook, online, or on your phone. Make note of what you did, when you did it, the professional you hired to help, and any other relevant details. 

Not only will this help you keep track of what’s what, maintenance-wise, while you’re living in the house, but it will also come in handy when you list the house for sale — prospective buyers love to know details like the age of the roof or when the HVAC system was last serviced.

“Keep a house maintenance log — it’s easy to forget all the things you’ve done,” says Leslie Glazier, a real estate agent in Chicago.

Buy With Maintenance in Mind

Maintenance and upkeep should be top of mind even before you sign on the dotted line at closing. If you don’t have the time to take care of a sprawling lawn, look into homes with patios. If you don’t want to be responsible for shoveling snow in the winter, find a property with a robust HOA. If you don’t want to worry about things breaking down in an older house, go for a new or newly renovated property. You won’t ever find a totally maintenance-free home, but you can help set yourself up for success when you decide which home to purchase.

And, similarly, as you work with your lender and real estate agent to determine your budget, be sure to give yourself a cushion for regular home maintenance costs right from the start. Can you afford to set aside money every month for maintenance, on top of the mortgage payment? If not, future homeowners may need to “adjust their purchase price targets downward to allow for this safety net,” says Ian Katz, a real estate broker in New York City.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: The 7 Commandments of Upkeeping a House, According to Real Estate Agents