10 Improvements to make in your new home in the first year of homeownership

You’ve found the perfect house for your family to call a home for years to come, but did you know there are a few more things for you do to? Experts share the top 10 home improvements new homeowners can and should do in the first year in a new house.

Well, the most stressful parts of buying a house are over, from filling out piles of paperwork to packing (and unpacking). But there’s still some settling-in work that needs to be done to make your house feel like a home. We’re talking about more than just hanging pictures or finding a place for everything.

You received the keys to your new house at the closing, but do you know how many people have copies?

Changing the locks should be one of the first things you do after moving in, according to Anthony Marino, a licensed associate real estate broker based in southwest and downtown Brooklyn. “You would be surprised how many people don’t change the locks. They get the key at closing and think it’s the only copy, but meanwhile the previous family had five kids and everyone’s got keys,” he says.

It’s often necessary to have insurance in place even before making your home purchase. Many banks require new homeowners to roll their mortgage, insurance, and taxes into one payment each month. After about six months, once you’re comfortable and have gotten to know your house, it’s a good idea to take another look at your policy. “If you need to change things throughout the year—maybe you got too much or too little coverage—then go back to the insurance company and tell them what you need, and they should be able to work with you,” Marino says.

You have a new address now, so make sure you officially change it. Updating your address on your driver’s license through the DMV is a good first step to help streamline your mail service, but Marino recommends contacting utility and other service companies directly to let them know where you now live. “They don’t care who’s on the bill. They only care if someone is paying it,” Marino says. “And if it’s not paid, they will turn off your gas, they’ll turn off your electric, and you’ll be responsible for it and not even know.”

A well-built, fully functional, and structurally safe house is no doubt important, but many new homeowners choose to renovate the two most lived-in rooms: the kitchen and bathroom. “It’s one of the first things people do, even if the house is move-in ready,” Marino says. “I’ve seen people take a perfectly good kitchen and renovate it. It’s all about taste.”

If you purchased a carpet-lined house, you might consider pulling it up. Not only is hardwood flooring a popular trend, it can also be healthier and cleaner. Carpets can hold allergens and dirt you can’t see, according to Tommy Meyers, a flooring technician based in Middletown. “It might look clean on the surface, but things like animal urine and spilled drinks will soak into padding like a sponge,” Meyers says. “Steam cleaning won’t work either—it only cleans the surface and looks good for about a week. As people walk on it, the carpet begins to soak up dirt from the padding.”

Banks don’t require you to get a home inspection when taking out a mortgage, but it’s a good idea to get one so you know what problems exist before you purchase the house. Roofing is very important to look at, according to Meyers. “An inspector can climb on the roof to look for leaks and check to see how good the shingles are. They’ll go in the attic and check for water damage,” he says.

If your inspection report comes back showing problems with the roof, improvement costs can be negotiated before you make the purchase. Just be sure to fix the problems either before or as soon as possible after moving in so they don’t get worse or cause catastrophic damage.

If your new home came with a clothes dryer, be sure to clean out its lint screens and ducts. This not only freshens it up, it saves you money and prevents a fire from occurring. Each year, 2,900 clothes-dryer fires are reported and cause an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is also good reason to clean your dryer’s lint screen before and after every load of laundry. Lint can build up behind the dryer, so check there too.

A house with curb appeal is nice to come home to every day. Depending on how big your property is, you can either stock up on the equipment you need to care for your yard, or research a reputable landscaping company in the area. Ask your new neighbors what landscapers they recommend. This could also be a good time to make friends in the neighborhood, which brings us to the last item on our list.

After most of your first-year work is done, it might be fun to kick back and celebrate. Hosting a house-warming party is a great way to get to know your neighbors. “These are people you will possibly be spending the next 30 years of your life living next to. Get to know them, get to know the restaurants and local businesses,” Marino says.

Maintaining and updating your house over the years is a rewarding experience, and a great way to help build home equity. As most real estate experts will say, a home should always be gaining value, and that’s something to take pride in after putting in much work and care over the years.