Congratulations! You’ve weathered the storm that follows the homebuying process, from tracking down that perfect house and crossing fingers and toes that the seller will accept your offer to getting your credit in order and navigating the mortgage process.
If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you probably think that now you can simply put the keys in the lock, unpack, take a load off, relax and survey your kingdom. Well, not so fast. Sure, the tough part is behind you, but before you settle in with your family, there’s a bit more work to be done to make the house securely yours.
Here’s a list of some tasks you’ll want to undertake before you can start decorating or firing up the grill.
- Change the locks
Do this immediately because security is paramount. You don’t know who has a set of the former owner’s keys or how many keys are hidden under flowerpots and rocks around the property. You don’t want their dog sitter or housecleaner to have keys to your new home either. You can arrange for a locksmith to meet you at the home after closing, or you can do it yourself if you’re DIY-inclined. If you want to tackle the job and you’re not an expert, then make it easy on yourself by purchasing locks that are the same make and from the same manufacturer as the existing locks. That way, either a flat or Phillips head screwdriver should be all you need from the toolbox.
- Reset garage door keypad
If you have a garage door opener that includes a keypad, you’ll need to change the code. These are usually mounted on the side of the garage door and come with a flip-top cover to keep the controls free of debris. Note that most of these require batteries, so you’ll want to install fresh batteries.
- Transfer the alarm service
If your new home comes with an alarm system, the former owners gave you the codes, but you’ll need to transfer the service in your name and come up with your own codes.
- Put the video doorbell in your name
If your home came with a handy video doorbell, whether it’s a Ring or another brand, you’ll want to make sure that the previous owners have removed the device from their account and that they haven’t simply deleted the app. As the new homeowner, you’ll have to download the device app, connect the device to your Wi-Fi and create a new account. The company websites offer directions on how to transfer services.
- Test your detectors
No doubt, the home inspector tested the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they were in working order. However, chances are that the former owners didn’t go to the trouble of putting in fresh batteries for you. So, to be extra safe, test the detectors and replace the batteries. Safety experts recommend checking and changing the batteries in your detectors every six months.
- Get fire extinguishers
If you have a two-story house, buy one for each level and another for the garage. Think about the combustibles – paint and flammable chemicals – you store in the garage. Definitely put a fire extinguisher in there. Note that most fire extinguishers can only be stored at temperatures that fall between -40 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in extreme climates, then place the “garage” fire extinguisher inside your home, near the garage entrance. In most houses, that’s usually a laundry or mudroom. Keep an extinguisher in the kitchen. Make sure all family members know how to use it.
- Locate your circuit-breaker box
Also called the service or electrical panel, the circuit-breaker box is often installed in the laundry room, basement, or garage. Introduce this box to your whole family because it’s essential for all household members (who are old enough) to know how to reset a circuit that’s been tripped. If your circuit breaker switches aren’t already labeled, and many are not, then test and label them. When your toaster won’t pop, you’ll get to your breakfast much quicker if you simply have to flip the switched marked “kitchen” rather than trying to figure out which one goes to which room.
- Locate the main water shut-off valve
Again, make this a family affair and a priority when moving into a new home. If there’s a plumbing emergency, everyone who’s able should know to turn off the main water supply – not just the specific valves to the sinks, toilets, and the washing machine, which are located near the plumbing and should be turned clockwise to shut off the water. Unfortunately, the main water shut-off valve could be found in various places. In a basement, it could be on an interior wall near the front of the house where the water comes in from the water meter. If you have a garage, look on a wall near an exterior faucet.
In some cases, the main water shut-off valve is located outside near the street at the end of your property. You might see a removable metal cover that says “water.” You can easily pry it off, but to turn the water on and off, you might need a meter key available at most hardware stores.
If you’re unable to find the main shut-off valve, check your property inspection report, which should show where the valve is located. And if that doesn’t work, call a plumber, phone the water company, or introduce yourself to one of your new neighbors.
- Locate the gas supply to the house
Chances are, you won’t ever have to turn off the gas supply to your house, but you should know how just in case. Your gas meter is most likely sitting on the side of your home, outside of your fence. It’s usually a gray metal box with pipes running from it. You’ll need a wrench to open and close the valves. However, you can buy a small, lightweight wrench-shaped metal key to hang on your meter. That way, if there’s ever an emergency and you need to turn off the gas immediately, you won’t have to worry about locating a wrench. The gas valve is on when it’s parallel to the incoming gas line. To stop the gas flow, give the valve a quarter-turn so that it is perpendicular to the gas line. Now the gas line is closed, and the flow of gas stops.
Just as your individual plumbing fixtures have their own water shut-off valves, so do your natural gas appliances. If, for example, you have a gas stove, look in the cabinet next to it, and you’ll likely find a flexible yellow line with a gas shut-off valve. Rotate the valve a quarter turn to cut off the gas supply to that appliance. The method is the same for a gas water heater or an outdoor grill. As a homeowner, the only time you’ll ever need to turn off the gas is if you’re replacing an appliance or you smell gas.