I bought my first home in my late 20’s (Buying your first home). It was the biggest purchase that I made up to that point in my life. I was prepared for the financial responsibility of home ownership (being a banker and a budget hawk that I was) but I was totally clueless about the amount of home maintenance works that came along with the house.
To be truthful, I knew the house would require works because it was a very old house and it was looking quite nightmarish. Did I tell you? A family of 11 people lived in this sad looking and old bungalow for years before I bought it.
Still I was ecstatic because it was my first home. I finally became a grown up! But the glow of home ownership jubilation quickly wore off when the reality came crashing down. A water pipe in the bathroom leaked and I quickly realized that I lacked even the most basic skills needed to take care of my home. To make the matter worst, the darn thing decided to leak in one of the coldest night in December. I went to my bathroom before bed and found myself stood in a puddle of water. How did a tiny little pin-size leak from the water pipe caused this much chaos and damage? It wasn’t my night.
So, I rushed to the nearby Home Depot at 9PM and desperately asked for help from a very helpful Home Depot rep named Paul. Well, he did laugh hysterically for couple minutes when I told him that I used duct tape to “seal” the leak area. Then, he showed me a tape that plumbers typically use for a quick fix and patiently gave me a step by step guide of how to use it.
I learned 2 important things from this mini nightmare:
1- I was hopelessly ill-prepared to maintain the house on my own and
2- I need a good “home maintenance” ally
For years, I was accustomed to calling my landlord for every repair, but now I was the lady of my own run-down castle. And unlike the wealthy lord and lady, I couldn’t afford to hire someone to fix every little thing because it was very costly and I earned just enough to get by back then. Also, I find that a reliable contractor is hard to find. Much like dating, contractor can be very tricky to deal with. They are not always honest, dependable and their works can be very shoddy. Remind you of some blind dates, isn’t it? Yep, I think so too. Thus, it was best that I learned to do home repair if I could manage.
Here are my 4 tips for first time homeowners:
1 – Budget and more budgets
I can practically see you yawning. Here we go again. Karen’s never ending budget song. But hear me out. Even if you can do the repair by yourself (which kudos to you! well done), you will still need the moola to buy stuffs to fix your house. So, budget for the money that you will need for home maintenance work.
You can use the line of credit or credit card to cover the cost, but you will end up spending more. For example, your pipe busts and the repaid cost is $ 2000. If you have $2000 in the “house maintenance” budget then you will just be out of the $2000. Now, if you use your credit card with an average interest rate of 18% on a $2000 balance and assume that you can make a $250 per month payment. That will cost you $146.95 in interest payment and 9 months to clear this balance. Basically, your cost just goes up by 7.3%. The math doesn’t lie.
When I moved into my first run-down castle, I budgeted $2000 for annual house repair. I patted my back for being a responsible homeowner. Well, my home maintenance budget jumped out of the window to a painful death with the pipe leak and then a pipe bust in the first year. Seriously, the water god hated me! So, plan ahead and there are few things to keep in mind when you set your home maintenance budget:
- The age of the house. The older the house, the more up-keep it will need. You will need more moola to keep your home from becoming a run-down.
- Weather condition. All Canadians know that our roads are in constant repair due to our weather condition. Well, we have heatwaves in summer and “arctic freeze” in winter. I love my country, but not its weather. The weather condition will wear out the home at a quicker pace, so as Canadian homeowners we have to spend money to “winterize” our home.
- Previous house owner. Like I said, a family of 11 lived in a 2 bedroom bungalow. You can imagine the strain on the home structure. But if you are lucky enough to get a home from a responsible former homeowner who took good care of the property, then you may not have to spend a huge amount on maintenance.
There is no hard and fast rule on budget for house maintenance, but I encourage you to keep these above mentioned 3 factors in mind when you set your budget.
2 – DIY master
I didn’t know how to hold a hammer before (forgive me, I am a woman banker). But I now master the art of wall and ceiling plastering, hammering, minor repairs and painting. One of our first home renovation projects was my mom’s bedroom. My sister and I painted, re-faced the vinyl floor and assembled new Ikea furniture in 1 day. And we did it with pink colour tools! Yes, we did.
How did I learn to do all that in couple of months? Free home maintenance classes! Did I mention that I am a cheapskate? After my “free” correct tape to fix a pipe leak lesson, I became very friendly with Paul, my very helpful Home Depot guy. He told me to attend the workshops that Home Depot offered to customers at practically no cost.
These workshops offered practical, hand-on learning and the instructors were knowledgeable. Naturally, Home Depot hoped that I would end up buying their products to fix my home after attending their workshops. I knew there was a catch somewhere, but I needed the knowledge that they offered so I attended most of their workshop. I learn a great deal about home maintenance from these workshops and I continue to attend them throughout the years. By the way, Lowes also offers similar workshop if you are not a big fan of Home Depot. Most of the home hardware stores offer these workshops for same reason and they are low cost. So, if you want to learn from knowledgeable folks at a low cost, these types of workshops is a good learning option.
Another great source is the internet. Google and You Tube are my best friends. A lot of professionals and amateurs handy folks post videos and share their knowledge of home building and fixing. There are “hack” videos for practically anything that you can imagine. Although, there is one “hack” that YouTube contributors still don’t have is: How to hack a perfect husband. I am still looking for that video. Life can be so disappointing.
And I digest….These videos can be life saver when you are in a house fixing jam. I am a visual person, so videos are a great way for me to learn. I had more than couples of nail chips, arm soreness and bruises, but I saved a lot of money by fixing minor things around the house myself instead of hiring a contractor for the jobs. I am also a believer in knowledge gives you power. If you have the knowledge to deal with the unexpected, then you will less likely be stressed out when things break down in the house. Secondly, you will be more prepared and informed when you have to hire a contractor to do a job. I find that contractor is less likely to cheat (they will still try) when I demonstrate that I have knowledge about house building and maintenance.
Lastly, even the new build home will have break down and need minor maintenance works. So, the sooner you learn, the better it will be for you.
3 – Tools that you need for house fixing jam
To fix anything, you need proper tool. That was my first lesson in house fixing. Spend money on a dependable set of tools and you will not regret it. I arm myself with a few essential tools. Here is my set of home fixing tools:
- Phillips and straight-blade screwdrivers
- Utility knife
- Speed or combination square
- Channellock pliers
- Electrical pliers
- Electrical tester
- Circular saw or handsaw
- Battery drill, at least 18 Volts
- Set of high-speed drill bits
- Set of masonry bits
- Level tool
- Measuring tape
- Safety goggles
Now, if you don’t want to spend too much time shopping for these stuffs individually, then look to HomeDepot, Lowes and Amazon. They sell them in set. My personal favour is the WORKPRO 103 set selling on Amazon. They look so cute. Who say that practical tools can’t be pink and pretty? We should be able to look pretty when hammering away!
4 – Finding a house maintenance ally
Even with my new found knowledge on house maintenance and my set of very pretty pink tools, I still need a dependable contractor because some jobs were just too much for me to handle. A pipe leak is quite easy to deal with (well, since Paul told me that duct tape won’t hold the water leak forever) but when I wanted to renovate the kitchen, I needed professional help.
Seriously, finding a good contractor is hard. Like finding a good husband, you do the research but still hope for the best when you pick them. I never had to find a contractor before so where could I start? Feeling hopeless, I turned to my trusted Home Depot “friend” Paul, and he did not disappoint. Working at Home Depot for years meant that Paul knew lot of contractors who brought supplies from the store. He also had tons of homeowner feedback on the contractors so he was my information man.
Thru my helpful Home Depot guy, I got a few “trustworthy” contractors and I met with them. I went with my gut instinct in addition to Paul’s helpful suggestions. I picked my handyman ally. I got lucky and it worked out well. My handyman is a great guy. Though he is not always on time, but he is honest and always tries to find ways to help me save a buck. He is my kind of guy and I call him my house fixing ally. As a homeowner, it is good idea to have a handyman or woman that you can count on. You will never know when something will break (they don’t have much of warning bell) so, it is very important to have someone you can trust and count on. You don’t want to look up Angieslist or Homeadvisor when something breaks down. Be prepared!
My last thoughts….
Home ownership is a great thing. Our home is the biggest investment that most of us will have aside from children (Yep, they definitely will cost you a lot more money, care and sleepless nights). I digress again. For most of us, our house is the biggest piece in our net worth pie and so it is worth our effort to maintain this investment well. Granted, we can’t all the handy man or woman but it necessary for all homeowner to acquire some knowledge about house maintenance. In addition to tools that you will need to deal with emergency break down in the house; get yourself a reliable contractor. A house ally man or woman whom you can depend on for the bigger job that you will have. I wish you all the best in your home ownership journey. Write to us. We love to hear from you.