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Originally published Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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10 things every new homeowner should know

You bought the house and secured the keys. Now what? Real-estate experts offer advice to first-time buyers.

The Denver Post

More expert advice

SOME POTENTIAL homeowner pitfalls are related to things other than maintenance. Here is some additional advice to ensure that new owners remain comfortable in their digs:

Make nice with neighbors: Develop good relations with neighbors from the get-go. Introduce yourself; help carry groceries; invite them to a housewarming or open house. "It's not only fun, but will stand you in good stead later when you need someone to bring in the newspaper when you're away or you need the neighbors' cooperation with your remodeling plans," says Ilona Bray, co-author of "NOLO's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home" ($25, Business & Economics).

If you buy it, they will come: Be aware that after buying a home, owners fall into a new credit class, making them more susceptible to solicitations. "If you aren't prepared for the flood of phone calls and advertisements in the mail, it can be overwhelming," says Zachary Urban, with Brothers Redevelopment in Denver. Solicitors buy lists of new homeowner from title companies and nearby stores. They also watch public records.

Considering refinancing? Use this equation from Sid Davis to see if the deal will be beneficial: Subtract the payment you have now from the new payment you would have under the refinance terms. Then divide that number into closing costs. If it will take more than three or four years to cover the closing costs, it's probably not a good deal.

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."

Davis, real-estate inspectors and other property experts were interviewed to glean these 10 tips for new homeowners:

Act now, save later

1.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 dinner, the entire ceiling collapsed. The lesson: Be proactive. Take care of issues as soon as or before they arise.

Know your enemy

2."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 and corrosion.

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.

Remember the roof

3.Roofs should be next on the maintenance checklist. If a roof is more than 12 years old, get it professionally inspected.

A homeowner should avoid climbing on the roof to avoid getting hurt or breaking shingles. 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.

Take charge of circuits

4.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.

Make sure GFCI outlets (ground fault circuit interrupters) are installed near all sinks, in the laundry room and garage, and on exterior outlets. This inexpensive fix — hire an electrician — helps prevent electrocutions and fires.

Tighten screws on outlet covers and replace missing ones. Never use extension cords in place of permanent wiring.

Know your shut-offs

5. The main electrical shut-off should be a switch either at the main breaker panel or outside near a service entrance.

The water shut-off valve will be on a wall of the house facing the street. These areas need to be easily accessible.

Check for leaks

6. Inspect all plumbing and fixtures. Make sure the shut-off valves on toilets and sinks turn easily and are not rusted shut. If they are corroded, replace them.

If the faucet is leaking, then it needs a washer. Take the faucet, washer or stem along to the hardware store to match it.

If a toilet runs all the time, a flapper valve needs replacing. Have slow drains looked at immediately to prevent costly backups.

Consider warranties

7. Sid Davis warns homeowners that warranties can be just as pricey as actually replacing faulty appliances. However, real-estate coach Jason Hanson, author of "How to Build a Real Estate Empire" ($25, Foundations of Wealth), says warranties can provide peace of mind.

When appliances break down, Hanson says, homeowners can use the warranty instead of searching for reputable repair companies.

Buy, update insurance

8. Get "replacement coverage" to cover property damage. Make sure the policy outlines in writing exactly what will be covered in case of a catastrophe. Videotape or photograph all valuables, keep a list of serial numbers and write down the date an item was purchased for possible reimbursement proof.

Also, track all home improvements by saving receipts and records to help avoid capital-gains taxes when you sell the home.

Buy a flood policy

9. Get flood insurance even if your home isn't near a flood zone. Forty percent of flood claims are made by homeowners in nonflood areas, according to Davis.

A heavy rainstorm, improper drainage and runoff from road or subdivision construction can funnel water into the home.

Do your homework

10. Compare property taxes with similar homes' taxes in the neighborhood. If all things are equal (i.e. square footage and upgrades) in multiple-listing service documents, protest your rate increase with the assessor's office.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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