Jennifer just closed on her very first home, a cornflower blue and white bungalow with a big front porch on a tidy cul de sac. She’s ecstatic as she thanks her Realtor for all his help, he opens the lockbox from her home for the very last time and gives her the key. Her key to her own house. After work, Jennifer loads up her car with some small items to take over to her new place. Her mind is racing. Is she really ready to be a homeowner? Her parents always seemed to know how to fix things and who to call if there was a problem they couldn’t handle — everything just seemed like it came to them naturally. How did they know all this stuff? How was she going to learn it all at once?
A House is a Complicated Organism, There’s Lots to Know
It’s true that there’s a lot to know about your house, but much of that information comes with time and experience. Other details were either disclosed as part of your purchase agreement or were part of your home inspection. The problem is that there’s so much information flying at you during your purchase period that it’s often easy to miss things, especially if someone isn’t putting a fine point on the details that you feel you need most. Simple things like how to use your gas fireplace are questions you might have wanted an answer to, but you might have forgotten to ask in the flurry of activity. Here are a few other common questions that are often assumed you already know the answers to or that you can figure out on your own:
What happened to the garage door remote or extra keys? It’s common practice for Realtors to stash extra keys and door openers in kitchen drawers or cabinets, so check there before making a frantic call to your agent. There’s always a chance that they’re still trying to get these devices for you from the former owner, but either way rest assured that getting all the keys and openers is an item on their checklist, too.
Does anyone else have keys to my house or codes to my security system or garage door? The truth is that there’s no way to know if the former owner has any keys floating around in the wild or if they’ve given any codes out. They obviously know the codes they set, so it’s always a good idea to have the locks rekeyed by a professional locksmith and your garage door and security codes reset.
Where do I find the furnace filter to change it? Furnace filters on a forced air system are usually in one of two places: either within the furnace itself or held fast to the inside of the cold air return. The cold air return will usually be in the ceiling, so it’s pretty easy to spot. In most homes, it’s also the largest vent you’ll find. However, in homes that were built before central heat and air were common, you may find that you have more than one place to put a filter — make sure to replace all of these smaller filters at the same time. If your furnace filter is inside the furnace, just flip the small door on the furnace open and you’ll see the edge of the filter and be able to nab it.
Where’s the breaker box? Again, this will depend largely on the age of your home, but common breaker box locations are: inside an attached garage, in a secondary bedroom closet and in a utility room. If you still can’t find your breaker box, go outside and look for your electric meter. Your breaker box should be nearby, either on the outside of the house in a waterproof box or on the opposite side of the wall inside.
Where’s the attic access? If you’ve been through your house and still can’t find the attic access, you’ll want to start looking inside closets. For a while this was a really popular place to construct attic accesses. Other spots to look include your garage and, in rare situations, on the outside of the house if there’s a flat roof or upstairs porch that could allow safe access. If you still can’t find it, call your home inspector, they’ll have a record of where the attic door was located.
How do I use my climate control equipment? A basic thermostat is pretty simple to use, you choose heat or cool and set the temperature you want. But if you’ve inherited a fancy pants programmable thermostat — or worse (but kind of better) — a Nest or similarly next gen thermostat, things can get pretty hairy. Your agent may have glossed over it because they don’t actually know how to work it themselves. The good news is that you can easily find manuals for just about anything within the HomeKeepr app!
What day does the trash run? Trash collection is handled in many different ways, depending on where you live, even changing from neighborhood to neighborhood. If you haven’t already established trash collection and have no idea who to call, there may be a bin left behind by the former owners to clue you in on where to start. If not, this is definitely a good time to call your agent. They will always provide you with service after the sale, for a lifetime, so don’t hesitate to ask questions like this when you truly need help.
Who do I contact at my HOA with complaints? The paperwork package you got at closing will have all sorts of documents in it, from your mortgage agreement to your HUD-1 and the details of your Homeowner Association agreement. You should have a list of current officers, as well as rules and information on how to initiate a complaint if there’s a violation in progress. Keep those complaints to a minimum, though. You don’t want to be that guy in the neighborhood who gets a reputation for raising a ruckus because someone leaves their trash can at the curb for an hour too long.
How do I use my home warranty? When you get a home warranty with a house, it’s kind of like taking out an insurance policy. You get a little bit of information at closing, so there should be a flyer or something similar in your closing package, but a few days after you move in you’ll also get a big envelope full of details about what coverage you actually bought. If you need to use your home warranty before that package comes, call the number on the flyer and the friendly folks at your home warranty company will help you through it.
… But You Don’t Have to Know It All Today
Jennifer was seriously stressed when she realized how little she knew about her new house, but as she looked around and took the whole place in, she started to feel a lot better. Owning a house, she realized, was a learning experience. She didn’t have to know everything the first day, she’d figure stuff out as she