What essential skills should every new homeowner have?


Despite slight wavering, the housing market is showing generally positive growth. The Washington Post recently reported a 2.1 percent growth in US home sales and home improvement giants like Lowes are showing increased revenue.

More families are starting to feel confident about purchasing their first homes, moving away from a lifetime of rentals and committing to a long term residence. It’s a transition that, for many, is a major accomplishment. But that transition also comes with its fair share of anxiety. Once you’ve signed your name on the lease, the home is your responsibility and making sure it doesn’t fall apart around you can seem like a monumental task.

Why We’re Asking:

Before teens get their driver’s license, many parents make sure they know how to check the oil or change the tire, but the same mindset isn’t always true for new homeowners. A little bit of know-how can go a long way to save money and prevent small problems from becoming big disasters, like knowing how to shut off the water valve on a leaking toilet or cutting electricity to a furnace on the fritz. To help educate homeowner rookies, we’re turning to our panel of home improvement experts.

So experts, it’s time to weigh in:

What Essential Skills Should Every New Homeowner Have?

What should a homeowner know about plumbing, electricity, design, roofing, or eco-friendly practices? What basic tools should they have to carry out these basic skills?
Are there classes either in-person or online that you recommend all new homeowners enroll in?

We look forward to learning more about home ownership from our experts. Check back next week to see what they have to say!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. One of the things I do is prepare a Homeowner Maintenance Manual. It includes warranty information, repair and service providers, annual or lifetime maintenance requirements and overall information on the lifespan expectancy of their home improvements if they are cared for to the manufacturer’s specification.

    Knowing that information is essential in adding to the overall sustainability and lifetime of a home. The largest obstacle in overcoming issues, preventing call backs and failures of products is in educating and training homeowners in what they must and should do to reduce costs and enhance products lifespan. An easy guide is all one needs for the home and can be done by Contractors, Consultants, Designers or any Trade Professional. It also is a great marketing tool.

    • Hi Tanya,

      Thanks for the comment! Is the Homeowner Maintenance Manual something that you do for all of your clients as an additional benefit of your services? Also, is it just a folder/binder containing the documents that come with appliances, or do you have special excel templates that you use to input the information that acts as a ‘quick guide’ to the home? I think this is a great idea and would love to hear more about it!

      (eLocal Home Expert Network Coordinator)

  2. Every homeowner should understand that the element of time is going to impact their investment in all possible ways, indefinitely, so pull up some gratitude and prepare for a long term relationship. I suggest doing investigating through homeowner groups and local trade shows that focus on real estate and new home and property ownership. It may be a great place to understand the current popular views on maintenance and the most modern eco-friendly practices. That may also be a great place to connect with other buyers-to-be and compare notes. You will need a home calendar so that you can empower your family with understanding when equipment should be maintained and warranties renewed. Interior designers insist paint needs to be updated every two years to avoid drab walls. The first year in a new home be prepared to keep an eye on how your air conditioning and heating units perform. Even if they are new they may cause extra moisture or other wear and tear components that can be costly over time if not monitored. If there is a class for sure take it; local classes will likely address specifics about city and county laws that may impact you as an owner. I recommend best seller books specific to the type of home you intend to buy – it may enlighten your decision.

  3. I believe that a (new)homeowner should have basic MAINTAINANCE skills or at least a knowledge of what has to be done & then know who to call to get it done (i.e. cleaning the gutters/downspouts, changing HVAC filters, unclogging a drain…). And if they are unable/unwilling to do these tasks, then have a budget set aside for a professional to do these tasks for them on a quarterly basis. What I see is that many homeowners don’t even know what they don’t know…so many of these basic duties don’t get done, which then manifests in a home that is inefficient & becomes a money pit…all for lack of basic maintainance.

    A basic MUST for all homeowner toolkits include: hammer, duct tape, WD40, snake (unclog drains), rake, shovel, pliers, screwdriver set/socket/wrench set. These should get you started w/any basic incidents around the exterior/interior of the home. And then having a trustworthy plumber, electrician and/or general contractor to call for anything else.

    For those who want to be/are more hands-on/DIYer, there are a variety of classes offered at various big box stores, home improvement, specialty showrooms (paint, tile, cabinetry) and/or adult education classes. There you can find out what compliments your strengths & what you enjoy doing…remember, you want to ADD to the beauty of your home & value when you can, NOT have it look like a high school shop class project.

  4. Every new homeowner should have a REALTOR partner working with him or her to ensure a smooth, successful transaction. That said, after getting into the home — and I may be a bit biased after living through Hurricane Sandy — each new homeowner should create an emergency disaster plan. Consider who will be an out-of-state contact you can trust with your vitals and current living situation; creating duplicates of all important documents like your passports, drivers licenses, wills, deed, etc.; video-tape all your valuables as documentation should they need to be replaced and keep the tape and all duplicates in a safe, off-site location; store an emergency kit to include such items as a case of bottled water, canned and ready-to-eat foods, plus a first aid kit, can opener, batteries, flashlights and a hand-cranked or battery-operated radio. It’s all about protecting you and the American Dream of Homeownership.

  5. Melissa,

    It is something that I do per owner, per home, per individual. So whatever they have in their home. You simply must create an individual “how to” manual that explains maintenance, warranties and service professionals that can do the repairs as needed. You can do this at any stage of the game. Its preferable to be on board early in the process but if requested and the homeowner simply wants that it can be done with some extra time and research.

  6. Basically, a homeowner should be very organized. Keeping a copy of all instruction manuals and warranties will help make returns & repairs much easier.

    Homeowners don’t NEED to have any skills. But a well stocked toolbox will help with basic repairs. For anything beyond a simple repair, the homeowner should be able to navigate through all the different information found online. Some repairs sound simple, and similar, but can be slightly (or sometimes significantly) different for different models or products. So making sure you are doing the correct repair is a must!

    For those repairs you can’t do yourself, it is important to have a good circle of friends who can help you find a good contractor. If not, you can look through review sites found online, but a good personal recommendation is worth its weight in gold.

    So, for those homeowners on a limited budget, or with a “do it yourself” attitude, you mostly need to be good at following instructions. Otherwise, finding good help will keep your home in good shape!

  7. Some are more hands on than others when it comes to our homes, but for all of us it is a matter of protecting our investment and ensuring our homes are safe places. I think they should be efficient too since that can save you money as well as increase comfort. Getting to know a little about your home, or how things work in it, is a great idea. There are many books out there that help explain the basics, and if you need to read up to figure out how to shut the water off in an emergency I encourage it!

    Since knowledge is a powerful thing, here are some resources I think all homeowners should know about to really empower them: Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=products.pr_save_energy_at_home) has some great information for homeowners on saving energy, tuning up equipment and some do it yourself guides as well.

    The Building Performance Institute (http://www.bpi.org/homeowners_benefits.aspx) explains how a house is a system and the importance of treating it that way. BPI certified contractors understand homes and can help make it a safe, energy efficient and more comfortable place to live in. I say learn what you can and do what you are comfortable, seek out experts you can trust for everything else.

  8. As a firm that has inspected more homes historically than any other, the famous quote, “a qualified buyer is our best customer” has never stood taller than on this topic.

    There is no such thing as a perfect home, and every home comes with its own specific hot spots. Understanding the age of a home, the upgrades performed over time, and any events that may have impacted the components of the house are an important first step.

    Every component will eventually break down over time. Some will require repair sooner than others. Being emotionally prepared for these events is critical in handling repair and replacement expectations, as well as the repair specialists, over time. Plumbing joints will leak, roof flashing will at times allow wind driven rain inside the interior, heating and air conditioning systems will require maintenance repair and replacement over time. That doesn’t even include efficiency and style upgrades that may also be completed.

    The industry has been flooded with “Do it Yourself” shows, books, blogs, and articles. Retail stores have done a nice job in providing “How to” classes on almost any component, as a tool to attract consumers to their stores. Even licensed Professional Engineering Firms, like our, has been doing ” First time Home Buyers” seminars to the public, banks, realtors and mortgage professionals in an attempt to create the understanding of how to turn all “red flags to green” when it comes to buying a new home.

    The moral to the question is that if you are going to invest in one of the biggest assets of your life, a home or building, then you should be prepared for the financial responsibilities for repair, replacement and upgrades. If you bought it, in most circumstances, you own the issues associated with it. If you are not comfortable with your knowledge of the asset, then you can always rely on the advise of an independent, third party professional, to offer some advise on the home or building, like an Engineer or Architect that specializes in home and building consulting.

    It reminds me of an often told story of the famous Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon being called by a client who was complaining that his roof was leaking on his head, Frank Lloyd Wright told him to move his chair.

  9. The most important things to know are how to shut off your water, electricity and natural gas. In areas prone to earthquakes or other movement disasters I would install an earthquake natural gas shut off that will do this automatically. Beyond stopping and minimizing any damage, what you need to know about repair and maintenance will depend on your abilities and interest and resources. Some people are skilled with tools and want to take care of their homes and others are only able to do minor fixes. It’s okay not to be a hero! Some poor fixes prolong or exacerbate problems that should have been taken care of by a professional so if you don’t know how to fix your furnace, or electrical problem….please don’t try. Cleaning out a plastic p-trap is easy; snaking out your sewer line is really better left to a professional. They can tell you why you are having the problem, materials flushed, roots or a terribly old sewer line that needs to be replaced.
    I have found videos on various web sites or u-tube informative for most things around the house I would want to be involved in fixing. Find a video from a reliable source and check to see if your situation is the same as the video. Do you have cast iron drain lines and you’re watching someone work on plastic for instance? Do maintain your home, caulk, clean gutters, keep debris away from siding, change furnace filters. If you have a neighbor or friend that is really handy they might be happy to walk around your home with you to make a list of easy projects you can tackle.
    If you are trouble shooting a problem or even cleaning your gutters be extremely careful. Wear safety equipment, tie yourself off, and don’t step on the top of the ladder above the step that tells you not to.
    I do believe in having a tool kit and keeping your warranties in one place and maybe you won’t have to fix the problem after all.

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