7 tips for new homeowners
Lessons learned from 20 years of owning, flipping, contracting & designing in New Jersey
1) Get a Zoning Analysis before Closing - I've written a blog on this topic, but before making the investment in residential property, make sure you know both the Use Regulations and Bulk Regulations for your intended purchase. Use Regulations determine what your property can be used for: single family, 2-family, church, liquor store, etc. Bulk Regulations determine how big your house can be and how much of the lot can be built on.
2) Live in your home prior to remodeling/additions (if possible) - The hard fact is that with the time required for drawings and permits and with some New Jersey contractors backed up for months, it may not be possible to have a completed home remodel for a year after closing. The advantages of living in a home prior to remodeling is that you can truly appreciate what works and what doesn't work:
Are there views (or views of neighbors) that you would want to see more or less of?
Does the heat work well in all rooms in winter? AC in summer?
What are the circulation paths you've developed for commuting to work/school, bringing in the groceries, taking out the trash/recycling, doing the laundry, walking the dogs?
3) Curb Appeal - Do some curb appeal projects as soon as you are the homeowner. Being visible in front of your home is a great way to meet your neighbors and kick-start street and neighborhood-wide improvements by others.
Repaint the front door, lamp post or steps.
Get a new welcome mat. Add some colorful potted or bedding annuals.
Repair a sagging window shutter, or any other unsightly items.
Don't wait until you are about to sell to try to lift your neighborhood's appeal and property value.
4) Property Grading - Grading is an important topic to address on your property prior to any significant landscape or exterior remodeling projects. Identifying drainage issues and creating proper water-runoff is critical to keeping water problems from getting worse and more expensive. Proper grading (as well as gutter maintenance) will also help to keep a drier basement.
5) Landscaping - Sadly, landscaping is often delayed until a house is "finished", but plant growth equals plant value. Evergreens planted this year will have several feet of growth providing additional privacy by the time you get around to building that back-yard deck. A 12" boxwood shrub may cost $20, but a 5 ft shrub would cost $300. Just remember to pay attention to plants' recommended planting spacing. Plus, landscaping is a great way to kick-start curb appeal.
6) Home Roadmap - As you grow into your home and have a good understanding of how you and your family want to use and enjoy it, start to develop your home's roadmap or master plan. You may have some projects that may need to wait for several years. Do not make the mistake of doing Year 1 work that becomes "throw-away work" for a Year 3 project:
If redoing a 1st floor room like a kitchen or family room, make sure to consider how it may connect to a future deck or patio.
If redoing a kitchen/bath or laundry on one floor, consider whether there will be a future project on a floor above or below so that rough plumbing can be prepared without having to rip out cabinets or counters installed a year earlier.
Try to time any additions or dormers with your roof's lifespan. If you need a roof, make sure you will not have to rip half of it off in a year if you are planning for a large future dormer or addition.
7) Time-Value Costs - Several improvements may save or cost you year-over-year - make sure to consider these in your overall masterplan budget. Some examples:
Permitted projects will likely trigger a reassessment of your property taxes. Try to understand the specifics of what improvements trigger an assessment, the timing of the assessment and the value of any potential increase.
Energy savings through increased insulation and more energy efficient appliances can help replenish the remodeling coffer as soon as they are installed.