When you move into a new home — whether it’s your first foray into homeownership or your 10th move — it’s time to celebrate. After you’ve tipped the movers, finished your pizza, popped the champagne cork and started unpacking, you’ll need to take care of a few responsibilities.
There were 5,223 completed sales in July in the Washington region, according to Bright MLS, which means there are at least 5,223 singles and families settling into their new homes now. Although it’s natural to focus on emptying your boxes, filling your closets and decorating your new place, here are some practical tasks that should top your to-do list after a move:
1. Change the locks and codes. The previous owners handed over keys and codes for keyless entry systems and alarms at your closing, but it’s possible that there are other keys floating around that they forgot to collect. Many people leave a key with their neighbors or a friend or with a trusted pet sitter. Changing your locks and resetting key codes should be a priority for security. Don’t forget your garage doors and backdoor keys or codes, too.
2. Hide a key. While you’re at it, have extra keys made in case yours are lost or stolen and hide one on your premises in a secure but hidden lockbox. You can tuck a small lockbox with a code under a stone or attach one by a magnet under your outdoor heat pump or air conditioner. You may want to share a key with a friend or one of your new neighbors once you’ve met them and find someone you can trust.
3. Introduce yourself to your neighbors. If you don’t know your neighbors yet, it’s a great idea to say hello. It’s nice for social reasons to connect with your neighbors and they can also be a resource for future information about doctors, schools, restaurants and community activities.
4. Set up your alarm system. Many homes come with an already-installed security system that you’ll need to transfer to your name and activate. Or you can install your own door and window alarms.
5. Test your detectors. Your home inspector should have checked your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. But to be safe, it’s wise to test them and to replace the batteries so you know they are working.
6. Buy fire extinguishers. Every household should have at least one fire extinguisher on each level of the house.
7. Find out how to shut off your utilities. Locate your main water shut-off valve and locate the valve to shut-off the water in your kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms in case of an emergency. Find your electrical panel and, if the circuit breaker switches are not already labeled, take the time to test them and label them yourself.
8. Replace your filters. Replacing filters is easy and inexpensive, and results in better performance and safety. Change the air filter in your heating and air conditioning system and pick up extras if needed to make it easier to change it monthly or quarterly. Consider setting an alert to remind you when you need to replace it again. Replace the filter above your stove to eliminate grease and change the filters in your faucets for stronger water pressure. While you’re at it, clean your dryer vent and get in the habit of cleaning your dryer filter before every use.
9. Do an insurance inventory. While you’re still excited about your new place and all your closets are perfectly organized, this is a good time to take photos of everything you own for an insurance record. Keep the photos and a list of items and their estimated value stored on your computer and remotely, so you can access and update it easily.
10. Organize your paperwork. You’ll need the paperwork generated at your closing for taxes and future financial transactions such as selling your home, so it should be stored in a safe place. In addition, you may have a copy of your home inspection, a home warranty, homeowner’s insurance paperwork and possibly appliance manuals. Keep receipts from any repairs, inspections or home improvement projects. Scan and store these items digitally or create a paper file system to keep all house-related information in one place.
Accomplishing these tasks during the initial days and weeks after you move puts you on track to manage your household in the coming years.
Jon Coile, chairman of Rockville-based multiple-listing service Bright MLS (formerly MRIS) and president of Champion Realty in Annapolis, Md., writes occasional commentary on the Washington area housing market.