You've closed on your house, are ready to pay your first month's mortgage, and think you're home free with expenses. Not so fast. Your house and mortgage are just the start. You may not need to live in a fully finished house that resembles rooms from a catalog, but you will want some semblance of normalcy to sit, eat and sleep comfortably. You also may want to purchase a new furnace if yours is about to fail, especially if winter's at its peak. You have unlimited choices, but are our eight favorites to get going.
Negotiate with sellers about furnishings
If you like the curtains in the master bedroom or the patio furniture, use your finest negotiating skills to ask the sellers if they'll leave anything behind. Many will, especially in today's tough sellers' market, if you make a good offer and request these items sweetly, says Jeff Crane, president and CEO of Concept to Creation, a Gilbert, Ariz., consulting firm that helps homeowners with building and renovation issues. "How much they'll want will depend on how desperate they are to sell," says Crane.
Get creative about buying furniture.
You don't have to buy expensive new furniture to settle in happily. Shoshana Wizenfeld, of Queens, N.Y., recently moved into her and her husband's first apartment, and they found an inexpensive route by selecting a "classy dining room set (modern table, china closet and six chairs, finished wood with black trimmings and glass) from a divorced woman who was getting remarried and wanted nothing of her former life." The couple also got some steals on Craigslist, she says.
Select an energy-efficient HVAC system
With heating and cooling accounting for 50 percent of your home's energy consumption and with prices for oil and gasoline only escalating, be sure your HVAC system properly functions. Randy Scott, vice president of product systems management for Trane, a heating and air conditioning supplier based in Tyler, Texas, suggests hiring an independent heating and cooling contractor to assess your system's condition. If you buy new, select one that's properly sized and not bigger than you need. Also keep in mind energy efficiency and indoor air quality. A good system can last 10 to 12 years. For a 3,000-square-foot, two-story home, you might spend from $4,000 to $12,000, Scott says.
Refinish wood floors
Most wood floors need to be sanded every seven to 10 years to regain their sparkle and luster due to improper maintenance and simple wear and tear, says Tricia Thompson, co-owner of Enmar Hardwood Flooring Inc. in Mesa, Ariz.
"It's best to refinish before you move in since furnishings will have to be moved out when floors are done," she says. She pegs the average cost for sanding and refinishing at around $4 a square feet.
Paint the interior
Paint is among the least expensive decorating tools to update an interior and add impact, says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing at The Sherwin-Williams Co. in Cleveland.
Jordan suggests homeowners take a cue for the color from some accessory they plan to use in the room, perhaps a rug or piece of pottery.
To pare costs and increase durability, she also recommends using flat or eggshell paint. The number of coats will depend on the existing and planned colors.
"To go from white to a bright color such as red, you'll probably have to use three, four or five coats," she says. The paint itself is inexpensive – about $25 to $30 a gallon. But other colors may demand fewer coats, and maybe even one, she says. Wall condition also will determine whether you first need to prime.
Purchase new appliances
If the sellers take all the kitchen and laundry appliances, or if they're on their last legs, these should be among your first purchases. Determine a budget and allot a set amount to each item, advises Crane. He considers a refrigerator/freezer the top priority. A good model – not the top of the line with all the bells and whistles – can be purchased for between $1,200 and $1,500, he says.
Whether you buy a new home from a builder or an existing home from a seller, it's likely that the keys have been used by multiple folks — salespeople, contractors, workmen, family members and friends. Crane suggests rekeying locks before you move in for safety. The expense involved is modest, perhaps a few hours of a locksmith's time – about $40 to $50 an hour.
Hang art and photos
Nothing makes a home seem more lived-in than art and photos on walls. Though most homeowners can tackle the job themselves gradually, hiring an installer will save time and get the job done fast.
Gary Haller of Artistic Picture Frames in St. Louis, Mo., charges $50 an hour and can hang between 15 to 20 pictures in an hour, depending on the size of works and the grouping desired.
If a homeowner has had their artworks for more than 10 years, he suggests re-matting and reframing since colors and styles change. It's also smart to check that glass is museum- or conservation-quality.