You're in! You've got new keys – house keys! But before you dive straight into critical decisions like where the TV goes, you should understand your responsibility to your new home. Becoming a homeowner is exciting, but it's a lot of responsibility and hard work. You no longer have to wait for your landlord to fix the dripping faucet – but also, you get to fix the dripping faucet.

When you sign your mortgage at closing, you pledge your home as security for your loan. You have a responsibility to make sure your property keeps its value as collateral for your loan. And of course, your home is more than just a good financial investment – it’s your castle, your refuge and a major factor in your quality of life. So why wouldn’t you want to keep it in the best possible shape?

Routine maintenance will help keep your home in sound condition, but every homeowner will eventually be faced with unexpected repairs. Learn about your home's mechanical systems and construction so you can plan and budget for their upkeep.

And in the process of making your house a home, you’ll probably find at least a few improvement projects you want to take on. You’ll have to weigh the cost, urgency and time commitment of maintenance, repairs and these improvement projects.

Prioritizing improvements

What to do first? It's tempting to make cosmetic improvements, like replacing wall treatments or flooring, because these changes are the most visible.

But part of the responsibility of owning a home is prioritizing your projects and considering the improvements that are likely to increase your home's value, or decrease your expenses.

For example, it may be better to replace an aging oil furnace with an energy-efficient gas furnace before you re-carpet the living room. Anticipate and budget for serious issues like a leaking roof or a dying water heater that will be more important than cosmetic improvements.

The best way to anticipate problems is to inspect your home regularly and perform certain routine maintenance tasks. Our Home Maintenance Checklist details the items you should inspect. It also identifies some specific maintenance tasks that should be performed and how often you should do them.

If you have the skills to do some or all of the work yourself, you’ll want to consider the cost of any tools or materials that you’ll need. If you're not especially handy, you can use this checklist to predict the work that will need to be done so that you can also budget enough to hire someone to do it.

Do it yourself or call a professional?

You can save money by learning to do basic home repairs. Home repair courses are usually offered through public school adult education classes, local technical colleges, university extension programs or nonprofit organizations.

Even if you’re handy, you’ll probably need to employ a carpenter, plumber, electrician, appliance repairman or heating/cooling contractor eventually. Ask family, friends and neighbors for references. Interview 3 or 4 contractors from each trade. Compare experience, prices, policies, personality and availability. While price will certainly be a consideration, don’t make it the sole factor for selecting a contractor.

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