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Every task a first-time homeowner needs on their possession day checklist

A smiling man moving boxes out of a van

Buying property is not a short process. On average, it takes 50 days to close on a house and that doesn’t include the weeks or months (or years) it took to find the property. In all that time, however, the most exciting moment comes when you finally receive the keys to your first home. Of course, that doesn’t mean those early few days aren’t extremely stressful. 

The day we got the keys to our home, we were so excited to start putting furniture in place and get to decorating that we completely forgot about the walkthrough and review of the home with our real estate agent. That, and a severe deep-clean of the entire property.

There are crucial tasks to check off your list before you move in, after you walk through, and in the few months that follow. To help you get organized, I’ll tell you what, exactly, should be on your possession day checklist as a first-time homeowner.

What should be on your checklist for possession day?

A young couple with a child moving boxes into a house

The first thing on your possession day checklist, after you’ve unlocked your doors, is to go through the house and do a thorough walkthrough of the property. Dylan Nihte, a Vancouver-based Zolo real estate agent, says this is the time to label any deficiencies not rectified by the developer or seller. 

“A simple piece of tape will suffice as a visual reminder before you move items in,” says Nihte.

Just as you did when you went through the home before you placed an offer, you should check for new damage or missing items written into the deal, such as window coverings or appliances. 

Consider checking the following parts of the home and surrounding property:

  • Are all doors, windows, electrical outlets and plumbing fixtures operational?
  • Is there any new ceiling or wall stains or damage that wasn’t present at the time of your home inspection? Include the basement and look for any signs of water damage.
  • Are all of the home appliances (laundry, central vacuum, stove, air conditioner) operational?
  • Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as you do your walkthrough.

Personally, we also opted to change the locks on our home on the day we took possession. Not everyone does this anymore, but a few decades ago, this was a must-do item as soon as you took possession of a home. It’s a safety precaution. There could be additional keys for your home circulating and changing the lock prevents the use (and abuse) of those keys. We also chose to change the code on our garage door. You never know who the previous owners gave access to, and it’s best to be proactive.

Although it may seem like a lot of double-checking, you want to be sure your new home is ready for you to move in and that you don’t accidentally take on any additional costs that are the previous owners’ responsibility. On top of the thorough review, all of these details and quirks are necessary to get familiar with as they will be on your annual home maintenance checklist.

To make the home more comfortable in the first 24-hours, Kelly Whalen, founder of the Centsible Life, says your goal should be to get your bedroom livable and that everything else can come later.

What should you do in the weeks following possession day?

If you haven’t already done so, the first few days upon moving in is the time to get all of your utility connections set up, including electricity, internet and cable. It’s best to do this before you move in, but sometimes in the business of packing and signing paperwork, we might not get around to them until after we move in – and that’s okay. 

This is also an excellent time to prepare for the home maintenance we mentioned. There is nothing better than clean HVAC filters to start your new living situation with fresh airflow. Changing your air filters provides more than clean air. It also prolongs the life of an expensive appliance.

Take care of non-seasonal fixes or updates to the home when you first move in, like changing the batteries in your smoke alarms or checking the maintenance needs of your plumbing. Tasks such as cleaning your gutters may not be feasible depending on the time of year, so it’s important to set reminders, so you don’t forget. 

Take time to review your initial home inspection and start to tackle the suggested repairs as soon as possible so that they don’t turn into more extreme repairs or costly expenses down the road. 

When you move into a new home, it can take time to become acquainted with all of the areas that may be essential if any emergency were to occur. In the weeks following possession day, take time to prepare for any emergencies by locating your circuit box and breakers, gas shut-off valves and main water shut-off valves. You should also keep all of the mortgage documents that you will receive in the weeks following possession in a safe place like a safety deposit box.

How can you prepare for financial adjustments once you move into your first home?

A person browsing apartments on a tablet

Another crucial consideration for your possession day checklist is the time it might take to adjust to your new budget and housing costs. A great way to start is by setting up automated payments to all of your housing bills to reduce the stress and ensure you do not forget any charges. 

Use our customizable housing budget to gain a realistic picture of what expenses you can expect to pay for each month as a new homeowner.

Most first-time homebuyers aren’t aware of the reality of homeownership expenses. Home buying often includes a deposit, closing costs, and moving costs, which can end up being more costly than you estimate. 

Before you move in, Nihte suggests you assess your anticipated expenses and live with those adjustments before the change. If you didn’t do that before you moved, your best bet is to prioritize your current needs before adding any additional costs that might lead to an increase in household spending, otherwise known as lifestyle inflation.

When we moved to our new home, we had to pay the mortgage, but we also took on additional expenses we’d never paid for before, such as garbage collection and home insurance. For the first two months, we did our best to avoid purchasing any new home decor or non-essential expenses that would make it harder to solidify a reasonable and realistic budget.

“It’s tempting to go out and buy new furniture and tools,” says Whalen. “But living in the house for a while first will help you make better choices.”

Whalen also recommends keeping a ‘sinking fund’ (aka emergency fund) which is savings for housing-specific emergencies, like a flood or broken appliance. An emergency fund for your home can help save you from having to spend money out of pocket when an unexpected expense comes your way. 

Within one month of moving into our new home, our oven broke down, and it ended up costing us $500 to fix. Without an emergency fund, we would have gone over budget in what was already an expensive time to manage.

How can you get comfortable in a new community?

Older couple walking together through a park at sunset

When you move into a new neighbourhood, it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself and get to know the surrounding area and community members. The first thing we did as a family was walk around local paths to get comfortable with the location and start to get a feel for the atmosphere we could expect.

Nihte says that the nostalgia for a time when neighbours introduced themselves and brought over a pie or some delicious treats always brings a warm cozy feeling inside all of us. So, why not give it a go? In the first week after moving in, we took over a bottle of wine to the neighbours on either side of us and introduced ourselves.

“A tray of cookies and a smile will go a long way to building good relations with your new community,” says Nihte. 

Whatever you decide, you must make your house feel like home both inside and outside of the property lines. If you tackle all of these small but timely tasks in the first month of possession, the rest of your time will feel more organized and more enjoyable – which is what every new homebuyer wants. A possession day checklist may seem daunting, but in reality, it’s an excellent way to jump into homeownership for the first time. It helped us feel more prepared than we could have imagined.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of MixedUpMoney.com. She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.