Money

9 essentials to budget for as a first-time homeowner

Expenses go up, even after the down payment.

First-time homeowners looking in new refrigerator Credit: Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages

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When you’ve bought a house, it’s easy to feel like the hard part is done. You finally saved up for that down payment, made an offer, and closed the deal. Now it’s time to celebrate before packing up and moving in, right?

You may be bringing along staples like furniture, linens, and kitchenware from your current living situation—even if most of it is secondhand or has seen better days. But it’s easy to be caught off guard by other expenses that you discover you need right away. You may be dreaming of a comfier couch or a dining table, but it may make sense to focus on these time-sensitive purchases first.

1. A lawn mower

Mowing a lawn
Credit: Getty / BrianAJackson

The grass is greener as a homeowner—if you take care of your lawn, that is.

While not the most fun home-related purchase, a lawn mower is a significant cost (often up to $2,000 if you’re looking at riding ones). And, even if you haven’t moved in yet, your new lawn is growing as we speak, which means you need to bite the bullet on this expense sooner rather than later.

If you don’t mind a little more work, or you don't have too much lawn to tend to, go for a push mower over a self-propelled one, and you can save a couple hundred dollars.

Your homeowner’s association likely has specific requirements, too, so you’ll definitely need to stay on top of lawn care. While you’re at it, you might throw in some gardening tools to leave a good impression with your new neighbors.

2. Non-fixture appliances

You may be lucky enough that you found a home that was already equipped with top-of-the-line appliances. However, non-fixture appliances like refrigerators and a washer and dryer often aren’t included in a purchase contract. Food and clean clothes are basic things you’ll need right away, so you really can’t procrastinate here.

These are big-ticket items to budget for, as our favorite refrigerator retails for $3,199, while our best overall washer and dryer set will run you over $2,000 as well.

We have run some tests when it comes to some that are lighter on your wallet, including this energy-efficient model from Frigidaire. It has plenty of storage, solid temperature control, and hits the marks for looks, too.

(Just double check whether you need an electric or gas hookup before adding it to your shopping cart.)

3. Window fixtures

Budget-first-home-window-fixtures
Credit: Getty Images / HRAUN

You have a window of opportunity to show off your style with curtains—it may cost you though.

Blinds or shades are often something you take for granted when renting, since they’re pretty much always there when you move in. However, whether or not they’re included in a home purchase depends on what type they are.

Because blinds and shades are typically attached to a window, they’re considered fixtures, and are left behind by the previous owners. Meanwhile, drapes or curtains that you affix to a rod are viewed as personal property, and therefore something that won’t come with a new home.

It may depend on how many windows you have and how customized your project ends up being, but according to HomeAdvisor, the cost of a window treatment can range from $115 to nearly $2,000. Once you start looking around, you’ll realize that’ll add up.

You can shop around for cheaper options, but at around $55, these cut-to-size blinds are cordless, block sunlight, and can be installed with a screwdriver.

Despite the initial expense, they can afford you some privacy, and even some better shut-eye.

4. A router

D-Link DIR-878 Hero
Credit: D-Link

Home is where the Wi-Fi automatically connects.

In today’s day and age, good Wi-Fi is a must for most people, as we toggle between a million browser tabs and stream all of the shows. And during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a necessity for working from home.

A good router will give you the most optimal performance for your devices. We love the D-Link DIR-878, which will set you back about $200.

Now that you also likely have more square footage to work with, or you have a partner and kids who are using devices throughout the day, you may even want to consider going for a mesh router. Our best pick from Google Nest, will run you $300, and is a breeze to install and use.

5. Security cameras

Logitech Circle 2
Credit: Logitech

Have a sense of security with indoor and outdoor cameras.

With lots of improved features, security cameras have quickly evolved into a must-have item. They can give you peace of mind as you monitor your home from your personal devices—whether you’re on your couch, at work, or on vacation. You can quickly alert the police if you need to, or simply ask a neighbor to hold on to a delivered package if you can’t get to it quickly.

Among the best indoor security cameras we’ve tested, the Logitech Circle 2 has both a well-designed app and wire-free setup and costs around $250, though we also recommend the Yi Dome Camera 720p as a more budget-friendly option around $100.

When it comes to the outdoors, we’re fans of Google’s Nest Cam, which comes to a total of $200, and then a little bit more per year if you opt for some extra perks with the premium subscription.

6. Smart lock

Schlage Encode smart lock
Credit: Reviewed / Sarah Kovac

No more fumbling for keys after you install a smart lock.

Once you have the keys to your new home in your hands, you’ll be swapping them out for a new set of your own, anyway. Changing your locks should be one of the first things you do as a new homeowner, and, unsurprisingly, you have options there, too.

You might want to consider a smart lock, as it comes with the ability to lock and unlock your door from anywhere, and to set individual keypad codes for guests and visitors. Gone are the days of calling a locksmith to let you in when you’re locked out, or rushing home to let a housemate in when they’ve forgotten their keys.

We love the $250 Schlage Encode for its easy set-up and recurring passcodes you can create for your babysitter who only drops by on Thursday nights.

7. A fire extinguisher and smoke alarms

The Nest Protect Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Credit: Nest

Outfitting a new home can burn a hole in your pocket, but fire safety comes first.

As a tenant, you don’t have to put much thought into fire safety, as your landlord or management will typically take care of that to meet their own legal requirements.

However, you likely won’t find a fire extinguisher in your new house, and it should be at the top of your list since it’s a matter of your own health and safety. Our top picks for putting out small and medium fires cost up to $75, and are easy to handle even if you’re unfamiliar with them.

As far as smoke detectors, you may want to replace the units yourself, and keep in mind that there won’t be someone else regularly inspecting them to make sure they’re properly installed and functioning.

You can choose either battery-operated or hardwired options for the Nest Protect, our best smart smoke detector that monitors for both smoldering and fast-burning fires and also sends notifications to your phone. At $120 each, they also have a built-in carbon monoxide alarm.

8. Vacuum

How to vacuum a shag rug
Credit: Getty / RichLegg

We have tested dozens of vacuums in our labs to see which one sucks the most.

When you’re dealing with more square footage, you’ll quickly see that regularly cleaning them is a must, and a tried-and-true vacuum can make the task much easier. Some of the very best we’ve tested, from cordless to canister, reach up to four figures, but we have plenty of affordable recommendations, too. For $100, you can nab the Bissell CleanView, which performed well across the board in our lab tests.

You may also find that you want to purchase multiple vacuums depending on how many surfaces you’re dealing with—from carpeting to area rugs and hardwood—or if you’ll be cleaning up a lot of pet hair. In that case, consider the Shark NV752, which at $300 can handle cat and dog hair, and also easily navigate stairways and under furniture.

Hoping to spare yourself some housework? Budget $220 for Eufy Robovac 11S, our favorite affordable robot vacuum that’s quiet, picks up an impressive amount of debris, and can manage to get into more nooks compared to others we tested.

9. Toolbox

Tools
Credit: Tatomm/Getty Images

You will likely need to channel your do-it-yourself spirit as a homeowner.

Once you’ve moved into the world of homeownership, you’ll no longer have a landlord on call to make repairs. You’ll want to have a well-stocked toolbox (with essentials like a screwdriver and hammer) on hand for this, as well as to install new fixtures, frames, hanging plants, and other decor.

Our favorite starter kit from Stanley covers most of the basics and will cost you about $60. And if you’re planning on some renovations that require a little more heavy lifting, Makita’s model is our top pick for a cordless drill and is around $160.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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