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Real Estate & Home

New house? Don’t confuse performance with maintenance

11/15/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Tom Kelly

The son of a longtime friend recently caught me at a Friday night high-school game and informed me he and his wife had turned down an older home in the neighborhood they always wanted for a new home in a subdivision.

They also declined the possibility of seller financing from the owner of the older home because the builder offered a slightly lower rate on the new home.

“We just felt like we wouldn’t have to do anything on the home for years,” the young man said. “We couldn’t afford any expensive surprises.”

While I disagreed with him on both topics, I kept my opinions to myself because he had already made his decision and was looking forward to moving into his new home. Here’s why I would have chosen differently.

First and foremost, you can always repair or remodel a home, but you can never singlehandedly fix a neighborhood. If you know the schools, churches and streets that are important to you, it’s usually best to buy where you have done your primary research.

Secondly, new homeowners often underestimate upkeep. There are a variety of reasons why consumers dream about a new home, and one of the main ones is the comfort of knowing that appointments, furnishings and appliances will actually work — or be replaced by a competent builder — for a specific period of time. However, don’t confuse performance with maintenance.

Unfortunately, as I told my young friend, every house requires maintenance, even a brand-new one. You might not have to replace big-ticket items like a furnace or a roof anytime soon, but to keep your new house looking new, you’ll still have the regular chores.

For example, the tilt-out windows that make cleaning a breeze should be tilted out at least once a year, even if you never wash them, to vacuum out the tracks and make sure that the holes that drain rainwater are not clogged. You also need to make sure that the rollers in the tracks move freely, applying a silicone lubricant, if necessary.

Hopefully the location of the filter for your furnace and air conditioner will be in a place that is easily accessible and not up in the attic. How often you need to change the filter depends on the type that you get. But, the first four to five months that you live in the house, you should change it every three or four weeks because the house might still contain construction dust. An electronic air cleaner will be more effective in removing particulate matter from the air than a filter, but the electronic air cleaner still needs periodic cleaning.

To keep the new sheen on your carpets, you’ll have to vacuum them two times a week in heavy traffic areas and clean them regularly. Otherwise, the dirt and sand tracked in on shoes and paws will be ground in, making thousands of microscopic scratches that will eventually make the carpet look worn.

If you spill something on your new carpeting, don’t wait until you get back from the ballgame to respond. Though the carpet fibers may be treated with a stain-resisting chemical, they won’t be stain-proof. If you let the spill dry, it will be more difficult to get out.

Be aware that some caulking may still be needed in your new house during the first year because of settlement, shrinkage of wood framing and trim, and natural stress cracks. In many areas, the recaulking is a cosmetic issue, but not in the kitchen and baths. These rooms should be checked on a regular basis to prevent water from getting into the walls, where it can cause structural damage.

With a bathtub, the initial caulking can be affected by the shrinkage of the stud wall behind it and by the combined weight of the water and an occupant (as much as 700 pounds when a large soaking tub is full). Besides the tub area, pay attention to the shower and sink areas where the back splash meets the wall. In the kitchen, you might need to recaulk where the back splash meets the wall and around the sink.

Also, it’s best to catch spills on your gorgeous new counters right away. Some counters can stain easily, and depending on the substance, sometimes permanently.

By the time I got around to the exterior of the house, the young man’s eyes had rolled back.

 

Tom Kelly, former real estate editor for The Seattle Times, is a syndicated columnist and talk-show host.

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