Sep 29, 2022
So you made it through the closing process. Congrats! You’re finally off the emotional roller coaster that is shopping for and bidding on a house. The inspections are complete, the paperwork has been signed, and you have the keys to your new place. Welcome to your new life as a homeowner.
But even though your home purchase is complete, you might not be quite ready to move in. Many buyers delay moving into their new home for a number of reasons. Some might want to ride out the lease at their apartment. Others might be relocating and need to tie up loose ends at their old job.
Regardless of your reason for not moving in right away, one thing is for sure: You should shore up your new home before leaving it vacant.
“You need to keep the property looking good, even if you aren’t there yet,” says Ali Wenzke, author of “The Art of Happy Moving” and a real estate broker at Baird and Warner in Winnetka, IL.
Experts recommend you take the following steps—not just for aesthetic reasons but also as a safety precaution.
1. Do a walk-through again
Remember that final walk-through you did before closing? You should do a similar walk-through before leaving your house vacant for a while.
Look at all the essential home components—like the appliances and the systems—especially the parts of the house that were flagged as issues during the inspection.
“Ensure that all appliances are in good working order. This includes testing the HVAC system and seeing that the hot water works,” says Wenzke.
If you waived a home inspection, it’s a good idea to have an official inspection done before you leave the house vacant. That way, you can repair any critical issues now so they don’t turn into bigger headaches.
2. Change the locks
Think about it: The keys you got at closing might not be the only ones in existence.
“You never know who else had access to your home besides the seller, so it’s best to change your locks for your personal safety,” says Wenzke.
Be sure to lock all the windows and doors and change the locks (or get new codes) for all exterior doors and the garage.
3. Introduce yourself to the neighbors
It might seem like an old-school (and slightly scary) thing to do, but it’s a good idea to establish a friendly rapport with your new neighbors.
“Let them know you’re not moving in just yet and ask them if they can keep an eye out for activity at the home,” says Stacy Brown, director of technical training at Real Property Management, a Neighborly Company.
They may even be willing to collect your mail and newspapers and store packages that are left for you before you officially move in.
4. Create a lived-in look
Grab a few lamps from your old house (and maybe even a sofa or bookshelf) and place them in a room that’s visible from the street.
“It will give the appearance of the home being lived in,” says Brown.
Or, install smart lighting in your new house and program the lights to turn on at certain times of the day. If the curtains and blinds weren’t included in the sale, hang curtains in the house, especially if you’re storing items.
“This will keep prying eyes from looking in to see if the house is vacant,” says Brown.
Hang a seasonal wreath on the front door, or put out a welcome mat to make it look like someone’s home.
5. Invest in smart home devices
Beef up the security of your home with motion sensors and other smart security systems.
“It’s also helpful to install a smart HVAC system so you can control the temperature of your home from afar to avoid any freezing pipes,” says Wenzke.
If your new house has a nonprogrammable system, Brown recommends setting the air conditioning to 78 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. During the winter, set the thermostat to 65. If you live in an area that reaches below-freezing temperatures, open the cabinet doors below the sinks to keep warm air circulating to help keep pipes from freezing and bursting.
6. Protect against plumbing disasters
When you finally move in, the last thing you want to be greeted with is standing water inside your home. Brown says you have a couple of options to protect your home against unforeseen plumbing catastrophes.
One simple strategy is to turn off the main water valve.
You can also install a water leak detection device. Choose a smart model that senses water leaks, sends an alert to your phone, and automatically shuts off the water.
7. Hire a pro to maintain the exterior
An overgrown lawn is unsightly and essentially announces to the neighborhood that no one is home. If you’re not moving in for a while, hire a landscaping company to keep your home’s exterior looking polished.
While you’re at, put out the no-vacancy sign on unwanted critters.
“Consider having a pest control service come by to keep bugs and rodents out of the home,” says Brown.
If winter is coming, hire someone to remove snow from the driveway and walkways so it looks like someone is home.
8. Paint the walls and deep-clean
The advantage of not moving in right away is that you can take care of some home maintenance without having to live amid the chaos. If you’re planning on painting the walls or replacing the flooring, do so now before you move all your stuff in.
“Working with a blank canvas is a luxury most homeowners don’t get. Once the boxes and furniture come in, it takes additional effort to paint the walls and refinish the floors,” says Wenzke.
After the improvements are made, hire a professional cleaning service to do a deep cleaning.
“The best gift you can give yourself on moving day is an immaculate home,” says Wenzke.