9 upgrades first-time home buyers should do first

While low mortgage rates and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to motivate first-time buyers, other factors need to figure into your financial planning. Tight inventory markets mean many of you may end up purchasing a house that requires repairs to its structure and mechanical systems, which will take a big bite out of your budget.

While real estate professionals can help first-time buyers look beyond the shiny new kitchen and sizable outdoor space and consider problematic signs, such as a leaky roof, cracked pipes, or inefficient air leaks around old doors or windows, many buyers are willing to waive a home inspection to make their offer more appealing to sellers in today’s competitive market. Just be aware of the risks when avoiding this condition unless you’re certain there are no big surprises lurking behind that new paint job.

All too often, homeowners — especially those buying a fixer-upper — focus on aesthetics. But don’t forget about the issues that must take priority. Houses age just as people do, and they require regular checkups, repairs and new parts, too.

While it’s less joyful to spend money on replacing a furnace or roof than updating an old bathroom or porch, it’s critical to do so to protect your investment. Due diligence can also help lower heating and cooling bills and pare down other costs. It’s important not to put off repairs that may become more expensive if left untended.

If this is your first home, you probably don’t have much experience with some of the issues, so hire a professional to get it done right.

This checklist will help you:


1. Keep away rain. Homes without good gutters and downspouts may have problems with interior leaks and standing water in the yard. A home’s gutters should be pitched away from the house and be wide enough to carry water without leaves getting clogged — ideally 6 inches rather than the traditional 4 inches.

Downspouts should extend 5 feet from the home’s foundation so water won’t collect near the home and leak inside, potentially causing mold. Adding an extension to the downspout to carry water even further from the foundation is a good idea. .

Gutters should be cleared annually or semi-annually. Installing a drip edge to the roof’s plywood decking to keep water from getting underneath the gutter is a good idea. In addition, the landscape should be regraded if the yard slants downward toward the house.


2. Tighten the envelope. Homes that are not well sealed allow warm air to escape in winter and cool air in summer. It also makes it easier for bugs and rodents to find their way inside. Hire an expert to perform an assessment. The assessment provides a number that indicates how leaky a house is, and directs a homeowner to undertake changes, such as using caulk to seal around windows, air ducts, and areas where the walls meet the foundation.

An assessment can also indicate how well a home has been insulated. Insulating a space doesn’t have to be expensive, and there are rebates available for homeowners if they upgrade insulation. Visit www.efficiencymb.ca for more information.


3. Maintain a stable foundation. Cracks in a foundation require prompt attention so they don’t spread and cause more severe problems. Cracks develop for all sorts of reasons, from climate fluctuations to age to land sloping toward the house. A structural engineer should be hired to do an assessment and help you develop a solution, such as waterproofing a foundation down to the footings or installing a sump pump and battery backup system to remove future water. Telltale signs of a wet basement may be stains on walls or bad odours from moisture causing mold growth.


4. Inspect the roof. Unless it’s a simple case of a roof missing a few shingles, a home’s topmost layer can become an expensive repair if it’s old or badly damaged. Buyers should ask sellers the age of the roof and how it was constructed. The best shingle roofs also have a good underlayment and decking underneath.

Flashing, a plumbing stack, chimneys, and skylights should also be inspected before purchase because rain, animals and debris can find their way into any openings. A metal roof will last longer — 50 to 100 years versus a shingle roof’s 30 years — but its costs can be four times higher It’s useful to have an annual roof inspection to check for storm damage you can’t see from the ground.


5. Update lighting. Old incandescent lightbulbs increase energy costs and have a short life span. LEDs are an easy, affordable upgrade that require far fewer changes and are much more efficient. Choose LEDs with a 2,600 to 3,000 K (kelvin) measurement that produces a warm colour, similar to 60-watt incandescent. Because LED bulbs come in a wide variety of shades, trying out one to see if it appeals to you before buying for the entire house. Avoid  compact fluorescent lights, which take time to warm up and can be too bright.


6. Add air conditioning. Yes, we have long, cold winters in Manitoba, but we also have very hot summers, and fans aren’t good at cooling down a house. Window air conditioning units work, but don’t cool a house efficiently and are less visually appealing. A quality a/c system will not only keep you comfortable, but provide a good return on investment.

A split system to lower energy costs is a great option, since each room can be separately controlled. However, they cost more although they will help save money over time. If your home is heated using hot water, as many older homes are, the split system is your only option since you don’t have the heating ducts in place that come with a furnace.

There are some companies that will recommend adding an ultraviolet light system to kill mold, bacteria, and viruses from being circulated, which many homeowners have started to do since the onset of the pandemic.


7. Maintain wood. Wood adds charm to a home, whether through siding, flooring, railings, or a deck. But it also requires regular maintenance. Boards — even new ones — can rot due to weather and insects.

Another culprit is the type of wood used today. A century ago, the center of trees was used for boards, which made them sturdier than today’s wood planks that are made from the entire tree and its pulp. That means they also carry more moisture, and therefore rot faster. Pressure washing a house removes mold before sealing wood well with quality outdoor paint.


8. Remember tree care. Trees are a beautiful addition to a property, providing shade in summer and picturesque snow-covered branches in winter. They also add curb appeal and resale value. But they should not be overlooked by homeowners when it comes to their care.

Trees require ongoing maintainance just like houses do. Big limbs may come down during storms or rub against roof shingles, insects can feast on wood, and spreading tree roots may clog sewers. You should hire an arborist to examine your site’s trees when you move in and have limbs pruned periodically. Diseased trees should be promptly removed to prevent spread.


9. All things chimney. If a chimney isn’t well maintained, moisture can enter, along with animals and other debris.

Inspections help to point out crumbling mortar and problems with flashings, flue liners and the flue itself. Keeping all parts in shape will also improve the air quality inside a house.

If a chimney has significantly deteriorated, you’ll have to decide whether to remove it or to have it repaired. The deciding factor may be cost. If the house is in a historic neighbourhood, it’s possible that exterior parts must be retained according to various designations.

Buying a first home is a significant investment, so ongoing maintenance is a must, and will ensure many years of of happiness in your new home.