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Tips for a New Homeowner

by Juliet Kinkade-Black


After months of waiting, talking with appraisers and loan officers and underwriters and real estate agents, you have finally bought a house. This is a major success! With today’s competitive housing market, the fact you have found a house that fits your needs, negotiated a buying price, and crossed the finish line is a testament to your tenacity and proof that the gods are smiling upon you. You’ve received the keys, moved in your copies of Tipping the Velvet and Stone Butch Blues, your boxes of too-small sweaters labeled “Next Year, Maybe,” the turquoise-blue IKEA plates from your weekend trip to Colorado.

Now what?

First, you will need to complete a change of address form with the post office. If you forget this key step, you will miss the Homeowners’ Association’s welcome packet, since they won’t email it, despite having your email address on file. It’s not a big welcome packet, and in fact, does not even have the word “Welcome” in the letter; it does have some very crucial information about the quarterly $75 dues you, as a new homeowner in the Tres Volcanes neighborhood, are already two months late on. Since you will not receive this letter, you will not pay the fee, and one month later, they will mail you another letter, along with a bill for $285 dollars, because now you owe two quarterly $75 dues, plus a late fee. It’s in your best interest to complete a change of address form with the post office the first week you move in.

Next, unpack your boxes. This one seems obvious—you need your Mr. Coffee and your collection of political message coffee mugs in order to get through the day. It will be tempting to forget the wall of boxes you stacked in the garage for later, because there’s nothing interesting in them. Don’t give in to the temptation. It isn’t until the hot water heater explodes in the middle of the night, flooding the garage with water that snakes down the driveway and into the street, startling the pair of coyotes who visit every night, that you will remember one of those boxes stored all of your student loan paperwork, years of tax returns, and a critical collection of hand-printed Thanksgiving recipes you inherited from your mom and were planning to actually follow this year, now that you have your own home and can host your family. If you skip this important step, you will have to spread all the wet pages out in the sunlight on the lawn to dry, leading your dog to interpret this practice as an invitation to pee on the white carpet inside, which you had been planning to replace before the hot water tank exploded.

Once you have unpacked, host a house-warming party. The one good thing about buying a home during a pandemic is that this house-warming party will be virtual, which means you don’t need to clean before-hand, or cook! And even though house-warming parties are basically a holdover from the 1970s and the patriarchy, when young girls who were not legally able to open their own checking accounts married right out of finishing school, and the young couples hadn’t yet created a home together, while you and your wife have been living in lesbian sin together for the past 17 years and, as your cousin tactfully pointed out, have every kitchen appliance ever sold, it’s still a great way to get free stuff. Register on Amazon, even though Jeff Bezos doesn’t need any more of your money.

Here is a list of recommended items for your gift registry:

  • Rug grips and pads, to secure the rug you bought from Bezos on Amazon Prime day, and that really pulls the open floor plan together.

  • Wine fridge, to replace the one that broke in the move, but which you use anyway because where else are you going to store the case of red varietals the wine club sends you twice a year?

  • Light bulbs of all shapes and sizes. No matter how many types you get, you’ll still never have every size your new house requires, and there will always be pockets of darkness in your house that make critical corners invisible.

  • Donations to pay a regular house cleaning company. When you bought this house, did you seriously never consider who would be cleaning the ceiling fans?

Learn to identify the difference between house-settling sounds, and sounds that signal impending disaster. A good time to practice is the middle of the night after your wife has gone to sleep. Lay very still so you don’t let the dog know you are awake and therefore available to take her out for a sniff-and-squat, and listen to the creaks and stirs of the structure all around you. You will hear loud pops: a good rule of thumb is that the dramatic sounds are benign, the house stretching and constricting after standing all day in 101˚ temperatures. You will hear quiet, vaguely mechanical sounds: these will always come from the bathroom, specifically the toilet. As the weeks go by, the quiet, mechanical sound will wake you at night, will embed itself into your consciousness, will remind you of the short story you wrote in junior high about the case of the missing toilet. You will wish your own toilet would go missing, so that you didn’t have to hear the whoosh of running water all night. Mention this to your wife on a day she is not in pain from getting jerked off the sidewalk by your dog, who was enthusiastically barking at the golden retriever down the block, and she will Google toilet repair and watch a YouTube video on how to replace the toilet pump and flush. Buy elbow-length rubber gloves (2.99 at Lowe’s) along with the $9.99 toilet pump (in the plumbing aisle, not the toilet aisle) and accept that homeowners have to learn to do repairs.

After a period of time for nesting, you will begin to receive requests for hosting: birthdays, holidays, family members passing through on their way to “Health Retreats” in Pennsylvania. Set boundaries around how often you open your home to guests. They will sleep in your carefully-selected jersey-knit sheets and leave the bedding crumpled; they will use the elephant towels you rejoiced at finding on clearance from TJ Maxx; they will request three meals a day and leave a fridge full of leftovers you will be forced to eat, despite your strong dislike of leftover grilled chicken apple sausage and al dente pasta.

The first time you actually develop enough cajones to set a boundary and say no to a request to visit, it will undoubtedly be to your brother, who has been in Tucson for the past week with your sister, serving as the “marketing manager” for her new gluten-free bakery and posting Facebook posts of every meal he eats. He will ask to visit with you on his way back to Oklahoma, which is code for sleep in your guest room and leave wet towels on the bathroom floor. He will time this visit at the tail-end of a difficult week at work for you, when you had to terminate an employee and you realized that your job is to help other people achieve balance and wholeness in their lives, but not to have balance and wholeness in your life. In a fever of clarity about your need to set boundaries and put your needs first, you will reply to his mid-day texts (does he not understand you have a J-O-B?) with a kind but firm “No.” He will respond with a passive-aggressive comment that both confirms you made the right choice, and ignites a flame of guilt about not allowing your family to use the empty bedrooms you supposedly bought this house for the express purpose of their using. It is important, when this happens, to not back down.

Sign up for auto-pay for your home loan. Your loan officer, Jerome, has been the person you talk to most often, every day almost, right up until you sign the papers signaling you’re the new owner of the fifth house on the right. He is the person who you told first when the sellers accepted your offer; he is the person who commiserated with you about needing to keep your job in order to pay the bills, even though the job was probably going to kill you; he is the person who knows every ding on your credit score, every bad decision to apply for a store credit card just so you could receive 20% off this order today, every apartment you and your wife lived in from New Mexico to California. And then, one day, Jerome is gone, on to help the next loan applicant and learn all about their unique credit history. When that happens, navigate to the loan servicer website and get familiar with the details online about your loan. There will be an option to sign up for autopay: take it. There will be an option to break your payment up into twice-monthly payments, and this option is best, not only because you can pay half your loan and still have money for groceries and the gas bill on the 15th, but also because over the first year, you will end up making an extra full payment on your loan, which will decrease the total interest you pay over time. When the website does not allow you to sign up for this feature due to some bizarre math having to do with signing up exactly 30 days before your next payment is due, you will want to call Jerome and beg for help. Do not call Jerome. Instead, call the loan servicer’s help line and talk to Nina, who will set up recurring, twice-monthly automatic payments. She will ask you the amount of money you want taken out for each payment, and in a numbers-induced psychosis, you will round up $24, which makes things tidy to think about, but which will also create a tight budget that makes you sweat each month when it comes time to pay your bowling league dues and your post-pandemic haircut.

Enjoy. Sometime around the six-month mark, you will close your computer for the day and leave your home office, cross the Bezos rug past the television and kitchen island and inherited fridge that you want to replace but works just fine for now, through the sliding glass door and out to the backyard. Your wife will be standing on the edge of the patio, watering the lawn. You will sit down on one of the patio chairs and your dog will nose you, and for a few moments, you will appreciate the rhythm of every-day life you have created here, away from the crazy world. And it won’t be anywhere on your mind that this chair you’re sitting in, this patio your feet rest on, this lawn your wife is watering, are newly yours. They will just be a part of your every-day life. When that day comes, relish it.

About the author:

Juliet Kinkade-Black is a mixed-heritage Latina writer and marriage and family therapist. She received both her MFA in Creative Writing and her MA in Counseling from Saint Mary's College of California. Her previous work can be found in The Acentos Review, Tipping the Scales, and Mary Literary Journal. She lives in Albuquerque, NM with her wife, Becca, and their cattle dog, Sydney Bristow.


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