I’ll admit, I come from a handy family, although my dad’s skills are often called into question. And although my husband’s family were more likely to use the phone to get some jobs done around the house, he still came equipped with some basic maintenance skills. So when I see new homeowners who simply shrug and say, “I’m not handy”, I worry that they’re going to end up leaving money on the table. With that in mind, here are some basic tasks you can learn to do around your home. Back in the day, you might have been gifted a home-repair book, but these days, like most things, the most reliable source of learning is good old YouTube.
The first one is to learn to change a lock. Now, in many condos, your entry door to your unit has a special locking system that’s solely the domain of property management. It’s still a good idea to ask that a new key/lock be installed, even if there’s an associated cost. That way, no matter what, you know there’s not someone wandering around with a key to your home. If you live in a house or townhouse with a front door to the outside world, most of them have an entry lockset that involves a handle and also a deadbolt. Both of these are pretty easy to change. The key (no pun intended) is to make sure you measure carefully for the position of the lock and latch. You can find great instructions within the package, or online, to do this. Sure, a locksmith can do it, and they can re-key so that front and back door keys match. But the majority of new model locksets already have the ability to do this, built in. The two biggest names, with decades of quality and experience behind them, are Weiser and Schlage. (No compensation received by me – I’ve had both kinds on several of my properties).
The next one, which I’ve done in most homes, although not all, is to change the toilet seats. You’ll want to make sure you know if your toilets are round or elongated types, so do check before you go to purchase. There are also more specialty features than you might imagine – the two best ones in my experience are the ones with a twist-off hinge, which remove easily for cleaning, and those with a soft-close feature. That’s especially appreciated if someone in the household is up often at night.
Have you checked and labelled your breaker panel? Old homes had fuse boxes when I bought my first one, but even in older homes now, if there’s been updating to the electrical system, there’s likely to be a panel with breakers. Your previous owner may have been smart and kind, labelling each of the breakers with the corresponding circuit or appliance. However, even when they’ve done this, you may discover it’s inaccurate…just when you need to be able to shut down the power for a repair. So, take some time when you move in, and label all of the switches in the breaker panel. The easiest way is to have a “watcher” in each of the rooms as the “labeller” shuts each breaker off and back on. Make a note of each, with special attention to things like your major appliances. (Yes, you’ll need to reset the clocks after, but it’s worth it).
If you have any experience moving at all, you’ll know that you, a mover, a friend, or someone who came before you in the house, might ding a wall and the drywall will need repair. I won’t get into plaster here; it can be much more complex. In most cases, homes built in my lifetime have drywall. A tiny hole like a nail hole from a picture probably just needs some filling compound like Polyfilla®, but if the hole is bigger, it needs a bit of skill. Again, YouTube to the rescue for drywall patching lessons. The patch will also need to be repainted. I know that sounds like a lot, but this might be the most valuable skill I brought with me to home ownership.
Painting walls and trim is something you’ll need when you do simple repairs, but it can also help you save a lot of money on a refresh of a home – whether it’s been decorated in a style that’s not to your taste, or you’re getting ready to “neutralize” it so that you can list it for sale and move up the property ladder. Not to mention, every once in a while you just want a fresh look. Now, that’s not to say you’ll do a better job than a professional painter. Even if, with practice, you’ve become very adept at the job, they’ll likely have better equipment and be faster than you. On the other hand, they don’t typically work weekends, and if you have furniture to be moved, that’s not in their job description either. (Which reminds me – if you’re able to get into your property with some overlap from your last place, while it’s empty, that’s a great time to do any painting you have in mind).
You’ll find that your nearest big box home reno store will often have classes on evenings or weekends, teaching a whole range of useful skills for around your home. While I’m not suggesting you elevate yourself to contractor grade, learning some basic home DIY skills will save you time and money, helping you build sweat equity in your property, especially when you’re starting out.