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Repairs every new homebuyer should make

(MoneyWatch) You've unpacked, painted the walls, and taken care of other small home repair projects. Now it's time to relax, open a bottle of wine and enjoy being a homeowner. Right? Think again.

"I tell my new homeowner customers that you're going to find problems every season for a few years," says Rich Escallier, a handyman in Chicago. "If you can go six months without finding something that raises your blood pressure, you're lucky."

Contractors and remodeling experts agree that new owners shouldn't rest easy after their home purchase. 

Starting from the moment they move in, new owners should look ahead to routine maintenance and take care of small home repairs right away to head off potentially costly mistakes. Here's a quick timeline of things to look for.

Move-In Week

Make it a point to turn on all of your major appliances and let them run for a complete cycle, especially if your home is newly built. Believe it or not, contactors and home inspectors don't always test out these devices after installing them. It's easy to improperly connect appliances dishwashers and microwave ovens, says Daniel Cipriani of Kade Homes & Renovations outside Atlanta, Ga.

"If you have a minor leak under the dishwasher, that water leaks into the subfloor and you can't see it," Cipriani says. "But you'll start to notice the hardwood floor buckling."

Repairing the floor after a minor leak goes unnoticed can cost as much as $5,000.

If you're in a new house, be sure to read your warranty -- don't wait until an emergency to start familiarizing yourself with your legal rights and responsibilities.

45 Days

Change the filter on your HVAC system, and vacuum out the air intake vents. Capturing dirt and dust with the right filter can go a long way toward preserving the new home appeal for a few years.

Six Months

During summer months, keep an eye out for invasive animals like squirrels, birds and wasps. These pests look for loose soffits and buckled siding as a way to get into your home. Once there, they can make a nest, raise young and wreak havoc on hard-to-reach areas of your home.

Twice a year in the summer and fall, inspect the exterior of your house to make sure rainwater is draining properly. Clean out clogged gutters and downspouts. Construction professionals recommend six-inch gutters and proper landscaping so that rainwater is directed away from your foundation.

"Landscaping should be negatively graded away from the house," Cipriani says. "People don't think it's a big problem, but otherwise water pools against the foundation and doesn't have anywhere to go."

Fixing up your foundation could cost upwards of $10,000. Even one crack in a poured concrete wall could cost $800 to $1,500 per crack, according to the Foundation Repair Network.

"If you can fit a nickel into it, you'll know that it might be an issue," Cipriani says.

Each winter, check to make sure that your pipes are properly insulated against freezing. Consider installing an inexpensive insulating hood over exterior water spigots.

Every Year

Inspect your roof or have a professional roofer conduct an inspection. Look for missing shingles, gaps in the flashing around chimneys and other hazards. Indoors, check your ceiling for water spots. If you see a spot, don't panic -- just trace the spot with a pencil so you can monitor its progress to see if it's still growing. Some minor leaks will clear up without your help, but most don't, so you have to stay vigilant.

Every Two Years

If you have a sewer line or a catch basin, expect to have it cleaned out and inspected by qualified plumbers. They'll check for broken pipes, roots growing through the line and other potential flooding hazards.

Have a professional HVAC contractor inspect your furnace, air conditioner and hot water heater. Often hot water heaters are located close to other major appliances -- and a ruptured reservoir could spill 40 gallons of water in a few hours. Escallier recommends installing an inexpensive water alarm with sensors in the collection pan beneath the hot water heater. A $25 water alarm can head off a potentially disastrous basement spill.

Above all, don't put off little repairs -- that just compounds the problem. The most common thing customers say to Escallier after a big repair job is, "We wish we would have done this sooner."

"You want to enjoy living in your house," he says. "Don't put your head in the sand."

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