Book Review
Title: "The Essential Guide for First-Time Homeowners: Maximize Your Investment & Enjoy Your New Home"
Authors: Ilona Bray and Alayna Schroeder
Publisher: Nolo, 2008; 320 pages; $13.99

How many times have you bemoaned the fact that X, Y or Z important life experience didn’t come with an owner’s manual? Babies don’t, marriages don’t, your body doesn’t — but the masters of legal self-help manuals over at Nolo Press have teamed up with USA Today to bring you a manual one of the most significant life experiences: first-time homeownership.

"The Essential Guide for First-Time Homeowners: Maximize Your Investment & Enjoy Your New Home" aims to be a comprehensive manual covering the vast majority of financial and life issues that arise in the context of owning your first home. From housewarming party how-tos, to home maintenance and remodeling to mortgage and tax tips and even planning your next move, authors Ilona Bray and Alayna Schroeder offer their insightful advice and accessible voices on a very wide range of very relevant topics that the average first-time homeowner faces cluelessly.

And they start at the very beginning, which, as it happens, is a very good place to start. Bray and Schroeder attempt to bring some order to the somewhat chaotic experience of moving into your first home. After detailing the basics of moving in, Bray and Schroeder tackle the need-to-knows that are first-time responsibilities of new homeowners, including how to organize all the records of the home’s purchase and ownership, all service and maintenance records, and tax records. They also guide readers through the process of conducting an insurance inventory and taking steps to physically disaster-proof their homes.

Next, Bray and Schroeder guide readers through what they call "Living on Spaghetti" — being what we in the business call, nostalgically and (mostly) affectionately, being "house poor." The authors encourage readers to get a clear understanding of what they are currently taking in vs. spending, and walk them through the process of creating a monthly spending plan and prioritizing large purchases such as appliances and furniture. Once new homeowners manage their financial assets, Bray and Schroeder teach them to manage their new real estate asset, in a section on maintaining their property’s value. This chapter includes a yearlong property maintenance calendar: a handy tool for homeowners, first-time or otherwise.

The next two chapters offer particularly timely tips for how to increase the energy efficiency and overall green-ness of any home on a budget, and how to get along with your neighbors (or resolve disputes if you can’t). As trees, fences and other shared maintenance and boundary issues often loom large as some of the scariest elements of homeownership in my buyer clients’ minds, readers will find this chapter to be a super-useful sanity saver. There are also tips here on that other homeowner house of horrors: participating in an avoiding drama with your homeowners association (HOA).

Bray and Schroeder round the book out with tips on mortgage, refinancing and homeowners’ tax issues, remodeling (on your own or with a contractor), and how to recover and recoup in the event of a disaster or other damage to your home. At its conclusion, "The Essential Guide for First-Time Homeowners" comes full circle, echoing the first chapter on moving in via a chapter on moving up.

"The Essential Guide for First-Time Homeowners" truly manages to sketch out useful approaches and actionable tips for every stop along the circle of life as the owner of your very first home. It’s a handy, slim reference guide that belongs on the shelf of any new homeowner — and for homebuyers who are wrestling with whether they’re ready or willing to take on the responsibilities of homeownership.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site,


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