Recently, our friend Keith became a first-time homeowner after being a renter for most of his adult life. He bought a two-bedroom co-op in Rossmoor, an over-55 development in Walnut Creek, Calif. Now he’s Bill’s neighbor.
Keith is the best golfer among our group and has been for many years. He’s well stocked with the tools he needs for the fairways and greens. He’s also an accomplished cyclist and has the tools to keep his two bikes in fine shape. But when it came to the implements every homeowner needs to care for his abode, he was tool-less and clueless. So he came to Bill for advice.
The home Keith purchased was dated. So Bill recommended he put some money into an update. For less than $20,000, Keith got his popcorn ceilings scraped, new paint, new carpet, a new French door, new interior doors with hardware, and best of all: a closet equipped with washer and dryer.
The place looks good. Now our friend needs to maintain it. He asked us for a list of basic tools for the new homeowner. Here’s what we told him:
- 16-ounce rip hammer: This is a multitasker. It’s heavy enough to drive a 16-penny nail, yet light enough for the non-pro to control. The claw is straight, allowing for pulling nails, ripping out a wall or, in a pinch, digging out a weed in the garden. Choosing a hammer is a personal thing. Buy one that feels well balanced in your hand. Go for the fiberglass or steel handle. We’ve broken too many wood hammer handles.
- 14-volt lithium battery-driven drill and bits: Another multitasker. The tool performs as a drill and a power screwdriver. For everyday usefulness and at a cost of about $50, it’s a must-have. Get a set of twist bits and screwdriver bits for the business end of the tool.
- Tape measure: We’ve found a 25-footer with a 1-inch-wide blade to be the most useful. It’s long enough to measure pretty much anything you want, and the 1-inch width allows the blade to extend up to 8 feet without buckling. This comes in handy when working alone.
- Utility knife: This all-purpose cutting tool has any number of uses, from marking wood to scoring and cutting drywall. These days the utility knife is available in two configurations: the old standby where the blade retracts into the handle, and the new kid on the block where the blade folds into the handle like a pocketknife. They’re inexpensive, so try one of each and use the one you like the best.
- 4-in-1 screwdriver: This versatile tool is designed with four screwdriver bits: a large and small flat-head bit and a large and small Phillips-head bit. Bit changes are easy.
- Level (or spirit level): A must-have for hanging pictures or putting in shelves. The longer the level, the more accurate the line. We’ve found a 4-foot level to be a good size. For smaller jobs, such as leveling or plumbing a picture frame, a line level or torpedo level is the ticket. One side is usually magnetized, allowing it to stick to metal and allowing for free movement of the piece without trying to balance the level.
- 1-inch putty knife and 6-inch drywall knife: The tools you need for filling nail holes and patching dings in the wall.
- 6- and 14-inch adjustable crescent wrenches: Crescent wrenches adjust to fit most nuts and bolts. The larger size gives more leverage, and the smaller size fits more easily into tight places.
- Pliers: We suggest three versions. Channel-lock pliers are adjustable and another multitasker used for gripping things such as nuts and showerheads (with protection of a cloth). Lineman’s pliers are also wire cutters and are the tool for twisting wire. Needle-nose pliers are good for fine work in tight places. As an add-on, vise grips do double duty as clamps.
- Painting tools: A 9-inch roller frame, a few disposable roller covers, a paint tray and a 2 1/2-inch angled brush will meet basic painting needs. We always buy top-quality brushes and clean them well after each use. We’re not as finicky about the rollers. We also recommend a 5-in-1 painters tool. This versatile tool includes a sharp blade for scraping; a putty remover and spreader; a 1/2-round cutout to remove paint from rollers; and a sharp point to open cracks for patching.
- For the garden: A round-point shovel, a flat-edge shovel, a rake and a handheld garden spade will take care of most garden maintenance.
The cost of all this should be around $200, or put another way, the price of a couple of house calls. We wish our buddy well as he embarks on the adventure of homeownership. Of course, we’ll be there to kibitz.