I Saved Thousands With DIY Home Repairs. Homeownership can get expensive if you don't have the right skills to take on a few DIY projects around the house.Oftentimes when people send out warnings to first-time home buyers, their advice is related to the hidden costs of buying and maintaining a house.

But there’s more to homeownership than just writing checks for the mortgage, maintenance, and taxes. There are skills that a person must have to be a successful homeowner – especially if you’re not loaded.

Having a good set of “handyman” skills can save you a lot of money, which – if you are a first-time homeowner – can mean the difference between being able to afford your home comfortably or stretching yourself too thin and becoming “house poor.”

Unfortunately, when I bought my first house as a single woman at age 21, I didn't possess any of these skills.

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Why Did I Buy?

Although I occasionally look back and regret my decision to buy a house, there wasn’t really any way around it at the time.

After graduating college in 2012, I got a job offer in my rural hometown of Colby, Kansas, where there was a housing shortage and a “seller’s market.” It may sound like an exaggeration, but at the time, many homes were being sold within hours of hitting the market. And rentals weren’t easy to come by, either.

Although my family lives in Colby, I knew I didn’t want to move back in with my parents, as many millennials are doing for financial reasons these days. I had already gone through a lot of life events – like getting married and subsequently divorced – which forced me to grow up and be more independent than many people my age.

After living on my own for two years, I couldn’t imagine living with my parents again.

And since rentals were rare and rents very high, I decided to buy a house.

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What Skills Are Must-Haves?

Many young, first-time buyers don’t have the money to pay for some of the maintenance, repairs, and upgrades that inevitably come with owning a home. Luckily, there are a few basic skills that homeowners can learn and practice in order to save themselves a ton of money.

Some of the skills I’ve found to be helpful as a homeowner are:

  • Changing an air filter
  • Shutting off the electricity in your breaker box or resetting a “flipped” breaker
  • Shutting off your main water valve
  • Changing the temperature of your hot water heater and re-lighting the pilot light
  • Turning off your gas
  • Fixing a running toilet
  • Finding a wall stud for hanging wall décor
  • Caulking
  • Painting

While some of these may sound very basic, many of them can save a homeowner a significant amount of money. Labor costs in my area generally run about $50 minimum for the smaller things on the list. For example, changing air filters, resetting flipped breakers, and re-lighting the pilot light on a water heater.

When you do simple fixes and take preventive steps, everything works more efficiently and lasts longer.


How Do You Train Yourself?

Local hardware stores and larger home improvement chains – Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Mendard’s – are good places to start. Ask about upcoming classes or workshops, and you may be surprised to find that they’ll teach you almost all of the things listed above. The workshops are usually fairly inexpensive and will pay off over time.

You may also be able to learn some of the simplest skills for free by watching videos on YouTube. That’s how my dad and I learned to replace a part in my washing machine – something that would have cost me at least $200 if I had hired a professional.

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The Complete Do It Yourself Manual is another great resource to have on hand. Make sure you're not messing with things that are best left to the professionals, like wiring. After all, you want to save money — not electrocute yourself!

Be generous with your skills. Offer help to family and friends. This is an easy way to get hands-on experience. My best friend and I have tackled several home improvement projects together and learned lots of new skills. Sometimes trial and error is the best way to learn.

Looking back on my first home now, I realize that without the help of family and friends who are “handy,” I would’ve had to shell out hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars. Don’t let that happen to you.