Congratulations, you've got your dream house. You survived the stress of making the biggest purchase of your life, the traumas of moving day and probably have hefty mortgage repayments as a happy reminder each month, but is your home truly your castle yet?
Unless you were fortunate enough to buy a new build, decorated entirely to your specifications, chances are you've got a rapidly growing list of things to fix, change or eradicate.
The "home honeymoon" period of relaxing and enjoying your new surroundings soon gives way an irrepressible urge to change everything, starting with that ghastly pink wallpaper in the bedroom which is beginning to give you night tremors.
To be honest though, if the interior decoration is your biggest pending home improvement you are one of the lucky ones.
Buying a new home usually involves getting a survey done to check the condition of the building and chances are it will throw up one or two problems that will need your attention, and your wallet.
Rising damp is one of the most common culprits in British homes. Tell-tale signs include flaking plaster, peeling wallpaper, mould or a salty tidemark on walls inside the house.
Or on the exterior either the appearance of white powder, or disintegrating mortar from the brickwork.
There is no shortage of contractors who can come investigate the problem and offer a variety of damp-proofing treatments but be wary of commission-based salesmen who offer to do free check-ups.
Unlike with most building problems, the general rule with rising damp is that if the wall looks okay, it probably is okay so trust your judgement.
If you want to be more informed about damp take a look at these brief descriptions of common timber decay and damp proof problems to ascertain whether you have a problem which requires further attention, visit the Association of Accredited Wykamol Users.
One of the costliest problems you may have to deal with is repairing or re-laying your roof and, sadly, in our typical British climate you won't survive a year with a sub-standard roof. But if the job's got to be done then make sure it's done properly.
Roof construction is a complex game so you will have to bring in experts, our only advice is to make sure any contractor you bring in to quote is registered with The National Federation of Roofing Contractors - search for one on their website.
When it comes to keeping your house watertight the simplest and cheapest way to avoid future problems is to keep your guttering in good working order.
Clear out leaves in the autumn and then all that winter rain will go right where you want it, down the drains instead of into your walls.
Plumbing, gas and electrics are next on the list, and although you may feel like your new home is fast becoming a money pit, these areas are not the place to cut corners.
Once you're living in the house you'll quickly know if you have a problem in one of these areas.
For plumbing keep an eye on slow drains and leaky taps, and for electrics one tell-tale sign your house needs an electrical MOT is if your trip switch goes every time a light bulb dies in the house.
There's plenty of plumbers and electricians in the phone book, just ensure that any electrical contractors you use are NICEIC approved and likewise for plumbers or gas engineers that they are Corgi registered.
You can't be too careful when it comes to Gas appliances, they should be checked regularly, particularly fires.
If you sign up for a maintenance and breakdown insurance plan such as British Gas's Homecare, your home will also get a once over by an engineer.
Signing up for one of these cover plans buys you peace of mind that there will always be an engineer when you need one, and more importantly you won't be footing a huge bill when your boiler packs up just before Christmas.
Another tip for improving your home safety-wise, is to fit smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide detector. Both can be fitted by you and are an invaluable investment in your family's safety.
Once you've attended to all the above your home should be in good working order, hopefully running more efficiently which in turn should bring down your monthly household bills.
At this point you might financially need to take a break from home improvements but at some point you'll start dreaming again of how to improve your home, perhaps to add value when you come to sell on.
Our final tip on the matter would be to do your homework before starting work, particularly if the changes you wish to make mean getting planning permission.
Broadly speaking any changes to the external structure of your building, however minor you may feel they are, could be subject to planning permission from your local council.
Proceeding without permission could be a costly mistake as the council can legally force you to change the building back at your own cost.
For a general guide to what types of work may need permission and information on how to apply visit the Planning Portal website.
Whatever type of work you need doing, whether highly specialised or seemingly straightforward, you would be wise to follow these 10 tips for hiring and working with a contractor:
1. Plan your project carefully: Collect pictures, make sketches, write a description. This will help you accurately convey what you want the finished product to be.
2. Ask your neighbours or friends for the names of reputable tradesmen. Contact material suppliers for they type of work you require, and ask them for recommendations.
3. Get at least three written quotes for the project, but don't give in to the temptation to automatically accept the lowest bid.
A higher quote may be worth the price in better materials, workmanship and reliability. If they have deliberately quoted cheap they may use poor quality materials or take shortcuts to make their profit.
4. If licences are required for the work, be certain to ask to see your contractor's licences and be sure that it's not expired.
5. Ask for references and then check them out. Look at the projects and ask the previous clients if they are satisfied with the quality of work done, if it was started and completed on schedule and if it is complete.
6. Get a signed, written contract and be sure you understand it. The single biggest cause of home owner-contractor disputes is the written contract; either not having one, having a poor one, or having one everyone ignores.
A good contract should include:
- The company name, address (not a PO box) & phone number, the name of the builder, contractor and licence number, if applicable
- A detailed project description
- A materials list
- A statement that all necessary permits and inspections are the responsibility of the contractor
- Starting and completion dates
- Guarantee of workmanship, the length of the guarantee, and specifically what's covered and what's not
- Contractor's guarantee that he carries liability insurance and worker's compensation coverage
- A statement that clean-up will be done by the contractor
- The total price and payment schedule
And keep in mind...
Be cautious about upfront payments for more than 15% of the contract price.
Any instalments should be not be required on a certain date, but correlated to work completion.
Do not pay cash - a reputable builder will ask for a cheque.
7. Make any changes to the project in writing with a "work order change" to avoid misunderstandings and surprises.
8. Keep pets and children away from the construction site. This will ensure not only their safety, but also that of the workers. In addition, it helps keep the project on schedule.
9. Inspect the work regularly.
10. Accept that finding the right contractor will take time, and you should feel comfortable communicating with your contractor.
If you sense he is being evasive when you are getting a quote, it won't get any better during the construction period.
Find someone you understand and who understands you, and who is open and forthright.