"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Show a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime."
Boxes are packed; utilities are all arranged, and the moving van will pull up in a few days to transport your worldly belongings to your brand new home. There are a number of formalities to deal with, however, and once they're out of the way, you're "home free", so to speak. After all, you have watched this home go up stick by stick, delighted in that special closed-loop warm beige carpeting being installed, and have a tough time sleeping these past few nights because of the intense anticipation of the move.
Aside from the escrow appointment to take in the remainder of your down payment and record title, making it "official", you are about to participate in the walk-through, or new home orientation, as many builders now refer to it. The builder may have given you literature explaining how long it takes, its purpose, and how they return afterwards to make touch-ups and corrections. What they may fail to hit home with, however, is the immense importance of this tour as a learning tool for you as you spend the next odd number of years of your life there.
Getting the most from your new home orientation can take some planning and research; viewing it as a mere formality may see you regretting taking it so lightly someday. This is usually your last opportunity to have uncompromised time with the builder itself, whether dealing with the superintendent in charge of having your home built, or a customer service quality-control representative. And since there is such a large investment at stake, why not look upon it as important as most other major events in life that prepare you for the future? View this event as more than a "witch hunt" for hairline cracks in drywall, unpainted trim and crooked moldings. It's important to remember that a new home is a handmade product, touched by literally dozens of individuals before its completion, making it an inexact science. As they say, nothing is perfect in our physical world.
First, see if it is possible to get a copy of the builder's warranty book ahead of time. This is not a common request with many builders, so it may take some prodding through the builder's salesperson. Telling them that you want it to study so that you are prepared for the orientation may make them less defensive, however. Then, peruse it for a while, noting what items are included in the builder's structural claims, and what warranties expire well before the ten years or so the builder is "on the hook", so to speak, for the big stuff.
On the day of the orientation, take a clipboard and even a video camera if you must, to document and to learn about the care and maintenance of your new home, and use the manual to give you insight into what to ask about during the orientation. For instance, what does the builder say about the windows that have been installed? Dual-paned windows are oftentimes replaceable indefinitely through the manufacturer if the gas seal is compromised between the panes and moisture gets in. Other products in the new home have stated one-year warranties through their manufacturers. It's important to note that many products that are installed within your new home carry individual warranties that are passed on to you when you close escrow. Failing to fill out and send in applicable warranty cards, as tedious and unpleasant as it may be, may cause you heartache in the future if something goes haywire. (Check to see if many of these manufacturers have on-line warranty registrations now, and this process may not be so unpleasant after all.)
There may be a list of items that the builder will be returning for over the period of the next few weeks or so. Most builders want to get this part over with, so they will schedule the work to be done as quickly as possible. If you miss an appointment to be on hand for a repair, it will be your loss if the builder's schedule is now booked up for weeks to come for a return visit.
Instructions regarding maintenance are among the most important parts of this meeting. Care of floor surfaces, how often to change heating and air conditioning filters, how to keep standing water away from the foundation of your home and maintain the builder's original grade, the importance of sealing grout in tile areas, and warnings about disturbing insulation in crawl spaces; all these and more prepare you for the future, helping to keep your home "new", preserving its value. Using your thermostat setbacks for efficient energy savings is important to your pocketbook, no doubt, and the care and use of your fireplace may help it serve you better for many years to come.
Common sense definitely comes into play here; builders are oftentimes called on to the scene to unclog toilets only to find foreign objects have been stuffed down them. After your own orientation, it may be advisable to conduct your own "kid" orientation, instructing your children on what constitutes "abuse" of your new home and how to respect it as well. Apart from the warnings about appropriate toilet functions, giving an elementary course on how to properly use systems and items installed in your new home may go a long way in eliminating future warranty and expensive repairs calls.
In the longer scheme of things, buy a special "house" calendar and folder, and mark down important dates for warranty follow-ups and regularly scheduled maintenance. If your builder has given you paper work to be filled out quarterly for the first year, mark down when it needs to be faxed or mailed by. Write down workmen's appointments, and keep copies of warranty follow-up paper work with the calendar, noting the work that was done, assurances made, and items still on order for replacement. Note when manufacturer's warranties were sent in and take copies if you can.
Take this appointment to learn about your new home as seriously as you would learn from a physical examination. Get a relative to watch the kids, tell friends and family members that they are welcome to visit at another time, and take more than the customary amount of time off work for it. It's safe to say that you will get from your new home orientation what you are willing to put into it. Seeing yourself and the builder of your new home as "partners" in this process will help eliminate finger-pointing when emotions are high before, during, and after the move.