Top-10 Tools for the First-Time Homeowner

Part of Courtney's stash of toolsA ladder and circular saw are two tools I needed when screening in this porch. Image: Courtney Craig for HouseLogic

Making the transition from renter to home owner means you can’t call a landlord to fix things anymore. Here’s how to get your must-have toolbox started.

When I bought my first house in May, my heart was full but my wallet was empty. The crush of a down payment left me with little extra cash to spend on tools for my new home — some of which I needed immediately.

I borrowed tools from friends and family until I caught my breath financially and could buy things for myself. Four months into life at my new home, I can tell you these are the 10 essential tools you’ll want.

1. Ladder. There’s no way around it — for cleaning gutters, hanging crown moulding, or painting tall walls, a ladder is a must-have. Prices range depending on the height and material, but expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $400 for an extension ladder.

2. Circular saw. My first big project as a new home owner was to screen in a back porch and install new railings. When it came time to buy 2x4s, I needed something to cut them with, and hand saws are just too slow. I borrowed a saw from family members before buying my own, but now that I have, my circular saw has come in handy for building shelves inside closets, too. You can spend $40 for a 7.25-inch model, all the way up to $900 for a 12-inch diamond saw. 

3. Cordless drill. This is another power tool I borrowed from a friend before buying my own, but now that I have a cordless drill, I can’t imagine owning a home without one. A battery-powered drill will be your best friend for many DIY projects, and you won’t have to bother with extension cords. Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $300.

4. Hammer. No toolbox is complete without one. You’ll spend anywhere from $5 for a basic hammer to $200 for a titanium-head, curved-handle model.

5. Garden hose. Get started on that curb appeal by watering your plants! Depending on the length, material, and durability, a hose will cost you anywhere from $8 to $100. You’ll also want a nozzle ($2-$30) and a reel for storage ($5-$150). Don’t forget to bring it inside in winter so it doesn’t crack or split.

6. Tape measure. Useful in measuring for furniture placement and many other around-the-home tasks, you can buy a 25-foot tape measure for as little as $4.

7. Level. For hanging pictures or installing shelves, a level is essential. A 4-foot level costs anywhere from $10 for a basic model to $175 for a digital level with LCD screen.

8. Screwdrivers. You’ll need both flathead and Phillips head varieties. A 4-in-1 screwdriver set with both heads in different sizes costs as little as $4.

9. Pliers. A five-piece pliers set should cover just about every small object you’ll need to grip, pull, or cut. I’ve used them to pull errant nails out of small spaces and cut jagged edges protruding from things, and I watched an electrician strip wires with them when he was installing a ceiling fan on my new porch. A five-piece set includes an adjustable wrench, slip joint, long-nose, diagonal, and groove joint pliers, and costs as little as $11.

10. Stud finder. One of the best parts of setting up a home is hanging art — it’s what really makes your new house feel like home. The stud finder will come in handy for future DIY projects as well. You’ll pay about $3.50 for a magnetic stud finder, up to about $80 for a digital one.

A few more thoughts about acquiring tools

  • When it’s time to buy, hit some local yard sales or estate sales for bargains. Thrift stores are also a good bet. If you have friends or family who are downsizing or decluttering, even better — you’ll be helping them while helping yourself.

What were your first projects as a new home owner? What tools did you need?