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The papers are signed, the former owners' moving van has driven away, and, with any luck, yours is on the way as you pull out the keys to your very first home. Pat yourself on the back for surviving the open houses and bidding wars, and having enough income to afford a place in the suburbs.

But now what?

Nationwide, nearly 5.5 million homes changed hands in February alone, with some 1.75 million, or nearly a third, going to first-time buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. We asked some experts what they think neophyte homeowners really need. What's essential when you turn the key and move into that new abode?

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Mike Zappolo, assistant manager of Aubuchon Hardware in Cohasset, recommends a tool kit outfitted with a hammer, a hand drill, a few types of screwdrivers, a small hacksaw, a tape measure, and a ratchet set.

"Just the little things that you don't realize you need, until you don't have them," he said.

He also recommends the sorts of things you'd typically keep in a junk drawer but forget to pack: duct tape, glue, and packing tape, for example — and some outdoor hoses, for both watering the garden and washing the car.

Over at Hingham Lumber, a family-owned business for four generations, the list of necessities includes a ladder, with the six-foot step variety the most popular, according to marketing director Lisa Murphy.

Then there are yard-related items like fertilizer, a lawn mower, and trimmers. Murphy recommends a new line of battery-powered machines that can do about 6,000 feet of work before they need to be plugged in and recharged.

And don't forget the outdoor grill, she said.

Margus Deery, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Andover, adds a snow blower to the list — something she tries to negotiate into sales agreements, along with the lawn mower and window treatments.

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"Even if you don't love the drapes, it's nice to have something to close so your neighbors aren't watching you for the first couple of weeks," Deery said.

She also makes sure that people new to town know about the YMCA on the Andover-North Andover line and the private Facebook groups — North Andover Moms and Andover Moms — which have a wealth of useful information.

Laura Meier, broker/owner of Black Horse Real Estate in Sudbury, puts key emergency contact information at the top of her litany of must-haves — everything from plumbers, electricians, and locksmiths to local clinics and hospitals. She presents each buyer with a package that includes those numbers, plus maps and information about town amenities such as swimming pools and soccer camps.

In Lynnfield, Karen Harrington brings all new homeowners "Lynnfield Welcomes," packages wrapped with ribbons in the high school's colors of blue and gold and filled with goodies from businesses and organizations. The gifts include cookies and a schedule of activities at the Lynnfield Senior Center, a local phone book, a canvas bag from the animal hospital, and coupons from a karate studio.

"A lot of people coming into town [don't] know about the local businesses and shoot right off to the big malls; I wanted to highlight the local businesses in town, and the basics that any family needs to know," said Harrington, who started the program about five years ago as a volunteer effort, independent of the once-prolific national Welcome Wagon program.

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Framingham's assistant fire chief, Mike Dutcher, has a list that's all about safety — smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers, especially for the kitchen.

"We have about 50 house or structure fires a year, but if you add cooking fires, we're up to about 500 to 600; cooking fires are our biggest type of fire," he said.

Dutcher also recommends that homeowners move in with a home escape plan that anticipates fires in different parts of the house and includes a meeting place — and that they practice it a couple of times a year.

Andover realtor Lillian Montalto of Signature Properties reminds buyers to be sure the utilities are in their name and that the locks have been changed.

Also at the top of her list of essentials are cleaning and paper products, toiletries, groceries, and — in case the moving van doesn't arrive on move-in day — an air mattress and bedding.

"And a big bottle of wine with two wine glasses," she said.


Johanna Seltz can be reached at seltzjohanna@gmail.com.