Moving into a new home is a momentous occasion that should be celebrated, whether the new homeowners are first-timers, at the top of their property ladder journey or downsizing. But finding a housewarming gift that is appropriate, useful and desired can be a challenge, because there are so many options out there.
How much should you spend? What do new homeowners need (or want)? Which gifts are likely to be used often and which are most likely to be sent to storage or re-gifted?
The history of housewarming
According to popular culture, the tradition of celebrating a new home extends back to medieval times. After a home was built, the owners would invite the community over to literally warm their new house. As a final part of the construction, a chimney hook was hung at the fireplace, and dinner would be prepared for the guests over an open fire.
Guests would bring firewood as a gift, and fireplaces throughout the new home would be lit, generating warmth and light, creating a comfortable home right from the start – hence housewarming.
In addition to being functional, this housewarming tradition had a spiritual basis. The belief was that the warmth generated from these new-home fires would banish evil spirits lurking about, so the housewarming tradition would also bring peace and prosperity for the new homeowners.
When should you give a housewarming gift?
Today, housewarming gifts are most often given at a housewarming party. But in the COVID era, housewarming parties became less frequent. Similarly, distance or a busy schedule may limit opportunities to attend a housewarming party in person.
And sometimes a housewarming gift is given to a new neighbor in the community, simply to welcome them and make introductions.
Regardless of how a housewarming gift is delivered, the general timeline around giving a gift to new homeowners is six to 12 months.
While that may seem like an extended timeline, having a few months to settle into a new home lets new homeowners better understand how they will use a space and what items they might need to make life easier or more enjoyable.
How much should you spend?
As a rule, a housewarming gift is a token of well wishes, not an extravagant purchase. The budget is really dependent on how much an individual can spend, as well as the nature of the relationship to the new homeowner.
Generally speaking, “It is important to not overspend on any gift and give only what you can afford,” says Diane Gottman, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas.
Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, says “On average, people probably spend between $20-$50 on a housewarming gift. It really depends on how well you know the person. If it is somebody you know you know extremely well and you might tend to spend a little bit more versus the next-door neighbor you are welcoming to the neighborhood.”
If budget is an issue, an extra pair of hands is an excellent gift for a new homeowner. Help with moving, painting, unpacking, gardening or running errands will always be appreciated.
Similarly, if you have a hobby or skill that would be beneficial to the homeowners, offer that up. Popular are freshly baked goods, or a home-cooked meal to enjoy one evening.
And if none of these will work, it is still thoughtful simply to, “Get a nice card and let the homeowners know that you’re thinking about them and that you’re wishing them all the best,” says Whitmore.
After all, it really is the thought that counts.
Picking the right gift
For new homeowners, picking the right gift comes down to knowing the recipient and spending time thinking about their possible needs and wants, if they aren’t overtly expressed.
That’s because, obviously, homeowners at various levels of the property ladder and different life stages will require different types of gifts or products to help their households run swimmingly.
Usually, younger homeowners (i.e., the typical first-time homeowner) are in the accumulation phase of their lives, so might be more open to receiving gifts to help fill their shelves and new spaces, whereas a retiree who is downsizing might be scaling back on household items.
Don’t assume though that life stage automatically comes with household requirements. “Some first- time homebuyers have everything they need while retirees, who you would think have everything they need, are maybe downsizing and in need of something particular,” says Gottman.
The easiest solution is to ask the homeowners for a wish list.
When it comes to decor items, unless you know the homeowners well and are familiar with their aesthetic and taste, veer away from bold prints, colors or patterns. And avoid projecting your own style on theirs.
Whatever gift you choose, it is wise to include a gift receipt, so that if an item doesn’t fit the aesthetic or is duplicated, the homeowner can easily and discreetly return it.
Traditional gifts and their meanings
Housewarming gifts evolved over the centuries. Initially, they were pragmatic, but also had symbolic meaning with a home blessing attached.
Bread was given so that the homeowners would never experience hunger; a gift of salt came with a wish for flavor and spice in life. Wine was given so that the homeowners would never be thirsty. Sugar or honey were wishes for a life with sweetness. Olive oil was given to wish homeowners good health.
Wood came with a wish of stability, harmony and peace, while a coin offered wishes of luck. A broom could be used to sweep away evil spirits, while a candle housewarming gift extended hope that the homeowners would have light during dark times.
Houseplants were a popular traditional housewarming gift, as they signified life.
One traditional housewarming gift that was a bit controversial was a knife. Some believed that given as a housewarming gift, a knife would represent security, while others believed that the knife (and its sharp edges) would foreshadow a division in the friendship. Apparently, this superstition can be countered by giving a gift of coins for luck at the same time.
In colonial times, pineapple was celebrated as a symbol of hospitality and was a rare treat, this was a coveted housewarming gift.
Today, while gifts for new homeowners are more readily available and the selection is vast, traditional gifts are still a meaningful and fun way to celebrate new homeownership, especially when you convey the meaning behind them to the gift recipient.
Keeping in mind that modern-day homeowners have different expectations (and technology) around life at home, there are ways to be creative and a traditional housewarming gift more useful in a modern-day home or have them play a role in contemporary decor.
For example, if the blessing associated with a wooden gift is of interest, a large teak cutting board, charcuterie serving board, or a large wooden bowl would be a good idea.
A clear piggy bank or decorative coin jar would be a nice twist on the coin gift tradition.
Instead of a simple loaf of bread, wrap a fresh loaf in pretty tea towels or printed napkins. Alternatively, consider a bread box or bread basket- or even a bread maker.
A bottle of wine would be well-received with some accessories, like wine glasses, a decanter, a wine rack or coasters.
A fresh pineapple might not last very long as a gift, but to communicate the gift of hospitality, a small framed photo of a pineapple, or a small golden pineapple statue placed near the front door are trinkets that are decorative and come with an interesting story attached to share with guests.
Candles are easy and appreciated, paired with a striking candleholder.
A houseplant is still one of the most popular housewarming gifts today and as a bonus has symbolic meaning. Add to this gift with a stylish planter.
New homeowner gift ideas
The best homeowner gifts marry fashion with function, so here is a room-by-room guide on some of the more popular (and most useful) housewarming gifts.
For the kitchen
The kitchen is the heart of the home, which is perhaps why so many housewarming gifts center on this space. Keep your budget in mind as well, because the kitchen is one area where gifts can easily be selected across a number of price points.
If choosing between something decorative (like linens or accents) and something task-oriented, for housewarming, the purposeful gift is better. Bakeware or cookware that is versatile (think large casserole dish, baking pans or a solid, multi-purpose frying or grill pan) would be a good choice.
Cookbooks and aprons are good housewarming gifts too.
Small appliances are a great idea- but consider both the recipient and the available space. Small appliances are wonderful if they facilitate the cooking process, but not so much if they take up too much space, especially when there is little storage space to spare. Is the homeowner a cook who will get regular use out of the small appliance and what kind of easy-to-reach storage is available?
Choose multi-purpose items, such as an Instant-Pot or a counter-top combo air fryer grill. Coffee makers and hand-held blenders are useful as well.
For the bathroom
A neutrally colored bath towel set is desirable. Anything organizational in nature (i.e., a shower/bath caddy, soap dispenser, wastepaper basket) is helpful in a bathroom as well.
A thoughtful gift here could be a selection of fancy hand soaps, which may be a gift item that a homeowner wouldn’t necessarily splurge on themselves.
For the bedroom
Treat the bedroom like a sanctuary and think of gifts that invite rest and relaxation. An essential oil diffuser or candle set would accomplish that. Avoid anything with overpowering scents though.
A cozy throw for reading or for an afternoon nap is popular, as is a decorative night light.
Remember that some new homeowners have four legs, and there is no reason that they should be left out. A fancy new feeding set that is decorative is a great idea (and even better if bowls are raised, or sit upon a mat for easier cleaning).
Some pet beds rival human beds for comfort. A fluffy new nest for fur babies to relax in would certainly be welcome. Organizational gifts for pets are good as well, such as hooks for leashes/outdoor gear or containers to hold pet food and treats.
General gift ideas
Gifts that can be used anywhere in the home are welcome too. A boardgame or a puzzle is a gift that the whole family can enjoy.
Consumables are good, like a gift basket with snacks or fancy olive oils for cooking.
Outside, a welcome mat or a mailbox enhances curb appeal. For homeowners who are inclined, a birdfeeder is a thoughtful gift.
If the homeowners don’t have one, a basic toolkit can be helpful.
And of course, there is always the gift that never needs to be returned- the gift card. Home decor and home improvement stores are usually the first choice for housewarming gifts, but a selection of gift cards to local restaurants or attractions are an excellent choice too, especially to help homeowners get acquainted with their new neighborhood or city.
For homeowners who recently bought their homes during the height of the pandemic-fueled market, high prices meant that more homeowners bought homes that might require renovations for the sake of affordability.
That even extends to new-build homes, where homebuyers perhaps may have purchased homes with more basic finishes, with the intention of doing upgrades on their own, when the budget permits.
For those new homeowners who are tackling home projects DIY, depending on the size and scale of their renovation projects, may benefit from the longer housewarming gift timeline, as they move along their project to-do list. As anyone who has taken on a renovation project (or projects) knows, surprises emerge along the way, so waiting until projects in motion could be most helpful, when they have context for their needs.
“A lot of houses nowadays are not turnkey. Renovations and remodeling need to be done, so the homeowners usually spend the first few months making it their own,” says Whitmore.
At the top of the gift list for this group is most likely a gift card from a local home improvement store. If you are well-acquainted with the new homeowners, and are aware of any excellent tools or household items that would complete their tool box, these are good gifts as well.
Another great gift idea for DIY homeowners is to fill their freezer with pre-made meals, or takeout gift certificates. Living through renovations is challenging, and in many cases the kitchen is out of commission-even if only temporarily. Knowing that dinner is done easily is indeed a gift.
What housewarming gifts are ill-advised?
“Avoid giving art, family heirlooms and large pieces of furniture, unless approved by the new homeowners in advance. This is not the time to give hand- me -downs that you have in your home that you no longer want, “says Gottman.
While moving into a new home is expensive, a gift of cash isn’t ideal either.
And housewarming registries are now a thing, much like a baby or wedding registry. Although new homeowners take note: there are varying opinions on their place in gift-giving etiquette.
“I am not a fan of housewarming registries. Unless it’s a wedding shower or a baby shower, registries feel like too much of an “ask,” says Gottman.
On the other hand, housewarming registries can be helpful for specific types of homeowners, particularly those who have experienced a housing loss from a weather event or a fire.
Whitmore says, “I think registries make the most sense when homeowners are completely starting over, or they’ve experienced a loss of some sort.”
Other than communicating a wish list when asked, a new homeowner’s best bet for getting the gifts they want or need is to throw a housewarming party with a theme. This will help guests to determine where they should focus their gift shopping.