Once your new home is officially yours, you’ll want to celebrate. Never mind breaking out the pizza and paper plates while you unearth where you packed the kitchen stuff. We’re talking about throwing a housewarming party to give your friends and neighbors a taste of your new digs in style.
That said, if you bill your event as a “housewarming party,” guests and neighbors tend to expect certain things. Here’s a refresher on housewarming party etiquette so that you can avoid any faux pas among friends, ease your stress, and start off on a good foot with your new neighbors.
Housewarming parties have a long tradition. Some say they started in medieval France, with a custom called “pendaison de crémaillère,” or “hanging of the chimney hook.” A chimney hook holds pots or kettles over a fire, so as a thank-you to everyone who helped build their house, new homeowners would invite them to dinner.
Nowadays, plenty of new homeowners have christened their new address by hosting a dinner party of close friends, a holiday party, or a backyard barbecue where they proudly point out renovations, like the terracotta tile floor in the entryway (as friends of mine have done).
“We all live different ways and have different budgets and comfort levels,” says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont, an organization that etiquette authority Emily Post (Lizzie Post’s great-great-grandmother) created in 1946 to promote civility and good manners. “I could see myself having a housewarming with my closest girlfriends coming over.”
One boon of a housewarming party is that guests don’t expect your home to be picture-perfect. It’s fine to have just a few rooms together, with boxes still left to unpack stored out of sight. But make sure to set the bathroom to rights and ensure it’s accessible, with a nice hand soap, air freshener, toilet paper, and extra hand towels.
“You want to have enough established so that when people come over, they have a place to sit,” says Lizzie Post, who also is co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette 19th edition and co-host of the weekly Awesome Etiquette podcast with cousin Daniel Post Senning.
Even if some rooms feel unfinished, that can add a casual vibe — and open you to some creative seating ideas. Guests can perch on dining chairs, even without a table, or on an entry hall bench in the living room. Add cushions on the floor by the coffee table. Unpacked but sturdy boxes (like those schlepping books) also work as makeshift seating, especially if you drape them in fabric.
It’s best to schedule an official housewarming within the first six months to a year of your move-in date. That gives you enough time to get your new space comfortable while letting people know that the house you’ve bought is still new to you, according to the blog Fabulous Hostess, owned by Priority Home and Design of Atlanta, Georgia.
“I remember receiving an invitation for a housewarming party six years after they moved in, and I thought that was a little far off the mark,” Post says.
A housewarming party is a bit like an open house, except you know the guests. Georgie Smigel, a real estate agent with 30 years of experience who serves Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and its northern suburbs, recalled attended a clients’ housewarming, as well as a house blessing.
“It was kind of an all-day open house, where people come and go. Probably 50 people there,” she says.
Housewarming parties traditionally are “drop-in parties,” Post says, so your guest list can be shorter, as can your time frame — think two to four hours on a weekend afternoon or evening for guests to pop by and wish you well.
A clear start time and end time, like 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., spreads out the flow of traffic so people can move freely and spend more time with you, notes Containing the Chaos, a blog from the moving and storage company PODS. An after-dinner event, say, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., also is a good option.
As for invitations, this is one type of party where pretty much anything goes: a phone call, email, regular mail, or text message.
However, while there’s traditionally not an expectation for guests to RSVP, hosts of past housewarming parties suggest a digital invite, even for friends, followed up with a personalized text if you like.
This keeps your event from appearing too casual to the point that people feel OK about dropping out at the last minute, leaving you with perhaps too much food and wondering what happened.
While various stores offer “housewarming registries,” traditional housewarming party etiquette says not to start a gift registry. For one thing, it places guests on awkward footing, with longtime friends and neighbors you’ve just met both feeling obligated to a purchase.
A housewarming party also isn’t on the same level of life event as getting married and having children, where registries are more common.
“The tradition of a housewarming is to warm the space with your family and friends so that it doesn’t feel so unfamiliar to you. The idea is not to warm the house with gifts and things,” Lizzie Post says. “People move very frequently. I think that’s why it’s traditionally not a gift-heavy event.”
Leave off any mention of gifts from your invites, unless you want to specify some variation of “no presents but your presence,” such as, “The key ingredients in making a house a home: lots of love, plenty of laughter, and the presence of friends and family!”
(Incidentally, if guests want to bring a gift, a congratulatory card is “lovely,” Post says, as is an indoor or outdoor plant, a simple picture frame, or something to eat.)
A basic invite keeps the message short but sweet, with options that work for close friends, acquaintances, and neighbors, such as:
There’s no reason you can’t display a sense of humor, though, such as:
Inviting neighbors based on your budget and comfort level — whether those who are attached to your property, the whole block, or just those you’ve waved to in passing — has several advantages.
First, an invite is a nice way to say that this is a community where you’re happy to be. It also helps short-circuit any troubles down the line. “Anytime you can reach out to neighbors, it can go a long way toward addressing any problems you might have to address in the future. If you’ve been inclusive, it makes it easier to address any other topics you might have to broach,” Lizzie Post says.
More immediately, an invite is a tactful way to let the neighbors know about any hubbub that day. You might phrase that like so: “Even if you can’t make it, we just want to give you a heads-up that we’ll have some traffic on the street from noon to four.”
A paper invite in their mailbox is a nice touch, but you also can invite them verbally while introducing yourself while you’re taking out the trash, collecting your mail, or walking the dog.
Hors d’oeuvres are ideal for a housewarming party, although some people do set out a buffet, along with a variety of alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. Imagine guests grabbing a small plate of food, talking a bit, then going on their way.
Again, it’s a light and easy atmosphere, not a sit-down deal. Entertaining experts recommend finger foods and mini desserts, such as:
Don’t forget a variety of drinks, including fun cocktails such as:
Guests will want to “ooh” and “aah” over the features that inspired you to buy your new home, so expect to point out what you’ve liked — perhaps several times, depending on the ebb and flow of your company.
You also can cue guests to give themselves a tour by saying, “Please feel free to explore the house,” or something like, “I’ve closed doors to rooms that aren’t set up yet.”
That’s a polite way to hint that you have some unpacking and arranging left to do. A good guest will be able to pick up on that.
Depending on your comfort level, budget, and even the time of year, you could frame your housewarming party around a theme, such as a garden party during the spring or summer months, according to Shutterfly, Inc., a retailer of photo books and other personalized décor since 1999. But that’s not a widespread trend, Lizzie Post says.
If you want to put your pals to work by helping you unpack and put away, that’s not a traditional housewarming party, although such a get-together can be fun, too. Limit this to your nearest and dearest — you don’t know your neighbors well enough at this point, although it’s kind to give them a heads-up about extra traffic — and specify that guests will be rolling up their sleeves.
“That’s a very different invite from ‘Please come see our house,” Post says. Also note whether you plan to reward them with pizza, sandwiches, sliders, and drinks.
Whether you plan a housewarming party that invites the block or a more intimate gathering, don’t get wrapped up in minutiae as much as the end result: creating warm memories in your new space with the people you know best and others you’d perhaps like to know better.
“It’s very much about making the place yours,” Post says.