Visiting a loved one's new space for the first time? Bringing along a present is always good form.
Excited woman with wine bottle for housewarming party
Credit: jacoblund / Getty Images

Whether you're welcoming your new neighbors or celebrating your best friend's first home, offering a housewarming gift is a tradition that spans centuries, from the Jewish tradition of hachnasset orchim, or welcoming the stranger, which dates back to the time of Abraham, to the more modern housewarming scene in It's a Wonderful Life. "A housewarming gift is one that you typically bring upon your first visit to someone's new home, or send once they have moved in," says Myka Meier, founder of Beaumont Etiquette and its online finishing program. "It is a gift that helps make their new apartment or house feel like a home and is also sometimes intended to 'christen' a new place." Ahead, Meier breaks down the etiquette of this common practice—and shares what not to bring, too.

Celebrate a new home promptly.

The traditional timeframe for giving a housewarming gift is within the first three to six months of move-in, says Meier. "If you go to a housewarming party, always bring a gift," she says. "If there is no soirée, but you are invited over to someone's home for the first time within the first six months of them moving in, a gift is still advised." If the owners don't host a gathering and you don't anticipate visiting in person, you can always mail a present, although it's not required. "Traditionally, housewarming gifts are given when you visit the home—whether it be a party or just to stop by and see the place," says Meier.

Don't skip a gift for renters or down-sizers.

"Housewarming gifts are meant to be given to anyone who moves into a new space, whether it is an apartment, villa, or home—no matter if they rent or own it," says Meier. That means retirees downsizing to a smaller bungalow, recently-single friends moving out on their own, newlyweds furnishing a four-bedroom colonial, and graduates settling into their first apartment are all entitled to a little something special. "I think the best gifts definitely cater to the person and time in life," says Meier. "Someone who is retired likely has all the picture frames they need, while a newlywed couple probably needs many for their wedding photos."

Extravagant, taste-specific items aren't necessarily the best options.

As with all gift giving, the perfect present depends on the person. "The most traditional is a houseplant, however, depending on who you are gifting, this may be too high maintenance," says Meier. "The most common option is a candle." Avoid art and furniture—or anything that caters to a specific style—unless you're sure you know the recipient's taste. "If you choose to buy these items, always give a gift receipt," recommends Meier.

Make it personal.

Though the cost of the gift should depend on your budget, the average is usually $25 to $50, says Meier. "I think the best gifts are those that are either sentimental, are needed, or add warmth to a home," she says. "From a gorgeous photo frame and monogrammed bathroom hand towels to embroidered linen coasters, bar cart items, or other small accessories, all can be fun to gift and to receive. You could also always bring a bottle of Champagne with a nice bow as a celebratory gesture."

Comments (1)

Martha Stewart Member
January 2, 2009
In my part of the UK, we have a tradition of 'First footing' on New Year's Day, where the first person over the threshold in the New Year brings symbolic items to bring health (salt), wealth (money),