When to Save Money via DIY Home Improvements and When to Call in the Experts

Home improvement shows and YouTube channels exhort homeowners to take the leap and get hands-on with renovation projects big and small. There are many reasons, however, to think carefully before diving into the world of DIY, and a lot of those reasons boil down to cold, hard cash.

When to Save Money via DIY Home Improvements and When to Call in the Experts

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Kate Shaw and Betsy Moyer, co-founders of Retreat, a design and consulting company for Airbnb properties, know this first-hand. They recently encountered a 1980s-era home in need of what seemed like a no-big-deal repair: new countertops. However, an inspection revealed a more complicated job; the old counters were poorly maintained and unsteady. They had to be redone completely before more cosmetic improvements could happen.

Time Is Money

One of the first points to consider when debating a DIY remodel is your level of expertise. Maybe you can execute the project, but how long will it take you versus a professional? Is it worth the time elapsed before you can take advantage of the improvement, such as a bath that sits half-tiled because you can only work on it on weekends?

Additionally, the wave of home improvements undertaken over the past year has driven up the cost of many materials. In addition to the skyrocketing cost of lumber, Shaw and Moyer point out that “tiles, cement, even paint cost a lot now.”

It’s also important to factor in the overages that you should expect. A professional might calculate a 20% overage for their project estimate. An amateur, however, might need to plan on a 30% overage. Once you’ve included that additional 10%, Shaw and Moyer say, it’s a good idea to take another look at those numbers.

Do you already have the necessary tools?

Equipment is another potential hidden cost. Moyer says that a straightforward task, such as tiling a wall, might make sense to do yourself. “But putting in a shower stall, involving geometry [in cutting the pan]”-that part gets trickier, partly because it involves specific and often expensive tools. Even something that seems less intimidating, such as stenciling, can become a money pit once you factor in specialized paints, brushes, and other add-ons, says Shaw.

Do you need a permit?

Many people are also tackling home improvement with an eye toward future resale. Some of the trickier areas-plumbing, electrical, HVAC-require a permit to guarantee that changes done now are safe going forward. Undertaking this work solo, especially if lacking experience and training, can mean problems with home inspection prior to sale-as well as a possible safety risk. According to Olivia Mariani of Curbio, a company that specializes in readying homes for sale, “anything requiring a permit is best left to a general contractor to get the best results and complete the work efficiently.”

Can you outsource the education pre-DIY?

A potential workaround for some simpler projects is to make a smaller investment in hiring a contractor to demonstrate and instruct on some foundational skills. Shaw and Moyer recommend this as a method of safely and efficiently undertaking jobs such as changing lighting or hanging shelves.

“For example, have a pro show you how to switch out fixtures and sconces. It’s basically two wires and a ground, and it’s worth hiring a pro to train you. This is one way to get a lot of bang for your buck,” they say. This basic knowledge means you can save your budget for the more complicated tasks.

Start with Painting and Landscaping

This isn’t to say that anything bigger than changing a doorknob is off-limits. Mariani says that paint is a big and relatively simple game-changer, especially in the kitchen. “After renovating over 1,000 homes to get them ready for market, we’ve seen prices increase 25% on average when the kitchen is updated-and that doesn’t mean you have to rip everything out! A refresh is often all it takes,” she says.

She particularly advocates repainting solid wood cabinets, which might cost $600-800 to do right, but will still add up to a huge savings over hiring a pro. “Combined with installing new hardware, it
can truly update a space with little investment,” she says.

And, though it might seem basic, all experts agreed that your home’s first impression is one of the easiest and most important areas to address. “Painting the front door is a small project that can make a huge impact with curb appeal,” Mariani advises. Shaw and Moyer concur. “Whether it’s an Airbnb or a new buyer approaching a home, it’s creating a positive initial impact,” Shaw says.

Beyond painting, they also suggest redoing the landscaping that frames the doorway. “It’s a welcoming and easy DIY,” she says. Improvement that’s low cost and high reward? That’s what it’s all about.