Home Projects & Contractors

Home Projects & Contractors

Do-it-Yourself or Hire a Professional?

You’ve moved into your new home, and you’re primed and ready to start making improvements. The bathtubs need caulking. A floor in the kitchen is buckling and needs to be replaced. Wallpaper in the master bedroom is yellowing, needs to be stripped, and the walls painted.

Are you a do-it-yourselfer or do you need some professional expertise? Know your limits before you proceed, even if you’ve watched dozens of HGTV shows and think you’re ready to take the plunge. "For certain projects such as electricity, carpentry and plumbing, which are skills for which you need greater expertise, even a license, it might be prudent to hire a pro," says Jennifer Sieber, president, Jennifer Sieber Rennovations, St. Louis. "People always think they can do their own plumbing, for instance. One big mistake is when people try to replace tiles in a shower without replacing the shower pan to make it water tight. It looks great until it starts leaking."

Before you begin a project, whether you do-it-yourself or hire a pro, always set a budget and have an idea of a completion date, particularly if you’re going to take on a project in your spare time. You don’t want that deck to be left unfinished when nasty weather comes because you got so busy with your "real job" or family demands.

Whether you go with a contractor (ask for recommendations, obtain several bids, sign a contract, and put down a deposit, not the full amount) or do the work yourself, first determine if you need approval from your community (home association), or a permit to ensure you or your contractor adhere to all city or county building codes.

You don’t want to get the job finished and then find you have to remove that fence because it was erected too high or not built with acceptable materials. You may also want to find out if constructing a swimming pool, adding on a room or screened porch will increase your tax assessment if that’s a concern.

Consult a real estate professional to be sure your completed job won’t price your house out of the market unless you plan to stay there a long time to enjoy your improvements. Although it’s tough to forecast the exact payback, guides such as Remodeling Magazine’s "Cost vs. Value" survey can provide estimates for the most typical projects. For example, a major kitchen remodel on an upscale level might cost near $120,000, but only offer a return investment of 61.5 percent or close to $74,000. For a less costly mid-range remodel of about $20,000, the return is a higher 83.1 percent or near $17,000. The ROI (Return on Investment) will depend on several factors like the economy, your neighborhood, housing values, and the quality of the work done.

As much as you want to start work once you move in, sometimes it’s best to live in your home for a while before tackling a project. For example, you may discover you rarely use a formal dining room and by knocking out a wall that area could become a combination kitchen-family room. Your children may not venture downstairs very often, so there’s no point in improving that area if they are content using their bedrooms or the family room to play.

Some projects are also much simpler and less costly, such as painting a room. Seiber says that many clients do a nice job painting and some consider it therapy, but cautions homeowners to do their homework. This means measure the room for the right amount of paint, choose the finish—mat, semi-glossy, or gloss – and line up the supplies. You’ll need to buy brushes, rollers, mixing pans, drop cloths to protect floors and furniture, and tape to be sure your lines are straight or to protect adjoining baseboards, moldings or other surfaces with different paint colors. Ask for ideas or tips at the paint store, or watch a YouTube video to compare paint application methods.

Though painting can seem simple, finding the right color can be difficult. The color may appear to be ideal on a color swatch or paint strip, yet look entirely different when applied to walls or trim in your home. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy a sample or two and try out a few hues on a large area. Look at them during the day and at night once they are dry to make sure you have the look you want before painting the entire area.

Even what’s in a room will influence the way the color appears. For example, we asked experts at Benjamin Moore about good choices for a powder room, and they asked: What colors are the tiles? The floor? What about the color of the fittings and fixtures? How much natural light is there and how much artificial? Certain colors present additional dilemmas. Beige, for example, has such a range of undertones that it’s hard to tell what tones will come out once it’s interacting with a room’s other elements.

Every project you undertake should be well thought out and planned so it produces a joyful addition in your home that you’ll enjoy for a long time. Regardless of what you do, keep this cliché in mind: Haste makes waste.