When DIY is the Best Option

If you are like me, there’s a lot of work to be done on your house. My wife and I bought a fixer-upper, and we’ve managed to add a lot of equity to the house. But we still don’t have molding, a save staircase, insulation in the attic, and many many other little things. When we bought the house, we (like you?) didn’t know much about household repairs. I’ve learned a lot, but have gotten down to jobs I’m not as comfortable performing myself. Still, it’s really expensive to get these jobs performed by professionals, and early estimates have come in between $30 and $50,000. Here is how I determine whether I am going to tackle a renovation on my own or leave it to the pros.

  1. You don’t need to visit a top finance blog to realize that professional, licensed contractors are pricey. After all, they deserve it and their work is likely excellent. I am in the process of buying my second house, a dilapidated vacant, even as we repair the one we’re living in, so I talk with contractors all the time. I’ve developed this rule of thumb: If I can save 50% doing the job myself, I will do my best to learn how to do it. This has led me into uncharted waters I was scared to move out into. But it has also saved me an estimated $15,000 on my house alone, while adding over $25,000 in equity. That’s a fair trade for personal betterment if you ask me.


  1. I’ve also got to ask myself: can I do this work well? When looking at upgrading my electrical system, the answer was most assuredly “no.”. I can’t afford to figure it out on the job, potentially living without electricity for weeks or days while I figure out how to get behind the walls and upgrade our old, ungrounded wiring. I was really happy to have the pros come in a finish this job in two days. Sure, it was expensive, but now that everything is back in place, I have complete confidence that we’re not going to die in a fire. When I go to sell or rent this house in a couple of years, future renters will be very happy to know that we invested in a modern system that is safe and efficient.
  1. I also ask: can I do this work safely? A previous homeowner made a lot of bad choices in flipping the house 8 years ago. In rerouting the plumbing the dude actually cut through joists, sometimes up to 80%, to make room for pipes. One such joist sits right under the toilet, which for awhile had a leaky pipe dripping on the joist. As a result it is rotting. my second floor, toilet, and bathtub, are all partially supported by this poor scary joist. Again, there was no way I could do this work on my own and have complete assurance that the house wasn’t going to come crashing down on me. This would not be a good thing for me. This would not be a good thing for the house. Three contractors were more than happy to make the joist secure for me, and I can rest easy, despite the cost.

For all other jobs, I try to do it myself. I’ve added a lot of skills to my repertoire. Future houses are going to cost me less and less, because I’ll be able to do more work inside them than the one I have now. This time around, I’ve learned masonry, basic woodworking, hardwood floor refinishing, and some plumbing. In the future I look forward to learning more, and saving more money.

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