Home Improvement: DIY or Hire a Pro?

For small, simple projects, a do-it-yourself approach could work. For complicated, risky projects, call in a pro.
Margarette Burnette
By Margarette Burnette 

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There’s something appealing about the idea of a do-it-yourself home improvement project. By tackling a job yourself, you can save money on labor costs and enjoy work that’s been done with your own hands.

But the reality is some projects are better left to the experts. Professional contractors can handle tasks that are complicated, time-consuming or downright unpleasant. Whether you plan to spruce up your entire home or just remodel part of one room, you’ll want to make a smart choice between doing it yourself or hiring and paying a pro.

Here are some tips to help you choose.

When you could try DIY

The project is small enough to learn quickly

It’s a good idea to take some time to research a home improvement job before you start. If you want to paint your deck, for example, you may need to watch tutorial videos, read about paint choices, and ask paint sellers for advice. If you’re willing to learn the steps, a do-it-yourself project could make sense.

You have patience to work through small mistakes

You may have to make extra trips to the store because you didn’t correctly measure the amount of wood you needed. Or you may discover your paint dried unevenly, and you’ll need to start over to get the look you want. Expect that your DIY project won’t be perfect on the first try. It’ll help if you’re flexible enough to work through small errors.

You view the home repair as more hobby than work

If you enjoy carpentry, painting and other renovation-related activities, you may enjoy a DIY project involving those or similar tasks. You may even find the process as enjoyable as the final result.

You’re OK with “good enough”

There’s a chance your project won’t turn out as well as a pro’s work. There may be some visible brushstrokes in a newly painted room. Some floor tiles may be slightly uneven. If the problems are minor and you'll be able to live with the results, it could be worthwhile to try a small DIY job.

When it’s best to hire a home improvement contractor

A mistake would have serious or disastrous consequences

If an error would make your home unsafe — faulty electrical wiring that could cause a fire, for example — it’s not worth the risk of doing it yourself. Outsource projects that could affect your family’s well-being or that would be expensive to correct if not done right. Reputable contractors will have insurance and offer a warranty for their work, which protects you as the homeowner. If they make a mistake or worse, damage your property, they’d pay to fix the problem.

The home renovation requires permits

Many localities require permits for electrical, structural and other major work. You’ll want to contact your city government and ask local contractors which remodel licenses are required in your area. These jobs generally require specialized knowledge, so it’s better to let a professional handle the work.

Your time’s better spent on something else

Paying a contractor can free you up for other activities, such as spending more time with your family. If you put a premium on those other activities, it makes sense to hire a professional.

You’re planning to sell your home

When you get ready to sell your house, you want it to be in the best condition possible. An amateurish DIY job could be a turnoff for potential buyers. They may even wonder if the home has other problems.

If you do decide to hire a pro, you’ll need to do some legwork. Make sure you get estimates in writing, and ask for and contact references. You should also confirm that the contractor has the licenses and insurance needed for the job. You can learn more about how to hire a reputable contractor from the Federal Trade Commission.

In some cases, you might do some parts of a remodel or upgrade yourself while also working with an expert. For example, you could decide to take on the role of general contractor for a major project, such as a bathroom remodel, and hire out subcontractors for specialized work, including electrical wiring, plumbing and cabinet installation.

When considering a home improvement project, you’ll want to know the difference between a DIY job and one that should be handled by an experienced contractor. By considering the time you would have to spend on the project, your experience and the difficulty of the job, you can weigh the benefits and make the best decision for your situation.

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