DIY or call a professional: Which is right for your remodel?

When planning a remodeling project, one of the first questions you may ask is whether you can save money and just do it yourself

ByANNIE MILLERBERND of NerdWallet
February 03, 2022, 8:30 AM
A workman cuts sections of a bean at a housing site in Madison County, Miss., Tuesday, March 16, 2021. When planning a remodeling project, one of the first questions you may ask is whether you can save money and just do it yourself. With enough optim
A workman cuts sections of a bean at a housing site in Madison County, Miss., Tuesday, March 16, 2021. When planning a remodeling project, one of the first questions you may ask is whether you can save money and just do it yourself. With enough optimism, any project can seem possible, but a whole-home remodel may be too ambitious. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
The Associated Press

A do-it-yourself remodel can be a budget-friendly way to freshen up your home. For some projects, it may take just a few YouTube videos to show you how to modernize your space.

But not every project is right for amateur renovators. Your skill level, budget and how important the project is to your home’s value can all be deciding factors in whether to call a professional.

Here are home remodel projects you can probably DIY, and those that are better left to experts.

DIY THE FLOORS AND WALLS

Aminah Chung and her husband Bernard, who share their DIY projects on social media, updated their Phoenix-area home’s master bedroom and pantry, and built a playhouse for their kids.

Starting in small spaces or trying simple changes, like paint or paneling on a wall, can help you build confidence for bigger rooms, Aminah Chung says.

With a little extra research, installing new floors can be a spare-time project, says San Diego-based DIYer Liz Lovery. She and her husband, a former structural engineer, installed laminate flooring in their home.

“Things like that might feel overwhelming, but they aren’t,” she says. “They’re very attainable, and it can actually save you a lot of money in the long run.”

Tools can be a significant portion of your DIY budget, says Chris Egner, president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Add those costs to your budget, and ask if the tools are worth the investment, he says.

USE CAUTION IN KITCHENS AND BATHROOMS

Homeowners should consider their skills before committing to a full DIY kitchen or bathroom remodel, Lovery says, because those spaces are often essential to your home’s value.

Some things, like painting the cabinets, may be within reach. But if you need new cabinets installed and you don’t feel confident about accurately measuring for them, Lovery says it may be worth using a professional to get a quality finished product.

Using a contractor for a kitchen or bath remodel might cost tens of thousands of dollars, but Egner says their knowledge of building codes and design best practices may end up saving you money because they’ll do the job correctly.

A designer can show you multiple options for a new layout and predict possible issues down the line, says Kevin Brown, design manager with Sunnyfields, a Baltimore-based kitchen and bath remodeling company.

The project may also finish faster, Brown says, since a professional can coordinate electricians and plumbers, avoiding “a real nightmare” of potential delays if you do it yourself.

The Chungs have two kids and full-time jobs, so a DIY kitchen remodel would take a lot longer, Aminah Chung says.

“I believe in doing the projects that you can do so that you can save the money for the projects you don’t necessarily want to do,” she says.

OUTSOURCE PLUMBING, HVAC, ELECTRICAL WORK

It’s best to let experts handle systems that make your house function, like the electrical, plumbing and HVAC system, Egner says. This work often involves permits and background knowledge, and the cost of a misstep can be high.

“A simple mistake in an installation of a toilet or a faucet could lead to thousands and thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage,” he says.

Lovery is willing to knock down walls in her home, but she makes room in her budget to outsource some work, saving potential headaches down the road.

“When it comes to those very niche trades it’s really, really nice to throw in the towel and hire out those jobs,” she says.

MANAGING HOME IMPROVEMENT COSTS

If you’re still undecided, have a contractor write up an estimate and compare it with your DIY budget, Egner says. You can search for professionals on the NARI website.

He also recommends adding about 10% to 20% to your budget for unexpected expenses, which are inevitable with DIY and professional projects.

Cash is the interest-free way to pay for home improvement projects, but if you don’t have enough available, shop around to find the best financing.

Home equity loans and lines of credit offer low interest rates and long repayment terms, which keep monthly payments low, but it could take a few weeks to a month to get approved.

Personal loans have higher rates and shorter repayment terms, meaning your monthly payments are higher, but the debt is often cleared sooner. With these loans, you can typically get funds in a week or less.

RELATED LINKS:

National Association of the Remodeling Industry: Find a NARI Remodeler https://remodelingdoneright.nari.org/remodelers

NerdWallet: How do home improvement loans work? https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-how-home-improvement-loans-work

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