I promise that I’ll get back to my more inspirational posts starting with the next one. I just had to get this out of my system.
The popularity of many of the HGTV home fix-up shows has spawned a host of amateur DIYers and led to a host of DIY disasters. As a Realtor I end up showing a fair number of these failed projects, many of them in foreclosure. The problem is that the would-be fixer –uppers were people who didn’t KWYD (know what you’re doing).
It all looks so easy on TV, especially the demo parts where the TV personalities seem to be having fun knocking down walls to “open up rooms”. On a few of these “reality TV” shows they at least show the unexpected that can be discovered during the demo phase – the pipes that were running behind the walls or the shoddy wiring that is really a fire hazard or maybe they “discover” that the wall was load bearing after all and needs a major engineered beam to hold the second floor up. Many DIYers often hit those problems and more, plus they discover that demolition work is not fun – it’s sweaty, dirty, hard work and disposing of the resulting waste materials can be expensive, especially in older (or historic) homes that may still contain hazardous materials that were in common use years ago. In Michigan, for instance, there is only one dump left open that will accept asbestos waste and it is expensive if you have asbestos waste. If you’re planning to “open up the floor plan” as part of your renovation; in order to avoid having your house cave in upon itself, get the advice of a good structural engineer before you start knocking walls down.
Once they get to the actual renovation work, many DIYers discover that they don’t have the proper tools. In some cases those tools might be rented, but in many cases they have to be bought, which is just another unplanned expense. Learning how to properly use those special tools can be frustrating, time consuming and perhaps even dangerous. Big wood or tile saws are serious tools that can bite the user. Before you even start a DIY project you should inventory the tools that you have and compare that to those that will be needed. You can get an idea about the needed tools by reading remodeling books. You might be able to get a good handle on the cost and skill needed to properly use those tools by attending one of the demonstration programs at your local Home Depot or Lowes store. Some even have some hands on training time.
Along with tools there is technique. Many aspects of a renovation job involved mastering specific techniques of working with the materials involved, especially if plaster repairs are involved. It’s not that you can’t slap a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and smooth it out; it’s that it will look like you slapped a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and tried to smooth it out. It takes years of experience for professionals to master some of the techniques involved in their trades. Even painting is an area in which the differences in results between the average DIY person and a pro will be noticeable. You can put up all of the blue painter’s tape you want and still not get a job that looks as good as a painter who cuts his edges in with a brush and no tape at all.
Before you jump into any major remodeling project also make sure that you understand the local building codes and regulations about permits and inspections. Most projects that involve major changes to the plumbing system or the electrical system and any structural changes will require both permits and inspections by the building official for your area. I’ve seen finished projects in which the walls had to be opened up again because the DIYer forgot to pull the necessary permits or didn’t get the work inspected before the drywall went up. That can be a very expensive mistake. I’ve seen building officials make the DIYer tear down the newly installed drywall so they can inspect the plumbing or electrical work. And don’t think that because you’re working inside and you don’t think that anybody will notice that you’re making changes that you won’t have to pull a permit or get the job inspected. Many times a neighbor will report the work or just rumors on the street (or in your Facebook posts) may alert the officials. It could also come back to haunt you when you try to sell the place. There is a question on the Seller’s Disclosure form for Michigan that specifically asks if you’ve made any structural changes to the house without permits.
The bottom line is that if you don’t know what you’re doing don’t DIY. You probably won’t end up saving the money that you thought you would and you may end up decreasing the value of your home or hurting yourself in the process. You probably already have everything that you need for even the most demanding projects. It’s called a checkbook and the only skill needed to use it is the ability to fill out the checks. DIY using that tool and get the job done right by professionals.