Do it yourself or hire a professional? What’s Best for Your Home Renovation?

There are countless reasons why homeowners try to tackle home renovations and remodel jobs on their own — but probably the most common is cost. Professional contractors are pricey.

According to the contractor search service Thumbtack, general contractors charge an average of $50 per hour. For large projects, you could pay close to $30,000 for contract services, on top of the basic labor and building materials tab. And then there are the subcontractors, the specialists who perform specific tasks: plumbers charge $45 to 200 an hour, for example.

Do-it-yourself is undoubtedly cheaper. But it can also be impractical, dangerous or even illegal.

Deciding whether to do the job or hire a professional doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. It can be as simple as going through a checklist of questions — weighing factors like safety, expertise, and time investment — to see what makes sense. Here’s how to determine the best plan for your home renovation project.

Is it safe to DIY?

Whether balancing on a roof, installing a fuse box, or manipulating a 250-pound garage door, certain home renovations pose the risk of physical danger. Before embarking on a DIY project, always ask yourself: Could I be injured or killed? If the answer is yes – or maybe even – then hiring a professional is not only the better option, but the only option.

Don’t just think about yourself, but others too: do you have safe places to store tools and hazardous materials out of the reach of children and pets? Is it dangerous to leave stocks, especially if you only work occasionally?

It is for such safety reasons that people need to be trained and licensed to perform certain tasks. If you have a homeowners association, you may not even proceed without a bonded professional.

Do you have the DIY skills?

Building a fence, tearing down a wall, or varnishing a table are small home improvement projects that homeowners often do themselves, acquiring a new skill along the way and enjoying the sense of accomplishment later on. However, other projects do not lend themselves well to the ‘learn as you go’ approach. Renovating bathrooms, replacing a fireplace or installing a new oven are complex projects that require special skills and prior knowledge. In general, any major renovation or replacement involving electricity/gas, heat or water usually requires the services of a licensed professional, and should not be homemade.

Keep in mind that if you make a mistake in your DIY project, it will not only damage your home and ruin its appearance, but you will likely need to hire a contractor to fix the mess. And that can cost even more than renting one in the first place.

Do you have time to work?

DIY projects can save you dollars, but time is money too — and home renovation projects can take several weeks or months, especially for amateurs. Will your schedule allow you to take on a long-term burden? More specifically, how time-sensitive are the mechanics of a project: do you need to let something dry for two days? Do you need to move quickly while the materials are warm? Can you work on it intermittently, or do you need several continuous hours of uninterrupted work?

Another time element to consider: Do you have the time off to obtain work permits if your place mandates them – assuming they’re given even to non-professionals? (Tip: If a project requires a work permit and only contractors can get permits, it’s probably a sign that you can’t make the work legal.)

Basically, before you plan on doing a home renovation yourself, it helps to keep track of your time and find out if your schedule allows for the free time of a DIY project.

Can you afford to do the DIY yourself?

Ironically, it’s not always that much cheaper to make yourself. In fact, you could end up spending more to buy the tools and materials than you would on a contractor.

Many remodeling projects require — or at least are much easier with — specialized, expensive equipment. For example, a high-quality manual tile cutter often needed for kitchen or bathroom renovation projects can cost as much as $3,000. Motorized models can go up to five digits. If a project is unique, do you really want to invest thousands of dollars in tools?

As for materials, although you’d pay for those anyway, it can be difficult to get them yourself; some suppliers may not even want to deal with laymen or charge more for a relatively small shop order. Contractors, on the other hand, can often make deals on supplies and materials. And they generally take care of their own equipment. In the long run, it may be more beneficial to hire a professional.

How to fund DIY projects

Even if you do them yourself, home improvements can be expensive. Many people turn to financing to help them finance their home improvement costs.

Personal loans

Personal loans are a preferred financing option for home renovation projects because approval time is usually quick. They have higher limits and lower interest rates than credit cards and can usually be repaid over a period of 12 to 60 months. To qualify for a personal loan you need good creditworthiness and a stable source of income.

Equity loans

Also called a second mortgage, an equity loan uses the home as collateral for borrowing against equity. This is best for homeowners who need access to larger amounts of cash for major renovations and know they can afford it. Interest rates on equity loans vary based on your creditworthiness, overall financial health, and any other requirements set by your lender.

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

HELOCs are similar to equity loans, but with one key difference: they offer a revolving line of credit rather than a lump-sum loan. You can withdraw multiple times from the HELOC and you only have to pay interest during the draw period. HELOCs are best for homeowners who are unsure of the size of the project or the final amount they will need.

The Bottom Line: DIY vs Hiring a Professional

Labor costs are always a big part of the price tag of any home renovation project – sometimes even the largest part. You can save some serious money doing your own home renovation projects, and you will also get the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. On the other hand, there are times when doing it yourself can be dangerous – for yourself and for your home – or can get you in trouble with local authorities. Or just not be an affordable investment, in terms of time or money.

If you already have the tools, skills, and spare time, and can get materials at a reasonable price, it may be worth doing a remodeling project yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to hire a contractor who has connections in all the right places.

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