Should you do it yourself or hire a contractor?
Dollars & Sense
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) home improvement projects always start out well, until you unintentionally set something on fire or cause bodily harm with a power tool. Should you hire a contractor before theres real damage done to you or the house? That depends on you and the project.
Its always tempting to attempt a home repair or improvement project in an effort to save money, but you do need to know what kinds of projects you can safely handle and when its time to call in the pros. Otherwise, you may end up spending even more money by having to hire someone to undo some damage.
Should you do it yourself?
If youre wondering if you should take the DIY approach or hire a contractor, here are a few considerations:
Know the degree of difficulty. Whether youre grouting your tile or installing new kitchen cupboards, understand what youre getting into before you get started.
Whats your budget? Can you afford a contractor? If hiring someone else isnt even an option, be sure to educate yourself before you get started. Read a book, watch a video, or head down to the local home improvement store for tips. And dont just budget your money, budget for your time as well. Your spouse may not be too pleased when you told him/her it would take a few hours to fix the kitchen sink and days later, theres still no running water in the kitchen.
Prepare for the unknown. A simple tile re-grout may unearth water or mold damage that has to be repaired first. Be prepared for the project to get more complex.
Safety. Truly, this is where your ego needs to take a backseat to common sense. If you dont have the appropriate skills, consider a contractor for your own safety.
Hiring a contractor
If youve decided theproject calls for a contractor, there are a few more things to consider for a successful outcome:
Research your options. Ask friends for contractor names, contact the Better Business Bureau, use a customer referral service, and contact local trade associations. Compile a list of contractors who specialize in the service you need.
Get an estimate. Most contractors provide free estimates. Others may require you to pay for an estimate and then reduce your job cost by the cost of the estimate if theyre chosen for the work. While free estimates are nice, consider the quality of work as well. Get the estimate in writing, and pay attention to the terms, including how long the estimate is valid.
Establish a timeframe. The most important question isnt, When can you start? its When can you finish? The estimate should include start and completion dates so youre not living in home improvement project limbo.
Look for bonded, licensed and insured. Bonded means that a bonding company has secured money that is available to the consumer in the event they file a claim against the company. Certain professions require a license to show someone is permitted to perform certain types of work. Insured refers to what happens if someone gets hurt on your job do they hold insurance to cover the claim or will it be filed against your homeowners insurance, which you do not want. Ask to see a contractors paperwork in each of these areas before work begins. Confirm who will be working in your home. Will it be employees of the company or subcontractors?
Compare estimates. Dont jump at the lowest estimate. Compare carefully. Does the lowest bid include all of the project components? Is warranty work included? Is the same quality of materials included?
Be specific. If you have a vision for how you want the project to turn out, be specific. Show pictures, drawings or photographs.
Use a contract. Unless your job is a really quick fix, you need a contract. Get every detail in writing including things like the materials and paint colors to be used, how trash will be removed, how your home will be protected from damage, how changes to the original work order will be handled, etc. What happens if you need to cancel the job? Get it all spelled out ahead of time. Dont make the final payment if there is still work to be completed.
Watch out for scams
While most contractors are ethical, there are those who are unscrupulous. Beware of people coming door-to-door or calling you on the phone to work for an unusually cheap rate. Other red flags: asking for money in advance, wanting an immediate decision, asking you to sign illegible documents, and asking you to get the permits. All of these could indicate a less than reputable company or individual.
Tackling a home improvement project or repair on your own is always something to consider as a way to save money but understand the limits of your capabilities and the scope of the job. If something might be a little more complex than you can handle, dont hesitate to call in the pros. Your safety, and that of your family, is too important to risk if you try to tackle something thats out of your realm.
Dollars & Sense is a monthly column provided by the Oregon Society of CPAs