Should You Contract Your Remodeling Job Yourself?

My immediate answer would be, probably not. The long answer would be something like this:

It depends on a number of factors. Most people who contract the job themselves are trying to save the amount of money the contractor would have grossed on the project. I guarantee you, they will not have a joyous time doing it.

It is no different than trying to sell your house without a real estate agent. I cannot speak for the Realtors but I can speak for the contractors. Contractors gross do not approach the Realtors gross. It is a good idea if you can pull it off, but most of the time you will find you cannot.

You will find yourself with a mess on your hands. Not only a mess of problems, (construction defects, contractor disputes as to who is at fault etc) but you will not save nearly as much money as you thought you would.

A lot depends on the complexity of the project. If you are looking to pour a cement patio or have aluminum siding put on your house then you need only to call a cement contractor or a siding contractor. There is little preparation or coordination necessary to accomplish what you want to do. If you read my kitchens page on my web site you know I am surprised more homeowners are not doing a simple cabinet & counter top redo by themselves.

I have built hundreds of shells for customers (Shells are usually projects built to a point where the exterior roof & walls are complete & the interior is left for the homeowner to finish himself.) The homeowner gets a good start on the most difficult part of the construction & is competent enough to finish the interior. In many cases the homeowner contracts the electric & heating to others. Some times, if he is very competent, he does the electric & heating himself.

Does he save money? Yes, he does. He saves all of the interior carpenter labor. The electric & heating contractor will charge him more (probably a lot more) than a general contractor who is giving them a few hundred thousand dollars a year worth of business. The homeowner still has to deal with inspections, certificates of occupancy, underwriter certificate, cleanup, etc. In addition the project will take forever to complete.

Homeowners who want to do the finish themselves have good intentions but some are not as capable as others. Let me tell you of experiences I have had when doing estimates. Over the years, at least a hundred times, the homeowner at some point in the conversation would say something like this. “I could build this myself but I do not have the time. Then he insisted he show me the finished basement, attic, deck or whatever it was he did himself. He would then say:

“Would you believe I did this all myself?”

After looking at his work I would answer truthfully. “Yes”

There are more reasons why I believe it is in your best interest to hire a general contractor. If your project demands a building permit then you will need a set of building plans to submit to the building department. If you have read any of my books you know you do not need an architect at a cost starting at $700- $800. You will be spending money that is not necessary.

If you are going to do it right then you will have to call in three contractors on each trade involved in your project to get decent pricing on each: Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, wallboard tapers, heating & air, cement etc. This alone is a daunting task. When you are all done you will still not get a price as good as a general contractor. Many of these contractors are so busy that they do not care whether you hire them or not. They will throw you a price (any price) & if you bite, fine. If not, they do not need you.

In many cases you will be asked to provide the material & its cost up front. You can expect appointment promises that will not be kept. You will have to coordinate the timing of the trades in the correct order. You will order yellow & have blue delivered, you will order 100 & receive 90, you will have damaged goods delivered that have to be returned & credited. You will have people falling off your roof & injuring themselves.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, it is a much tougher job than it appears to be. Will the savings be worth it? Is $500, $1000, $1500 or more worth the added time & work on your part? That is a question you will have to decide for yourself. There is a reason contractors exist. If it was easy & significant amounts of money were to be saved then most people would contract themselves.

Most people do not.

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