eLocal Blog Off Series: Uniting the Home Improvement IndustryThere are many options available to people who are about to undergo a home improvement project. You can hire a general contractor, an architect, or a designer; you could get a handyman or just do it yourself.

But which choice best suits each homeowner’s specific needs and interests? During our 7th Blog-Off, we asked our panel of over 50 home improvement experts to weigh in…

The Expert Opinion: Things to Consider Before Deciding to Hire a Professional

The biggest step towards deciding how you want your home improvement project to proceed is understanding the factors that are involved.

Bill Riggs of Riggs Construction recommends you do the following: “Look at your own skill and experience level…Gauge your true ability, and think about what you will do if a problem comes up—which it will in many projects. Are you equipped to think quickly and solve the problem quickly?”

Along with taking your knowledge and experience into account, also consider the time commitment required, and any permits or certifications needed. Understand the consequences, should the renovation not go as planned, and of course, be conscious of cost.

It seems that, with all the resources we have at hand, you should be able to implement your ideas with only a little research. But, as Elizabeth Kinkel of Wnuk Spurlock Architecture explains: “Time and time again, homeowners do not understand the extent of what they would like to do, nor the costs associated with the changes. Once a rough idea of the cost is established…it is important to consult a realtor to see if the investment is worthwhile.”

Most experts recommend taking these concerns to a professional for a consultation.

“Sometimes we are just too focused on one aspect of the project to see the bigger picture and need a little perspective on the design. It’s much easier and cheaper to change it on the drawing board than it is in real life,” says Lori LaRochelle of La Rochelle Interior Design.

The Expert Opinion: Choosing to Hire or Not to Hire

Our experts strongly recommend that you choose to use a professional for more difficult, risky, or complicated projects, especially those that deal with structural, electrical, plumbing, or HVAC issues, or anything involving gas, propane, or electricity.

Barbara Tako of Clutter Clearing Choices sums up the general opinion when she recommends that “homeowners should always weigh the risks versus saving money by doing it themselves. It could end up costing them more in the end if they have to hire someone to correct or repair their own work.”

Professionals also have more resources, so they can often get materials at better rates, and they already have specialized equipment, which would need to be purchased for a DIY project.

Our experts do encourage DIY with lower-risk and less complex projects, including painting, landscaping, re-grouting, and cosmetic fixes in general. Just be aware that, as an amateur, you should plan on making mistakes and taking longer than a professional would to do the same tasks. Make sure you have any permits required, and are following safety guidelines.

But, as Terry Peterman from Electrical Online points out: “Doing part or all of a renovation project yourself, and doing it correctly, will give you a sense of pride, accomplishment, and satisfaction that you won’t get from simply writing the checks.”

The Expert Opinion: Choosing Who to Hire

If you do choose to hire someone for your project, it is important to ensure that you have chosen the right person for the job. Always select a reputable professional, with good recommendations from their customers and the proper licensing.

When choosing between a specialized trade contractor and a handyman, Neil Parsons of DesignBuildProfit.com explains, “typically the cutoff from handyman to trade begins with ‘permits’…or the need for project management or coordination of multiple tasks or trades.”

So, should you use a general contractor or designer over several more specialized services? Well, “hiring a number of contractors to complete a project can work, but it certainly is harder on the homeowner, and there is also a greater risk of some details being overlooked,” explains Jason Todd of GreenHomes America. The benefit of using an architect or designer lies in their ability to bring a degree of sophistication and cohesion to the project as a whole that would otherwise be hard to attain.

Want more information on hiring the right contractor? See our article on questions to ask contractors before hiring.

The Bottom Line

In general, the most important thing for you to do when making the choice of when or who to hire is to plan in advance and take into account what outcome is most important to you. If it is essential that you have the most unified and functional design for your project, consider using a professional to manage it as a whole. If it’s a smaller and more technical project, choose a licensed technician. If you have both the time and the interest, try out your own skills. In the end, whether by following safety procedures and doing proper research or hiring reputable experts, just make sure to protect yourself and ensure you get the desired results.

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