11/21/2012 4:15 PM ET|
Is DIY costing you more?
Sometimes, certain jobs are best left to the professionals, whether it's a home-remodeling project or a task involving your finances.
Do-it-yourselfers' tales of disaster aren't hard to find.
Chris Hubbard of Thousand Oaks, Calif., recalls when he and a friend decided to change the oil of his first car when he was 18.
"Well, we drained the oil just fine, but didn't know where to put the new oil. We thought it should go in where the dipstick goes," Hubbard wrote on my Facebook fan page. "Turns out we used the wrong dipstick and put the oil in the transmission fluid. I drove the car for 3 days with no oil and oil in the transmission fluid. Ended up costing several hundred dollars to fix and later got my engine rebuilt by my mom's boyfriend."
Lindsay Cowdin of Fort Worth, Texas, thought she and her husband could remove the old acoustic ceiling tiles in their family room, replace the old drywall, install new insulation and put in can lighting. They thought it would take them one or at most two weekends to get the job done.
"We quickly realized our miscalculation by how long it took to remove the ceiling tiles," she wrote. "Several weeks later we gave in and called a contractor. My husband is completely capable but had to bow to the clock. We just couldn't live with our family room in disarray for so long. The contractor knocked it out in two days like it was his job -- because it was!"
After 25 years of being a part-time mobile DJ, Steve Stewart of Saint Peters, Mo., opted to do one of his own events.
"I decided to do the set-up and tear down of my equipment FOR MY OWN WEDDING RECEPTION," Steward wrote. "Luckily I have a few DJ friends who were happy to take the mic and run the show so I could enjoy myself. Not a disaster but definitely not recommended DIY."
Sometimes, doing it yourself makes a lot of sense. You save money and get satisfaction from a job well done. So how do you know when DIY is a good option, and when you're about to get in over your head?
Whether it's a project involving your house, your car, a big event or your finances, you should think twice if:
Your attitude is, 'What could possibly go wrong?'
If you can't list several ways your project could go awry, then either you don't know enough about the task to attempt it or you're not thinking clearly about what's involved (sound familiar, Steve?). You may get some insights by talking to more-experienced DIYers or doing more research. If large sums of money or legal documents are involved, it usually pays to consult a professional.
You could kill yourself.
Courting death or serious injury in pursuit of thrift . . . yeah, not such a great idea. That's why projects such as tree trimming, asbestos and lead paint removal, and anything involving natural gas lines or 220-volt electric lines are best left to the pros. Most financial decisions aren't going to get you killed, unless you borrow money from a mobster you can't pay back. But you could effectively kill your financial stability by taking excessive risks, such as putting most of your money in a few stocks or falling for get-rich-quick schemes.
You could do a lot of damage that would be hard or expensive to fix.
I learned about this one the first time I turned on a floor sander and promptly gouged a big divot in a friend's hardwood floor. He "fixed" it by positioning a piece of furniture on top. Plumbing repairs are another DIY project that can go expensively bad, since even minor leaks can cause water damage and mold that cost thousands to fix. For similar reasons, you'll probably want to consult a fee-only planner a few years before you retire. Mistakes made in the early years of retirement -- such as withdrawing too much money, taking too much or too little risk, or taking Social Security too soon -- often can't be fixed and could cause you to run out of money before you run out of life.
The job requires skills you don't have and couldn't acquire easily.
It's not hard to learn how to patch a hole in a wall or change your car's oil (if you take the time to read the manual, right, Chris?). If, on the other hand, a job is typically done by a highly paid tradesperson, you might want to think twice before tackling it. Electricians, plumbers, mechanics, masons and even drywall hangers don't learn their trades overnight, and neither will you. By the same token, taxes and estate planning are two complicated areas of finance best left to those who make these fields their life's work. You can DIY if your situation is dead simple, but as soon as there's real money at stake, you should call in some help.
You need expensive tools you don't already have.
If you can't borrow or rent what you need, consider carefully whether you want to make a big investment versus hiring a pro to do it for you. Even if you can rent a tool, the project may take longer than you think, wiping out any savings from doing it yourself.
Somebody else could do it a lot faster and a lot better.
Painting is often offered up as the perfect DIY project, since most people can do a decent job as long as they do the prep work and have good tools. If you've ever hired a professional painter, though, you know the difference between a pretty good DIY job and what a pro can accomplish in a fraction of the time. The pro has already made all the mistakes you're going to make, learned from them and improved. The pro starts with all the supplies needed, so there's no running back and forth to the hardware store. The pro does all the cleanup, which, if you've dealt with the aftermath of a DIY, could be reason alone to hire one.
You really don't want to do it yourself.
Some people love spending hours fiddling with their investments, researching exactly the right backsplash material or tracking down parts for their vehicles. Others would rather eat glass. If you're approaching a DIY project with dread and apprehension, pull out now. Paying someone else to do the job will almost always be better than forcing yourself to do something you hate just to save a few bucks.
More from Liz Weston:
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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In the past DIY wasn't an issue - it was the norm.
Now the vast majority of people are too lazy to acquire the required skill-set to perform DIY tasks.
Most would rather watch "America is Idle" than actually take the time to learn and do something.
Sometimes ya gotta DIY because it cost too much not to...
Reading the instructions always helps, too.
oh yea, hire someone.
Here is the scenario. The contractor shows up. He give you a bunch of bs on why it will cost so much.
He gives an estimate of $4000. You agree. His "laborers" show up, do the work, and you never see the "contractor" again. He pays his workers $1000 for labor and material and pockets $3000.
20 years ago the guy that showed up to give you the estimate came backand didthe work. Now they just sub it out and pocket the difference. I choose to do it myself and save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Sure some jobs are better left for hire, but find the guy who does the work himself and cut out the contractor who does nothing but sub contract out the job.
An example is when I bought my first house, which had great maple -but mistreated- hardwood floors. I rented a sander and was taught by a relative to never stop moving it while it's running so it doesn't create little ridges. At tricky edges I used an electric palm sander, even though it took more time, because I didn't want to create a major problem that would need even more work.
When I went to Home Depot to get stain and coating, the knowledgeable salesmen (there's not always one in those stores, but it doesn't hurt to ALWAYS ask) told me to forget about stain and just put down Behr Polyurethane because it darkens a little more than others, but will still leave a bright floor. He also said that the first coat (of 2) would cause wood fibers to stick up and I'd need a gentle sanding of the entire floor after the first coat. Because I was inexperienced, he suggested the old sandpaper-on-a-block-of-wood method rather than the electric palm sander so I'd have more control and not remove the first coat. That took a long time to finish and sore wrists.
But when I sold the home 19 years later, that beautiful floor was a big selling point.
Every one should try some DIY. Start will smaller projects and ones that are not as visible. Work your skills up.Give your self PLENTY of time. Outdoor projects are easier to do,you do not have to live with a missing kitchen or bathroom. The only time I would hire out is when time matters,if it's on the roof (I'm a little less flexible than I was in my "yute") or if the other person who lives in the house would protest the mess I would make, dust can cover a lot of stuff with little effort.
Where I've learned to save money for skilled labor is make contact with the guys who work for retail outfits and hire them on the side. That way I don't pay retail but I still get the same skill set from the person.
The additional point is to I try to avoid buying unique tools for a job I may only do once. I know you can rent them but who's gonna train you on them?
If you can't do three consecutive push-ups, you can't do major repairs.
I was in the automotive repair business for 35 years. I loved DIY people. By the time most of them gave up trying to DIY let's say a brake job, their bill tripled from what it would have been because of all the good parts they damaged or lost. In most cases, it was the wife who called us to tow in their vehicles and fix them. After their husbands and his buddy next door spent hundreds of dollars on parts, a few days or a week working on the vehicle after work and several cases of beer, the wives got tired of being stranded and called us to tow their cars in.
If you don't know what you are doing...DON'T TRY TO DO IT! In the long run, it is going to cost you a lot more if you screw up the work. Cars these days are much more complicated than days gone by.
One example: A man tried to do a 4 wheel pad replacement on his wife's pickup. When he pushed the caliper pistons in to accommodate the thicker brake pads, fluid overflowed out of the master cylinder. When he finished installing the pads, he decided that he needed to refill the master cylinder, but he didn't have any brake fluid, so he poured power steering fluid into the master cylinder. BIG MISTAKE! The truck made it less than 50 miles before the brakes locked up and had to be towed in. Brake fluid is not oil based, but PS fluid is. Everything the PS fluid touched had to be replaced, which included all the brake lines, 4 calipers, master cylinder, ABS system, etc. What would have been about a $200.00 repair ended up costing him over $3000.00, plus a tow bill. As Ron White the comedian said, "Ya' just can't fix stupid".
I am a contractor .....I have hired and fired many people.....If people who claim to know what they are doing can't do it you know within an hour, maybe the 1st five minutes....I asked a guy one time to cut a 2x8 for a deck , simple right? I looked over and he was using a jig saw instead of my worm drive skil saw. I was shocked.
Its a balance of your time vs. how much you save I guess. Stick to doing what you do and let me do what I do is a good mantra.
I've build my own vacation home with my own 2 hands, a 34 ft. pool with my own two hands (other than the gunite), that alone covers all the trades. I've done every trade under the sun, and just last month decided to hire a contractor to build a new indoor jacuzzi with windows, a separate shower and a toilet. I thought it's time to relax (I'm 72) well everything they touched turned into a nightmare.
He made so many errors, he quit the job and hasn't shown up since. I was going to finish the new bathroom myself, but now it looks as if I have to tear out the tile work because he didn't place the plumbing rough-in flush or back-set to the wall. The toilet flange is crooked, there isn't a 45 degree cut in any molding, and it goes on. I would trust another contractor with a 10 foot pole. They hire Mexicans who think their building a house in San Felipe, that leaks rain.
They don't even know that when R13 gets crushed it lowers the value to R2. I really could write a book over their incompetence. And the electrician should have his license pulled for piggybacking 4 ea. 15A lines which require an independent GFI, not only per code but the manufacturers spec sheet says so. These Mexicans can't read. Simple as that.
Truthfully, many jobs are cheaper if the pros do them.
I finished the basement in my first house doing everything but the taping and mudding of the drywall. The only reason I didn't do that myself was pure time issues. It took me forever going through periods of working fast and furious to periods of nothing. I had never done anything like that in my life or even watched anyone do anything like it. I read a few books and web sites and got to work. I made plenty of mistakes and the timeline was definitely extended but I saved a bunch of money, got a bunch of new tools that I can use for a variety of tasks, got some new skills, and a TON of satisfaction when the basement was the highlight and basically sold the house.
You have to know your limits, your ability to learn, and your threshold for pain, suffering, and mess. Mine was high enough and I enjoyed it. Sure it could have been a disaster in a number of areas but what good doesn't come with risk?
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