Why hire a contractor when you’ve got a master’s degree in HGTV? According to Al Urban, a top-selling Kansas City agent, overconfidence is all too common among homeowners who’d be better off leaving the big projects to the pros.
“You’ll see where they cut a molding too short, and they put all kinds of caulking at the corner, and then painted over it, and you go, ‘Oh, goodness,’” said Urban.
“That’s always a dead giveaway that there might be other things in the house that they did themselves that they really shouldn’t have done.”
These shortcuts (forgive the pun) are notorious in the house flipping industry, but the gaffes can be just as detrimental when the time comes to sell your home. Before you make that costly Lowe’s run and start any demo, review the benefits of having a trusted contractor on your side, compared to when you can get away with a harmless DIY project.
What are the benefits of hiring a general contractor?
A contractor is different from a handyman or similar professional in skillset, licensing, and expertise.
While general contractors coordinate and execute larger home renovation projects, other types of contractors (subcontractors) specialize in a particular trade, such as roofing, plumbing, carpentry, or electrical work.
Contractors typically must be licensed by the state and carry an installation or workmanship warranty to guarantee they’ve done the job correctly.
Because they’re licensed, these professionals also must ensure that their work meets code requirements. (A skilled handyman is unlicensed but is an economical option for smaller jobs).
The benefits of hiring a contractor depend on the scope of the job. In general, they protect you as a home seller from higher material costs in doing the work yourself and any legal liability should the work be done incorrectly.
Renovation Planners, a certified construction management firm, estimates that 30% percent of contractors’ work comes from repairing do-it-yourself projects gone wrong.
If you need more convincing to hire a pro, these are the main advantages:
1. Major projects have a steep learning curve, even if you think you’re handy
It’s understandable that homeowners want to save time and money where they can when selling a house, but depending on the repair, not hiring a contractor can get you in over your head.
“It can be kind of a nightmare where contractors know the people and know the jargon for getting the work done correctly, and homeowners may not have that experience,” Urban said. “I think sometimes a project suffers just because of communication and lack of knowledge.”
2. Pull the right building codes and permits
Although you don’t need a permit on every home repair, a contractor will know when you do need one.
Although code requirements vary by municipality, California in its Building Standards Code, for example, says that no building or structure may be “erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted, or demolished” without a separate permit from a building official.
California also requires using a licensed contractor if the project, including labor and materials, exceeds $500. Otherwise, the state could force you to remove the project without compensation or issue a fine.
Curious about the rules around permits in your area? Review this resource list with links to all 50 states’ building codes.
3. Follow proper construction methods, take the right safety precautions, and buck legal liability
A licensed contractor must undergo strict regulation. In Florida, for instance, the Construction Industry Licensing Board certifies general contractors, building contractors, residential contractors, mechanical contractors, and subcontractors handling specialties such as swimming pools, spas, sheet metal, roofing, air-conditioning, plumbing, solar energy, underground utilities, and pollutant storage.
Florida Certified Contractors must have at least four years of field experience, at least one in a supervisory role; must pass a written exam; and provide a proven record of financial stability (i.e., no liens, a credit score of 660 or higher, and no felony criminal record of money laundering, embezzlement, or financial services).
The licensing board also requires that contractors carry workers’ compensation coverage. Not only do you want to save the time and headache of redoing work that isn’t done properly, you don’t want to be held liable for any workers injured on the job.
4. Get better prices on materials and labor
Contractors not only have specialized knowledge but contacts with subcontractors they can hire and discounts on materials. On materials alone, contractors can save big at retailers whereas consumers will pay full price for materials. Home Depot, for example, offers reduced pricing on orders over $1,500, plus bulk pricing on more than 4,000 products such as roofing, pavers, drywall, and paint supplies.
5. Keep crews busy and the work flowing
Urban has a list of contractors that he’s referred to clients who have been impressed with their work. He connects these professionals with clients because of reliability—and because they consistently get the work done on time.
“A reasonable time frame is generally important because if you’re trying to meet deadlines in terms of closing, then you want somebody you can count on that’ll come within a day or two,” he said. “They obviously know their business … They don’t try to gouge the sellers.”
Is there anything to gain from a DIY job?
Again, this depends on the type and size of project you’re undertaking, as well as your own expertise. You might not see the need to hire a maintenance or remodeling contractor to change out a light fixture if you’ve done that previously—plus…
1. You could save as much as 35%.
Insurance company Nationwide notes that homeowners who act as their own general contractors can save as much as 35% of project costs, including labor, materials, and appliance costs. (The Chicago Tribune estimates similar savings of 10%-35%.)
That said, Home Inspector Experts of Hampton Bays, N.Y., recommends that if you have the ability, time, and know-how to take on a project yourself, don’t skimp on materials. Use the money you save from not hiring a contractor to invest in the right goods.
2. You could learn the ropes of rehabbing, especially if you’re an investor.
Interior designer Catherine Pondel told the Chicago Tribune that she loved acting as the general contractor for her own remodeling project, where she managed a team of six workers. She hired a firefighter who did construction in his off hours and hired specialists for electrical and plumbing work. “I bought a teardown with charm and did it on a divorced woman’s modest budget,” she said.
3. You get direct supervision of any subcontractors.
Acting as your own general contractor means you’ll also directly supervise any subcontractors, which might appeal to you if you have a hands-on personality and the ability to be on site whenever something’s installed.
You’ll select who’s right for the job based on your own research and referrals, plus select suppliers (review HomeLight’s guide to assembling your home renovation dream team).
Be aware that you’ll also have to check that they have the right insurance and warranties, as well as know how to track their progress and pay everyone on time.
Hire a contractor for these bigger projects
A general rule of thumb is that you’ll want to hire a contractor or specialist for any issue that might crop up during a home inspection. This includes:
- Plumbing fixes, such as leaky drains or slow faucets, as well as any pipe replacement.
- Electrical upgrades, such as installing a new electrical breaker panel—the current minimum requirement is 100 amps.
- Roof repairs, including replacing shingles, flashes, or decking.
- Servicing the HVAC (or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) by cleaning filters, flushing drain lines, and measuring amp draw and electrical current.
- Scoping out the sewer system, showing the condition of the pipes and any leaks.
- Pest control, such as eradicating termites and blocking cracks or holes that allow egress.
- Landscaping such as trimming overgrown trees and regrading a lawn, especially if your lawn has drainage issues.
As for any kind of major remodeling project such as a kitchen renovation or bathroom overhaul? Best to hire a general contractor who can oversee a team of plumbers, electricians, painters, window hangers, and other specialty tradesmen.
Got a handyman or DIY know-how? Take on these cosmetic repairs with ease
Most of the time, a skilled homeowner or handyman is able to:
- Patch holes from picture hardware in drywall
- Paint baseboards and interior trim
- Paint interior walls
- Touch up paint on the inside or outside (single-story house)
- Clean out the gunk in the garbage disposal
- Fertilize and seed the lawn
- Rake and weed the yard
Before you hire a contractor or subcontractor, think hard about what you can handle yourself. Then be sure to check references and referrals for professionals with friends, neighbors, coworkers, online databases such as CostOwl.com or Thumbtack.com, and state regulatory agencies.
More important over the long haul is getting the job done right the first time.
“It’s more expensive for the seller if they had somebody do it incorrectly or incompletely, and then they have to hire someone else to come back and do it again and do it correctly,” Urban said.
“That can be a big turn-off for buyers—if too much of the work is done by an amateur, and it’s not up to good standards.”