How should we remodel? Do it ourselves? Hire someone? It’s a very complicated topic. Much depends on us — what we can handle, what we can’t.
I sat down one day and studied the most recent 100 or so remodels I’ve visited and written about. My goal was to see if I could determine patterns in how people approached their remodeling projects. You’ll find all kinds of advice on how it should be done. But I wanted to study how remodels actually do get done. This was not a scientific survey at all. And what these homeowners had in common is that nearly all of them solicited me to be part of my Pardon Our Dust series in the L.A. Times Real Estate section.
What I discovered is six distinct methods of remodeling. Not every single remodel I studied fit into these categories, but the vast majority of them did. The methods I discovered are:
1. Do It Yourself: These are brave, handy and self-directed people who want to exert maximum control over their remodel and are willing to put in the time and effort to do it. These folks tend to be very organized and disciplined, and are sometimes what we call “control freaks.” I have seen some easy-going types who do it all themselves, and their projects tend to morph and evolve over time and to drag on a bit.
2. Do It Yourself With Help: This is the strategy used by people who have a lot of friends, and who like the company of others. I found these homeowners get help from others, and give help to others. Spending a weekend helping a buddy put in a patio would be common. Firefighters are famous for helping each other with their remodels. People choosing this method might do the tasks they like and are able to do, such as laying tile, perhaps, and hire out those tasks that they don’t like or that take more artistry, such as stucco or drywall.
3. Owner as Contractor: In this method, the homeowners generally don’t do much work themselves, but find and hire a series of subcontractors like drywallers and electricians to do the work. In a big project, this supervision role could be a full-time job. It’s best taken on by someone with a strong personality who can get people to show up on time, and someone with exemplary communication skills.
4. Hire a Budget Contractor: These folks want a contractor to supervise their project, but they don’t want to pay very much for that service. I have seen this strategy work OK in some cases, but in most of the cases I studied, the projects tended to take a very long time. It’s possible the contractor was struggling to juggle several low-paid jobs at once. In other cases, the low-cost contractor is really just a guy or a guy and his son, and there’s only so much work they can get done in a day.
5. Hire a Mid-range Contractor: The people pursuing this option are not extreme people. They don’t want the cheapest job ever done, nor the most luxurious. They are realistic and generally easy-going. I admire these people for their pragmatism. These homeowners usually have a realistic budget, hire someone who has been recommended by friends or that they’ve seen in the neighborhood, and they don’t begrudge the contractor’s markup.
6. Hire a First-class Contractor: I don’t know exactly what to call these contractors, but they are the cream of the crop, and there are homeowners who will not hire anyone else. In each geographical area, you’ll find one or more contractors who are exemplary in every way. They send their employees to training seminars, have a variety of professional certifications, win national awards, fine tune their internal systems, have generous benefits for employees, and so on. And, of course, they charge a lot for their services. The homeowners who hire these contractors are not necessarily wealthy, but want to avoid the remodeling nightmares they’ve heard about from their friends. From my observation, homeowners who hire these contractors, sometimes waiting as long as 18 months for the honor, are not disappointed.