Is It Wise to DIY? A New Survey Says, Not Always

Before you jump into your next home remodeling project, make sure you know what you're getting into.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz | Updated Nov 14, 2016 12:22 PM

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We Americans are a can-do crowd, particularly when it comes to maintaining and improving our homes. Need proof? Look no further than a recent survey sponsored by Esurance. The results firmly support the notion that more often than not, regardless of prior experience or skill level, homeowners don’t think twice about undertaking a wide range of projects on their own, without a contractor. What’s more, some of these homeowners think quite highly of their abilities. In fact, 45 percent claim that they’re better able to care for their homes than even a contractor would be.

Where do these homeowners get their confidence? Does it spring from the glut of home remodeling programs on television, or is it simply human nature to believe in oneself? We can’t know for sure, but one thing’s certain: Take a trip to any home improvement center on a Saturday morning, and it’s plain to see that we have become a nation of hammer-swinging do-it-yourselfers. Yet, although 67 percent of those surveyed have handled a major home project on their own, 52 percent readily admit that they’ve had to hire a professional to fix or finish a DIY that went awry.

As it turns out, there’s a disconnect between homeowners’ perceptions of their DIY skills and the reality. And this disconnect affects not only the occasional DIY project, but also basic household maintenance. Just think: While a full 88 percent of survey respondents claim to know how to keep up their homes, a startling number admit to neglecting key tasks. For example, 74 percent say they have no plans for maintaining the foundation, even though experts recommend yearly inspections. Similarly, 54 percent say they have no maintenance plan for major systems like heating and cooling, despite the fact that, as any technician would tell you, hardworking HVAC equipment needs TLC to perform its best and stand the test of time.


Make no mistake: Overconfidence can have serious consequences for your bottom line. Witness the fact that 22 percent of all homeowners surveyed—and a whopping 54 percent of millennial homeowners—report having filed an insurance claim in the wake of a “DIY fail.” Complicating the situation is that, just as homeowners often misjudge their competence, many also fail to understand certain basics of insurance coverage. When asked whether such things as sewer backups and termite damage would be covered by a standard policy, 99 percent were wrong on at least one count.

Simply put, there are downsides to DIY. When something goes awry, it can result in costly mistakes. When you bring in a contractor halfway through a project, particularly if there’s damage to undo, you can expect to spend more than if you’d simply hired a pro to handle everything from the get-go. The best course? At the outset of any project, before you dive in headfirst, take the time to assess whether you’re truly up for the task at hand. Do your due diligence—learn all you can about every step of the process—then ask yourself the following questions:


• How much will it cost to purchase what you need to get the job done? Especially if you don’t envision yourself using the necessary supplies more than once, there’s a good chance that, counter to intuition, you would save money by hiring a pro who has access to all the tools of the trade.

• Is a permit required for the project you’re planning? If so, it also probably requires municipal inspection. If that’s the case, doing it yourself means running the risk of failing the inspection and then having to purchase more materials—and invest more time and energy—to redo the job right.

• Would the quality of the finished result impact the resale value of your home? While it’s one thing to do a slapdash job of painting the guest bedroom, it’s another to install roof shingles or exterior siding incorrectly. Before committing, be sure you fully understand what may be at stake.

• Are there any dangers inherent to doing it yourself? Many homeowners opt not to clean their own gutters, not because it’s complicated, but because the work entails getting up on a shaky extension ladder to reach the gutters. The lesson here: Don’t tempt fate if you don’t have to.

As the saying goes, “You can never have too much of a good thing.” Despite the wisdom of those words, it’s indeed possible to have too much self-confidence—a failing that can cloud judgment and drive a homeowner to undertake projects far beyond his abilities. So, go ahead and learn new skills and expand your reservoir of knowledge, but don’t lose sight of your strengths and weaknesses. We all have our limits; the trick is to embrace yours, not only for peace of mind, but also to protect your biggest investment, your home. DIY? Well, it’s one way, but it’s not the only way.


This article has been brought to you by Esurance. Its facts and opinions are those of