Doing projects for yourself is a great way to save money when making home repairs or improvements. In the old days, most homeowners did their own repairs or had repairs done by neighbors or friends in the community. This was a simpler era. Our houses were less complex and our communities smaller and trades people more accountable.
Today, our expectations for our houses and house comfort are the world away from yesteryear. Complex wiring and heating and plumbing systems are ubiquitous and many homeowners count themselves lucky to own pools, spas, rooftop decks, sunrooms, top-of-the-line kitchens with all of their appliances, generators, solar systems, irrigation systems, in-floor heating and heat recovery ventilators. The complexity and sheer cost of our houses today has changed the nature of do-it-yourself projects, but not the desire.
DIY networks and channels and YouTube videos are more popular than ever, and as a home inspector, I am constantly running into DIY projects on houses that I inspect. While I have great admiration for the well-cared for the house that has been DIYed into shape, some of these houses pose serious problems when it comes time to sell. Here are a few things to consider if you are doing repairs or updates to your house that you plan on selling someday.
A Little Perspective
It is important to put yourself in the shoes of a home inspector for a minute. A home inspector’s clients are looking for the inspector to help determine the level of risk a particular house poses when it comes to safety, reliability, and maintenance. In some respects, a home inspector’s job is to make a list of items that require repair, but this is really an over-simplified understanding of a home inspection. Another, more accurate way we could define a home inspection is a process of discovery by which we determine how concerned we should be about the things we cannot see.
In my book, The Confident House Hunter, I make the case that what we really ought to be afraid of is not the problems that are uncovered during a home inspection, but what those problems tell us about what we don’t know. For example, I never care if a house needs a new water heater or furnace or even a new roof. These are disposable systems and, though they may be expensive, they are fairly simple projects that typically present little risk.
What worries me is when I see lots of unusual or amateur looking repairs to basic home systems. I inspected a flipped house the other day where all of the waste piping below the sinks was done in an unlisted corrugated pipe that is not the correct product. Two of the mixing valves were installed backward: hot was cold and cold was hot. One toilet was loose and leaking and the kitchen sink faucet was poorly mounted. All of these things can be fixed, but what does this say about the quality of the recent repairs that were made to the rest of the house? These cumulative repair problems make me wonder about what I don’t know; what is lurking behind the walls? How will the plumbing system respond when my clients move in and begin using it daily?
The Case for DIY
A very compelling case can be made that handy people are better off doing their own work because many tradespeople have become so expensive and unreliable. While I have a deep respect for great tradespeople, I understand this point of view; it can be frustrating hiring people to work on your home and often they do not seem to take the same level of care that you would on your own house.
My advice for the DIY owner who wants to take pride in what they do AND make the sale go smoothly is to take the time to make repairs and install systems in a way that is normal and standard. Devising unique repairs with auto parts for house plumbing, for example, might actually work, but it will not make the eventual home inspection go smoothly.
If you take time and research your projects thoroughly, you should find that many repairs are surprisingly complicated. Changing from an electric water heater to gas, for example, seems like a slam dunk, but it brings up all kinds of important and convoluted questions about venting and combustion air and gas piping and thermal barriers and firewalls that are commonly misunderstood and dangerous if not executed correctly.
Here are a few basic tips you can follow when doing your own repairs and updates to help make the sale go smoothly when inspection time comes
- Follow Manufacture Installation Specifications: When installing products read and follow manufacturer installation specifications so products are installed in a normal and reliable way.
- Keep the paperwork: Building a strong paper trail of receipts, owner’s manuals and permits can go a long way towards assuring a home buyer your repairs were thoughtful and organized.
- Research: When building things, research the proper way to construct something before you do it. This might involve researching codes and going to more than one resource for advice. If for example, you build your own deck, you can find a prescriptive guide on-line which can give you step by step details on how to build the deck. http://getscribeware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/AWC-DCA62012-DeckGuide-1405.pdf.
- Don’t trust just one source: If you follow YouTube videos, make sure you watch more than one and corroborate using other sources of information to be sure you are getting reliable advice. I have seen some excellent videos on YouTube but also some misleading information.
- Pull Permits: If permits are required, apply for permits and get the work signed off by local building officials, especially for structural modifications and when adding wiring or new plumbing.
- Stop and think: If you think it’s easy you are probably not doing it right! Proper, reliable and standard construction is often more complex than we think.
You may be a genius at devising a whole new way to install a water heater or siding or a garage door opener, but if a home inspector has never seen it done like that before, they have to honestly tell their clients that they have no idea if it will work safely or reliably. You might not care for your own house, but once you go to sell, you are asking a new owner to take on the risk of YOUR installation. This can lead to fear, confusion, and frustration for both buyers and sellers when it comes time for the home inspection.
I hope this helps. Happy house hunting everyone!
Dylan Chalk is the author of The Confident House Hunter – a book to teach home buyers how to look at and understand houses: Cedar Fort Press www.dylanchalk.com. He is also the founder of ScribeWare inspection report software offering innovative and simple report-writing solutions – www.getscribeware.com and he is the owner of Seattle-based Orca Inspection Services LLC.