Don’t “Do-It-Yourself”: Why You Need to Hire a Professional for Custom Kitchens
The estimated reading time for this post is 27 minutes.
There’s one issue above all others that gives people pause when considering a home improvement project: cost. When they consider bringing in a professional contractor to do the work many hesitate, fearful that they’ll essentially be held hostage by the process and forced to pay outrageous amounts for a job they might be able to do just as well themselves. However, while one should always proceed carefully when choosing a contractor for a major project and the DIY impulse is certainly understandable two things commonly get lost in the debate:
However, while one should always proceed carefully when choosing a contractor for a major project and the DIY impulse is certainly understandable two things commonly get lost in the debate:
- While there are unscrupulous contractors out there who will take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners the vast majority of contractors are honest, hard-working, extremely talented folks who always have their client’s best interests in mind...
- The idea of doing it yourself may be a wonderfully tempting and even romantic idea but the truth is there’s a reason the best contractors are so highly regarded. They’ve spent years, even decades perfecting their craft, making contacts with suppliers, keeping up with the latest materials and trends and hiring only the best craftsmen. Expecting to perform up to professional standards right out of the gate is simply not realistic.
Something else should be kept right up front as well: Your home is your largest single investment and any changes you make to it, good or bad, are going to affect its overall value.
Regardless of how much time, effort and money are poured into a DIY home improvement project, it can actually result in reduced home value when it’s finished because of questionable design choices, poor material choices, and workmanship that is not up to professional standards.
Kitchen remodels are the most popular type of major home improvement project. As such they make for a good example when considering the subject of professional contractor vs DIY.
Table of Contents
Custom Kitchen Remodeling: A Case Study
The kitchen is the most important room in the house. Nothing else (with the possible exception of the bathroom) really comes close. The human attachment to the kitchen dates back hundreds of thousands of years to the time when early humans would congregate around the fire to share the spoils of the hunt and reaffirm the bonds that held them together.
The attachment of modern humans to the kitchen is no less real or profound which is why - as any real estate agent will tell you - most prospective home buyers won’t consider a house if the kitchen doesn’t sit well with them.
And because the kitchen is the most celebrated and revered part of the house it’s also the one that attracts the most remodeling attention. Homeowners the world over are only too happy to invest in creating a custom kitchen that speaks to their tastes and reflects their attitude toward family and life. Most hire professionals to come up with the design (using input from the homeowner of course) and perform the work and in the vast majority of
Most hire professionals to come up with the design (using input from the homeowner of course) and perform the work and in the vast majority of cases, the results are worth the money and effort. Over the past 30 years, however, as the DIY movement has snowballed an ever growing number of homeowners have decided that kitchen remodeling is something they can easily do themselves. In the process, most discover a few simple truths:
- The Learning Curve is No Joke - Everyone talks about learning curves when it comes to computer apps and new jobs but nowhere is the learning curve more severe than when it comes to home - and particularly kitchen - renovations. The aspiring DIYer needs to learn:
- The right order in which to do things (mess this up and you’re in deep trouble).
- How to demolish things in a way that minimizes damage to things that will stay.
- The most effective way to use the myriad tools involved (no small order that).
- How to effectively manipulate the various materials.
- Where to get those materials (more on that in a minute).
- As well as the impact of any building codes that might apply.
- It’s Going to Take a Long Time - Whereas it will likely take a professional contractor about 4 - 6 weeks(+/-) to do a full custom kitchen renovation you can count on it taking you as much as 3 or 4 times as long, minimum. (You can also bet dollars to donuts that you’ll have to redo some aspects of the work.) So before you invest too deeply in the idea of redoing the kitchen yourself you have to ask whether you’re prepared to live with a barely functioning kitchen for as long as 6 months to a year.
- Design is Hard - There’s a reason professional designers are well paid. Because interior design is hard to do well. Most designers have nurtured an interest in design since they were very young. They went to school to learn the intricacies of their chosen craft and have years of practical experience to augment their knowledge base. They also travel in design circles where they talk design on a daily basis and are exposed to new ideas and concepts every day. You can choose to believe that anyone can do a good job coming up with a kitchen design that will resonate, unfortunately it’s just not so. 99 times out of 100 the difference between a DIY design and a professional design is startling.
- Finding Materials Isn’t Easy Either - Like designers professional building contractors operate within a sphere of like-minded individuals. They spend years cultivating connections with everyone from the marble importer to the window fabricator to the manager at the lumber yard who gives them first dibs and a special price on the newest and best hardwood flooring. They know where to look for the best price on tiles, they have an in with the best cabinet maker in town and they know where to get the highest quality wallpaper at the best price. Can you say the same? Chances are better than even that you’re going to wind up paying substantially more for your materials than an experienced contractor would. You may also wind up unwittingly buying substandard materials if you don’t know what to look for.
When you hire a professional to undertake your kitchen renovation you’re bypassing all of these potential roadblocks to success and at the same time you’re getting a first class design and workmanship that will stand the test of time.
But if you’re still not convinced let’s turn the spotlight inward and examine whether you indeed have what it takes to renovate the kitchen yourself and, more importantly, to do it right.
Just as important as taking the measure of the project is taking the measure of yourself. Do you really have the temperament and internal commitment necessary to see such a long term project through to completion? If you’re unsure try asking yourself the following 6 questions:
- Do I enjoy doing research? - You’d better because you’re going to have to research everything from building codes to different types of wood glue and how to tell a good piece of granite from a defective one. Some folks love researching different subjects and can do it all day. For others research is the kind of thing best left to their administrative assistant. Which type of person are you? Really.
- Am I prepared to commit a minimum of 6 months of my life to the project? - If you’re handling it all yourself that’s how long you can expect it to take from sketching out the first concepts to hosting the “new kitchen” party. And that’s if everything goes well. Honestly, if your kitchen is on the large size you can expect it to take longer than that. Perhaps significantly longer. Some people were born to build the pyramids. Others, not so much. Which type of person are you?
- Am I good with my hands? - A kitchen renovation is not the same as marketing, financial services or computer programming. You’re going to do everything with your hands. Have you always been drawn to working with your hands? Have you ever built anything before? Do you know what it feels like to hit your thumb with a hammer, receive an electric shock or have a piece of granite fall on your foot? Physical work is physically demanding. There are no two ways about it. You may wind up so tired from working on your kitchen project some days that you have a hard time staying awake at your regular job.
- Do I have the tools I’ll need? - Quality tools are not cheap. If you don’t have much DIY experience chances are you’ll have virtually none of the tools you’ll need to perform a full kitchen renovation. You’re going to need everything from a circular saw to demolition bars, drills and drill bits, a Sawzall, heavy duty extension cords, a level or two, ladders, saw horses, lights, pipe wrenches, vice grips, pliers and lots more. If you try to cut corners on tools it will show in the results.
- Am I the patient type? - Some folks are and some folks aren’t. It’s not a matter of one type being better than the other. But when it comes to a DIY project the size of a custom kitchen remodel the patient person is more likely to reach a satisfying conclusion than the impatient person. That’s just the way it is. There will be at least 100 unexpected problems that arise during the project and you’ll need to patiently deal with them all. Can you?
- Do I have the requisite planning skills? - Some people excel at planning, others at execution. That’s why we have coaches and players in team sports. One devises the plan the other carries it out. If you expect to bring your kitchen renovation to a satisfying conclusion you will have to be strong in both areas, particularly planning. As the ancient Chinese General Sun Tzu says in his influential masterwork The Art of War, “Battles are won or lost before they’re ever fought.” In other words, planning is everything. While a kitchen remodel isn’t war the idea is the same: a successful outcome is the result of careful planning. If you are more of an execution-oriented person you’re likely going to have a long hard slog ahead of you because you may not have a coherent plan to work with.
When it comes to carrying out a kitchen renovation there’s no shame in admitting this sort of thing might not be your cup of tea. The only shame is in trying to kid yourself into thinking you’re something you’re not.
A Careful Look at the Financial Considerations
Since most DIY efforts are driven by a desire to save money it’s important to have some notion of how much you expect to save by doing it yourself. Some folks will ask for bids from professionals and then pick those bids apart in an effort to determine where they could save money by doing it themselves.
Labour is where they typically expect to save the most. And while labour is a big part of the cost of having a professional perform your kitchen renovation the assumption that you’ll save 100% on labour doesn’t really take the hidden costs into consideration.
So what are the hidden costs? Well, if you’re working 20 hours a week or more on your kitchen renovation that’s time you can’t be working on something else, something that might generate income.
Also, it’s safe to assume you’re going to spend more on materials than a pro would and so that extra cost must be added into the mix. Also, as mentioned above, you’ll likely have to buy most of the tools you’re going to need so that cost has to be factored in too.
And keep one more thing squarely up front: If you get hurt while renovating the kitchen yourself you may wind up incurring significant medical costs and lost wages. Also, if you damage an unrelated item or part of your home during construction you’ll have to pony up to fix or replace that as well. Whereas a contractor is covered in the event of injury or damage to your property.
The bottom line is that there’s a very real possibility that handling a kitchen renovation yourself could actually wind up costing you more than if you hired a professional to do it for you.
Okay. How Do I Find the Right Professional?
If you’ve read the above and answered all the questions and determined that performing your own custom kitchen remodel is right up your alley, good for you! You also might want to consider opening your own remodeling company.
If on the other hand, you concluded that the many risks of doing it yourself outweigh any potential rewards then you’ll want to find a reliable company with a proven track record to handle the remodeling work for you. It may seem like a daunting prospect but it doesn’t have to be if you just follow these common sense tips:
- Get a Number of Bids - Unless you have prior experience that guides you to a particular company the best thing to do is to interview a number of prospective contractors. Have each one pay a visit and take notes during your discussion so that there are no surprises in the future. Any company that isn’t willing to sit down and talks with you about such a big project should be dismissed outright. Those that do show up should give you their undivided attention. If they spend the entire discussion exchanging text messages with someone or continually interrupting you to take phone calls you’ll probably want to take a pass.
- Ask Questions - When you have the contractor in front of you ask a ton of questions. Before they show up make sure you have some idea of what you’d like to see in your new kitchen and ask questions related to what you want. In addition do some online research about the construction process and ask questions about anything you don’t understand or that seems like it could be problematic. The time to get answers is before signing on the dotted line, not afterward.
- Listen to Your Gut - You’re going to be working with this person and his or her company for months. It’s crucial that you feel comfortable with them. Do they return phone calls in a timely fashion? Do they make you feel like you’re doing something wrong by raising concerns? Does it seem like they have a cavalier attitude when it comes to safety? Do they spend more time telling you what you want than listening to what you want? If you are uneasy for any reason it’s typically a good idea to move on to someone else.
- Check References - References make the credibility world go ‘round. Certainly no one is going to provide you with a list of past customers who are unhappy with them but that’s not such a big deal. Every company, no matter how reputable, will rub someone the wrong way at some point. What’s really important is that they provide a number of references of customers who have nothing but good things to say about them. Even better if those customers are willing to let you take a peek at the work the company did for them. Don’t be shy about asking. It can really set your mind at ease to see examples of a company’s handiwork before signing any contracts.
- Contact the BBB - The Better Business Bureau keeps a record of complaints and lawsuits filed against companies so that you have a better idea of who you might be getting involved with. Keep in mind that it’s not unusual for a company to be dragged into court now and then. Certainly any company that’s been around a while and dealt with a large number of customers will incur someone’s displeasure at some point. That’s no big deal. It’s business. What you’re looking for is not the isolated complaint but a pattern. If the company is repeatedly in court defending themselves against the ire of angry customers that’s not business, that’s someone who likely can’t be trusted. Take a hint and move on to someone else.
- Protect Yourself - So you’ve done your research, conducted your interviews, contacted the references, checked with the BBB and decided to go with Company “X”. The last thing you’ll want to do before signing a contract is to ensure that contract protects you and your vital interests. Make sure there are stipulations in the contract that specify milestones and provide penalties if those milestones aren’t met. You might think this is overkill but it’s not. It’s good old fashioned common sense and provides the contractor with an incentive not to put your job on the back burner while they do a rush job for their brother-in-law. Once these stipulations are in place make sure you stick to them. No good can come from setting a precedent of continually letting things slide.
The impulse to do-it-yourself is understandable and there are instances when it might be both the right and fun choice (say for instance if you’re installing a new ceiling fan). On the other hand, there are times when the DIY impulse can lead to far more harm than good, and the larger the project the truer this is. In general, if the project you are contemplating would normally involve more than one building trade you should find a contractor to handle it.
Remember, your home is not just your castle, it’s also the largest single investment you’ll likely ever make. Approaching the house as though it were just a playground for trying out DIY skills will run the very real risk of actually harming not just its structural and functional integrity but its market value as well. Home improvements are supposed to be just that: improvements to look of the home, to its functionality, to your quality of life and to the home’s market value. Don’t gamble with your largest investment. When it comes to large-scale projects like custom kitchens call the pros at Vancouver Home Builders.