By Katherine Kopp, a freelance writer in Chapel Hill.

While the Triangle is emerging from the housing downturn of recent years, it has had a serious impact on area homeowners and on builders and contractors, as home values and construction starts of new homes declined significantly from their peaks in the early 2000s.

DIY showed declines in recent years

Another casualty of the housing industry locally and nationwide was the decline in “do-it-yourself,” (DIY) home improvement projects, according to data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. The Center’s data shows that spending on home improvements and repairs totaled $275 billion in 2011, down 4 percent from 2009 levels and some 16 percent below the market peak in 2007. More recent data is still being tabulated.

Despite a surge of consumer interest in DIY shows on HGTV, the percentage of home improvement projects done by their home owners has been on a downward trend. Until relatively recently, almost a quarter of home improvement spending was by owners who install the products themselves. The DIY share of spending peaked at just under 26 percent in 2003 and fell steadily through 2011 to less than 18 percent, according to the Center’s data.

Fewer younger homeowners = fewer DIY projects

This decline in part reflects the decline in home ownership among those under age 35, traditionally the most active age group in the DIY market. Owners under age 35 historically have devoted about 35 percent of their home improvement dollars to DIY projects — about 10 percentage points more than the overall owner population. But with their homeownership rates falling during the housing downturn, younger households have contributed less to the overall DIY spending in recent years.DIY or hire a pro
But the good news is that home improvements – both DIY and done by professionals are on the increase in many parts of the country, including the Triangle. There are many reasons to remodel rather than to move. Many homeowners find that staying in place and adding value to their property through remodeling is much more cost effective than moving and paying fees and costs associated with buying a new home. Those home owners who have bought or refinanced with a low interest rate are particularly likely to stay in place and do home improvement.

Popular home improvements now on the rise

Some of the most common home remodeling projects now include:

  • Adding more space
  • Upgrading cabinets, counters, appliances, and fixtures
  • Creating a modified floor plan that’s customized for current lifestyle
  • Improving energy efficiency with new windows, doors, insulation, and climate control systems
  • Making “aging in place” modifications to existing homes

All of these improvements can add up to potentially substantial increases in the resale value of a home.

While some of the most popular remodeling projects – or portions of them – can be successfully accomplished on a DIY basis, it’s essential to think carefully about the scope of a project before embarking on it yourself.

Keep it (relatively) simple

Sarah Curme, a homeowner, investment property owner and real estate agent in Charlotte, has done several DIY projects on her properties and has also consulted on projects in a Raleigh home. Most recently, she oversaw the construction of a new brick patio and porch with an outdoor fireplace.

“It wasn’t an extremely complicated project,” she says. “It involved carpentry, masonry and electrical work but no plumbing. I think you can successfully complete a project if you have a reasonably simple project and you have very reliable sub-contractors who will work with you and be dependable. But as the real estate market improves, it can be more and more difficult to find capable and reliable subs because they are busy working on much bigger projects and they may keep putting you off.”

Home Remodeling Tips - DIY or Hire a ProEven seemingly small projects such as new countertops can be a challenge for the average homeowner. Kate Bowden, manager of Carolina Custom Kitchens in Apex, cautions homeowners not to “waste time and money by having to do something over that you did not have the expertise to manage yourself. For example, you need special machinery to cut stone for a kitchen counter, whether it’s marble, stone or engineered quartz,” she says. “And installation needs to be precise, so installing stone countertops is generally not a do-it-yourself project.”

Jordan Pollard of ProFloors, Inc. in Garner, recommends that for most flooring projects, homeowners hire a professional to do the work. “Putting in new flooring is not as easy as it may look on HGTV,” he says. “But if you really want to do a flooring installation yourself, the most foolproof job would have to be laminate flooring. It’s easy to measure for it, no special tools are required other than things the average homeowner has on hand, so it can be pretty simple to do, especially in a small room like a bathroom or small kitchen,” he says.

16 questions: how do you know when to hire a pro?

To help you decide whether to try to do a home improvement yourself or to hire a pro, start with these questions from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI):

  1. Do you enjoy physical work?
  2. Are you persistent and patient?
  3. Are you reliable – meaning, once the project is started, will you finish it?
  4. Are you prepared to handle the kind of stress this project will create for your family?
  5. Do you have all the tools you require? Do you have the skills to operate these tools safely and efficiently?
  6. What level of quality do you want from this home improvement project, and are your skills at that level?
  7. Do you have the time necessary to complete the project? (One rule of thumb: Always double or triple the time estimated for a DIY project, unless you are highly skilled and familiar with that particular project.)
  8. Do you know all of the steps involved in the project?DIY or hire a pro - home remodeling
  9. Have you contacted any manufacturers for the installation instructions? Most manufacturers will send installation instructions before you purchase to determine whether the product will meet your needs.
  10. Is this a job you can do completely by yourself or will you need assistance? (If you do need assistance, what skill level is involved for your helper?)
  11. Are you familiar with your local building codes?
  12. Have you applied for necessary permits? Don’t skip this step. Many cities require that certain work only be done by certified professionals, so double-check with your city’s planning department to see what you’re allowed to do by yourself and what you need to hire a professional to do.
  13. What will you do if the project goes awry? Do you have a back-up plan to finish the work if you run into problems you can’t solve?
  14. Is it safe for you to do this project? (Some jobs – such as electrical work – can be fatal if not performed correctly. Your health and safety should be the primary concern.)
  15. Will you be able to obtain the materials you need? Who will be your source of supply? Will they deliver?
  16. Are you attempting a do-it-yourself route for financial reasons? If so, have you looked at all of your costs, including the cost of materials, your time, and the tools you need to purchase? If you are new to the DIY game, you may also want to look at what it might cost to correct any mistakes you may make.

Ultimately, will the DIY option be a cost-saving venture? Unless you have answered “yes” to most if not all of these questions, it may be in your best interest to hire a pro.

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