Home Renovation: DIY or General Contractor?

General Contractor Support

Organization and planning assistance

Having a knowledgeable contractor can be enormously helpful with getting your home renovation project organized and providing insight on what is possible within your property. For example, you may want to take down a wall. A general contractor can tell you if the wall is weight bearing and essential to the structure or merely cosmetic. As part of your house flipping team, they can provide guidance with what type of changes you want to make and if they will be helpful or damaging.

A¬†general contractor will also oversee the home renovation project and keep the process moving when you are not there. This is especially important if the house flip is a “side” job for you rather than a primary occupation. The house flip will never be finished if there is not a manager of the process there on at least a part time basis. Rehab projects that are done during the nights, weekends and holidays will inevitably fail or result in a much lower return on investment.

The contractor should also help you with financial planning for the project. They should be able to tell you how long the job will take, approximately when draws will be needed and how much materials and labor will cost.

Your general contractor should also be in charge of getting you necessary permits and inform you how long the permitting process will take. They will also know what work can be done without permits and which ones will require them, which ensures project efficiency. It is also the contractor’s responsibility to oversee various inspections when different stages of the project are completed.

While the contractor is in charge of the process, the owner is still responsible for ensuring that the work is completed within the code requirements. Property owners are subject to severe punishments for defects that result from work completed that fails to adhere to the code. As such, it is important to oversee all work with the utmost due diligence to prevent unwanted legal issues.

Hiring a contractor will cost you, but it will be worth it.

General Contractor Cost and Benefits

A contractor will cost you, but it will be worth it

Using a general contractor will cost you more money than doing the project yourself, but it will save you time and money over the course of the project. Having a good, full time manager on site will shorten the amount of time that a project will take, it will keep things from needing to be done multiple times and it will generally cut down on project waste.

Having the contractor’s name on the permit will increase the likelihood that the project will be right the first time. A job that is completed correctly will not fail an inspection and incur fines. A contractor keeps the project moving and your property will be sold faster than a project that drags on.

As mentioned in chapter 3 , while you own the property, you will be paying several monthly costs. These include: real estate taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance. On top of the monthly interest from the loan, these all add up to significant numbers that can be the difference between your project’s success or failure. Hiring an organized contractor will keep your project moving, effectively reducing your costs over the term of the project.

Selecting a General Contractor

Do your homework before you hire a contractor

Before making a decision to hire a contractor, you should interview several of them. Pay as much attention to what they don’t say as what they do say. Things to pay attention to include:

  • Did they bring pictures of completed jobs?
  • Are they willing to supply verifiable references?
  • Were they on time?
  • Were they organized?
  • Did they reschedule several times?

These are all things to look out for. You need to hire someone who can manage their time, is organized, who has pride in their work and a good relationship with previous customers.

Ask each contractor you are considering hiring for a line item bid for the project and a timeline. Compare all of them to each other to make sure you are getting the same things in each bid. Look at the biggest price differences and evaluate whether the most expensive job is too high or the lower one is cutting corners. Pay attention to red flags while analyzing your options.

It is extremely important to check their references. Prior customers are often the best indicator of how a contractor will perform for you. Ask the references if you can look at the work they did on that project. If they did a rehab before, drive by to see the property even if you cannot get inside. This is a good way of finding out if their experience is similar to what you’re looking for. You need to make sure that you are hiring someone who can handle the size of the job. When speaking to the references, specifically discuss how and when the contractor is paid.

Once you have chosen a contractor, ask them for proof of financial stability. They should have sufficient income and cash on hand to move your project forward. A contractor that asks for an advance in cash could be a major warning sign. They may be paying off subcontractors from prior jobs which means they will eventually run out of money before your project is over.

Home Renovation DIY

Renovating yourself can reduce costs, but…

If you have the skills and time to do a rehab project yourself, then do it! Lots of contractors successfully do their own rehabs, but unless you have a lot of experience doing this kind of work, you might want to reconsider. Even if you have the necessary skills, some questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Do you enjoy physical work?
  • Are you patient?
  • Do you finish what you start?
  • Are your skills at the needed quality level?
  • Do you have enough time?
  • Is your family on board with this project and the time commitment?
  • Do you understand everything that needs to be done?
  • Are you familiar with local building codes? What do you need a permit for? How do you get a permit?
  • Do you have a plan if things don’t go as expected?
  • Is it safe for you to do this project?
  • Do you have the financial means to absorb time and cost overruns?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you will need to rethink whether you should be doing the work yourself. Be honest about evaluating your own time, money and skills.

Some of the work needed for your home renovation DIY project will require licensed professionals, such as: plumbers, electricians, engineers, architects, etc. Without a contractor, you will need to interview these workers on your own. This should be done in the same way discussed for interviewing a contractor.

It can be very time consuming, but a bad hiring decision can ruin your project. In addition to hiring them, you must be there to supervise their work while at the project. You will need to be available before starting a phase of the project that requires professional help. Do not explain the project to your plumber and then go on a week vacation. A problem will always come up and you may not like a decision that was made when you were not there.

Split the Work

You can do some of the work yourself and hire a contractor for the rest

You might be good at painting walls, but not good at laying tile. You might be exceptional at demolition, but less skilled at dry walling. Consider splitting the work with a contractor. Explain from the beginning what you are able to do and what you expect from the contractor.

Splitting the work between you and your general contractor will maximize your return on your skills and minimize your risk from your weaknesses. Make sure that you have a contract that spells out each party’s responsibilities clearly so there are no misunderstandings.


Learn more about the pros and cons of real estate investment partnerships.