A woman smiles as she paints a white wall gray using a roller brush.

Is DIY Home Improvement Right for You?

Deciding whether to tackle a home improvement project yourself or hire a pro can be tough. We’ll help you do your homework, so you can save time and money and maximize the return on your investment.

We get it. You've been stuck at home for a year and a half, maybe watching a little too much HGTV. You're ready to roll up your sleeves and add that new home office or renovate your kitchen. But before you start knocking down walls, pause for a moment: Is it really a good idea to do it yourself (DIY)?

The answer depends on several factors. You'll want to take into account which projects increase your home value, but there's more to it than that. Let's look at some things to consider before you take on the time, effort and cost of a DIY home improvement project.

Your Motivations

Are you thinking about making changes for yourself to enjoy while you live there, or are you getting the house ready to sell? If you're not planning to move right away, you'll want to focus on areas that improve function and comfort for the way you live. If you're a home chef, for example, you might want to start with the kitchen before you worry about the wall color.

Even if the improvements are for you, you'll want to make sure they aren't so specific to you that they decrease your property value. An over-personalized or custom project, like a luxury bathroom or bold tiling choice, will require time, effort and money for the next homeowner to replace if they don't share your taste.

Your Skills

The advantage and appeal of DIY projects is that they can save you money. That's especially true if you're handy. If you have a garage full of tools and your friends regularly call you for help fixing things, you already know you can handle some bigger projects yourself, saving you on professional labor costs and markup on materials. If you're a newbie who is confident after watching a few YouTube videos, just be sure you budget time for learning new skills, making mistakes and fixing them.

Regardless of your skill level, some jobs — like plumbing and electrical work — are best left to the professionals. Done incorrectly, you could be in violation of building codes and create dangerous conditions in the home.

Your Safety and Responsibility

It might seem like a hassle to deal with the local building department, and permits cost money, but code violations can cost you more in the long run, and create unsafe conditions. When it comes time to sell, you may be required to fix any renovations that don't comply with building codes before potential buyers will make an offer. You could also be sued by the new owner for repairs and damages.

Other improvements, when not done by the book, can put you and others at risk. For example, removing materials containing asbestos is highly regulated because it creates a serious health hazard when safety measures aren't followed. Improper electrical work can start fires.

Your Time

If you're getting ready to list your home for sale, you might be pressed for time, so even if you're super handy, it might make sense for you to call in professional reinforcements. Obviously, a coat of paint is going to take less time than a bathroom remodel.

Your Budget

Even if you're doing the work yourself, you'll still need to pay for tools and materials. You'll want to be detailed in your planning so you have a good idea of project costs, how long it's going to take and what you can afford.

Keep in mind that even among projects with a high rate of return, you usually aren't going to recoup 100% of your costs, especially for big-ticket remodeling projects, and you won't enjoy the rewards of any value you add until you sell the property. You'll have to balance what you can afford to do now with the increase in property value you'll gain later.

Your Payment Options

You have several ways to cover costs, including paying cash or financing home improvements.

Paying With Cash

Cash is a great way to go (if you have it) because you won't pay any interest. The key is to plan ahead and save money. No matter how tempting it may be, it's best not to tap into your emergency funds. BECU lead financial educator Stacey Black advises having at least three to six months of expenses saved. It's also important to make sure you don't rack up a bunch of debt in the interest of saving cash. Better to put off your project and pay down your debt first.

Financing

  • Home Equity Line of Credit: Like the name suggests, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a loan that lets you use the equity of your home as collateral. If you have the equity, you can borrow more than you could with a personal loan, and the interest rates tend to be lower.
  • Home Improvement Loan: If you don't have any equity yet, and you're taking on a smaller project, a no-equity home improvement loan might be the way to go. These loans are unsecured and don't require you to have collateral.
  • Credit Card: Paying with a credit card has the benefit of giving you instant access to funds without collateral, and you might benefit from cash back or other rewards. If you decide to pay for your DIY home improvements with a credit card, be sure you go into it with your eyes wide open: Those interest payments can add up fast, so do your homework; know in advance how much you can afford to pay back and how long it will take based on your savings and income. You can also look for cards with a 0% introductory APR, but pay attention to when the promotional rate expires and what the new rate will be.