Homeowner Do’s and Don’ts When Improving Their Home

Today is a big day for us. Our new kitchen counter tops are getting installed. While I was removing appliances and cleaning supplies for the big day I ran across a previous owner (or tenants) “home improvement” attempt. Take a look at the picture below.

What started as a stove replacement lead to some do-it-yourself electrical work. Not only is the board they used to “mount” the outlet falling out of the drywall, the exposed wires and lack of grounding is a dangerous fire hazard.

Part of the joys of being a homeowner is earning that “sweat equity” by doing minor improvements to their homes. Saving money by doing some upgrades and repairs yourself can increase the Return on Investment, however doing the “wrong” repairs yourself can end up costing you more money in the long run or can seriously hurt your bottom line when you go to sell.

Before you decide if it is a Do or a Don’t

Who and What Do you know?

There are plenty of repairs and upgrades you can do yourself. Like anything in life, you first need to assess your skill and experience level and also who you know. Are you patient enough to paint? Do you have the tools needed to complete the job? Did a family member successfully complete the project before? Watch some how-to videos and see if the project is something you are willing to take on.

Can you handle the unplanned?

When my husband and I purchased a fixer downtown, I insisted I could remove the wallpaper and repaint the dining room. 12 months, 7 arguments, and hours spent on the internet looking for solutions to remove wallpaper and texture a wall later, I realized this project was bigger than I thought. While this wasn’t an expensive mistake and we still made the sweat equity by doing it ourselves, the project was typical of many home improvement projects: There will usually be a few repairs or steps you don’t realize until you start. Remember my photo above? We were just getting counter tops, now we are calling an electrician.


  1. Research: No matter what the project, research materials, tools, how-to’s, etc. You can never have too much knowledge and starting a home improvement project without a plan is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Replace/upgrade those systems that are critical to the home or can add value. Not sure what those are? Check with a local Realtor or consult the home inspection you had when you purchased. Most home inspectors give you a list of things to watch.
  3. Plan out your steps. My father always told me to measure twice and cut once. The same advice can be applied to home improvement. Have a list, check it twice and then have someone else check it again. Make sure you have planned for all the steps and possible eventualities.
  4. If you have children: No matter what the project, my kids always want to help. Sometimes their “help” causes delays. My husband and I plan out an area that they can help with or plan a sleepover for the kids at grandmas.
  5. Know when you are in over your head. Get help where you need it. If your toilet replacement results in needing to re-plumb the entire home (and you know nothing about plumbing), call a plumber!


  1. Some repairs require a licensed contractor by your city or county. Depending on your location, you may be required to pull permits, have work inspected at each stage, etc. Regardless of whether you think you can complete it or not, check with your local authorities and codes first. Often times these “unlicensed repairs” show up when it is time to sell and can hurt you financially or even be the cause of a buyer terminating the transaction.
  2. If you are planning on selling down the road, don’t price your home out of the neighborhood. While Italian Marble is gorgeous, it probably doesn’t belong in a starter home.
  3. Sometimes we sacrifice form for functionality. In the case of a home, this is typically a bad idea. While a certain light or sink fixture looks “cool” if it doesn’t provide the light you need or interferes with washing dishes, it’s probably a bad choice.
  4. Cover up your mistake or ignore the problem. If you pull up the toilet and see that the sub-floor is damaged, don’t put the new toilet in and forget about it. This is the best time to go ahead and make those needed repairs or call in a professional to take care of the problem you can’t fix.

Owning a home is one of the best ways to build wealth and if you can complete some of those upgrades on your own you will get more out of it. Just remember, plan ahead, don’t take on more than you can chew, and always do research on code requirements and materials.