By Gene and Katie Hamilton
When we began flipping houses it didn’t take us long to realize that we had a lot to learn. We bought a fixer upper as a summer job to improve and resell in the three months off from our teaching jobs. We worked like crazy to get it back on the market and soon realized that we hired out much of the work to contractors after attempting (and sometimes failing) to achieve professional results. We always hired pros for jobs that required a licensed contractor like many plumbing and electrical projects. But for the work we did, the sting of a house looking like an almost OK job wasn’t good enough.
How did contractors make it look so easy to refinish hardwood floors, tile a bathroom wall and install kitchen cabinets when we struggled with the jobs? Well, for a lot of reasons.
In a nutshell, they had experience from doing the work on more than one occasion, unlike us newbies who had to learn to do every project on a first time basis while on the job. I remember the first time I tried to parallel park it wasn’t pretty, and it took several attempts to get it right. Just like my initial attempt hanging wallpaper, practice made perfect.
And a wannabe contractor often learns by working with a mentor, or training in an apprentice program, often passing a test for certification. We did every job under the gun with a looming deadline. We did learn to parse out jobs we could do and those to hire out.
We found painting a room is an ideal first-time DIY job because the tools and material are inexpensive. And if we made a mistake we covered it with another coat of paint. On the other hand, hanging a door is riddled with potential screwups. You can misjudge where to drill holes for hinges in the door frame and have to fill the holes and do it again. Even worse, you can install the hinges on the wrong side of the frame or cut off too much at the bottom, or hang it upside down. These are all lessons learned.
Some will disagree with me that tools can make a difference but professional grade tools designed to drill holes, saw material, finish surfaces and accurately measure in the hands of a contractor make it look easy. That’s not to say consumer grade or tools designated for a do-it-yourselfer won’t do the job, they do and continue to get better, but they won’t stand up to daily use and abuse. Hence the popularity of Harbor Freight and Contractor sections of home centers. I think that’s why so many handy homeowners will rent a professional grade or rationalize buying up to pro grade tools.
The Pros have a playbook and know how to schedule their workload for a job whether it’s small repair work or a major remodel. They know the necessary sequence of events beginning with the prep work and ending with cleaning up the jobsite. We had to learn by doing.
While the motivation for a handy homeowner is saving money and the satisfaction of remodeling a bathroom or building a deck, a contractor looks at the job as a source of income and pride in workmanship. He or she is building a business and the success of a job well done will bring a satisfied customer and many new ones.
We learned a lot from the contractors we hired and continue to pick and choose between doing a job or hiring a pro. It reminds me of a line from a Billy Joel song, The Entertainer, that says it all ''Things I didn’t know at first, I learned by doing twice''.