Managing the Cost of Home Projects

by Debra Karplus

DIY Landscaping for Less photo

Get more organized about home repairs. Take these steps to act as the general contractor by managing the cost of home projects and hiring and supervising professionals to do the work you cannot do yourself.

You enjoy your home. Perhaps you’ve resided there awhile, or maybe you moved in recently. The house may be relatively new, or possibly it’s much older than you, but it seems that something always requires fixing.

You’re handy, but some tasks seem overwhelming, require being on scaffolding (exterior painting on your vintage three-story house), too complicated or scary (electrical jobs), or maybe need special equipment (digging machinery for installing fence posts). Maybe it’s time to become more organized about your home repairs and put yourself into the role of general contractor by managing house projects and hiring and supervising your own crew.

Start by Being a Do-It-Yourselfer

Maintain an inventory of basic tools in your basement, garage or workshop, including hammers, wrenches, saws, drill, and measuring devices. Learn how to use these tools and know what types of tasks they perform. Be proactive and fix things before they expand into bigger problems. (See Preventive Home Maintenance Tasks for the Frugal Homeowner.)

Keep assorted rollers and paint brushes of different sizes and materials for touch-up work around the house. Use partial cans of paint from previous projects or purchase a quart or gallon of paint. Your nearby Habitat for Humanity resale store may sell quality paint inexpensively. Determine if you need flat, semi-gloss, or gloss. If you’ll be painting outside, always purchase exterior paint. And use water-based paint whenever possible; clean-up is easier. Be patient and do the required prep work, scraping and priming, for best results. You’ll be pleased with yourself if you take your time. (See Finding Quality Paint at an Affordable Price.)

Learn to do simple tasks on your own. Many of the helpful employees at the home improvement store know how to use supplies and equipment in their department, such as plumbing connectors. Store websites often have online videos that show how to perform household fix-its. Do a web search and you can discover most anything you want to understand. One woman living in a home built in 1907 had an old oil tank in the basement that she wanted removed. She searched on YouTube with “remove oil tank from basement” and found what she was looking for. She appeared knowledgeable when hiring someone to do this messy, unpleasant job. When you must hire people, watch them work to learn how to do the job for the future.

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Create a Database of Competent People Who Do Repairs

Make a spreadsheet of individuals or companies who do different types of repairs. Document their name, contact number, and what type of work they do such as electrical. They may have worked for you in the past, or maybe your neighbor used them at their house and was pleased with their work, so note your referral source. Always check credentials of people you might hire. For exterior house painting, for example, you’ll only want to hire someone who’s trained and credentialed as “lead certified” if your house needs scraping and old lead-based paint will be removed. Also, ask tradesmen if they’re insured and bonded.

Your list will be ever-changing. Add new names as your hear about them. Possibly you noticed the house down the street looking spectacular since it was recently painted. Knock on the door and obtain the name of the painter if they were affordable and pleasant. Maybe your plumber is retired and his son is taking over the business. It might be that this young man, nice as he might be, is simply nowhere as competent a plumber as his beloved dad. It may be time to remove these folks from your database and seek a new plumber for your list.

Make To-Do Lists of House Projects by Category

Another good starting place is to establish a notebook or set up a computer spreadsheet with a column for each category of repair or home improvement. You can list painting, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and miscellaneous, such as gutters and masonry. Be prepared to periodically modify the list.

Wander through your home and make note of any small or large projects by category that you’d like to have done soon or in the future. Prioritize. For example, you probably want carpentry work done soon to replace your rotted wood stringer under the porch steps. Lower priority might be to repair your wooden fascia.

Become skilled at scheduling. Learn which jobs must be done before the next one is started. For example, get the soffit repaired and then have the gutter work done. Sometimes you’ll want different tradesmen working simultaneously, but for certain jobs, you don’t. Developing a sense of how to maintain your home, being handy, being organized, being able to look at the big picture regarding house projects, and finding capable people to do the work is the best way to keep your home looking spiffy and in good repair while saving dollars.

Reviewed July 2023

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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