So You Want to Manage Your Own Home Renovation?

Depending on the size of the project, choosing to manage your own home renovation could mean accepting the most difficult job of your life.

That being said, the feeling you get at the end is unlike anything else in the world. There is just something special about building that is hard to explain. That wonderful moment when you see your plans come to fruition is hard to replicate, and to stand before something that you have created, whether it be with your own hands or simply under your guidance, is just awesome.

Having managed countless home improvements, I can tell you with great confidence that this task is not one to be taken on lightly. Even if you have no intention of picking up a single tool for the duration of the project, the work of directing a construction crew is simply exhausting and you’ll be under such immense stress that every day will be a constant fight to keep on the right side of your breaking point.

Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

DIY shows like Backyard Blitz make it look easy, and it is definitely trendy these days to pick up a few “Be Your Own General Contractor” books and give it the old heave ho, but the reality is a totally different story than what you see on the telly.

The primary motivating factor that drives homeowners to manage their own renovation is to cut out the middle man and keep his profit for themselves. While it is true that contractors make money off your project (everyone needs to make a living), it isn’t as though you get to keep this money for free just by telling the GC to bugger off because you’re going to do it yourself. Doing it yourself entails just that, doing it yourself!

Working as your own General Contractor is not a fancy little trick to save a pile of money. You really won’t be “saving” anything. What you’ll be doing is working a 2nd job.

Homeowners who take the reins and drive their own renovation simply because they want to save money end up exasperated and disappointed. Especially since the savings are never what your figures indicated in the planning phase.

So then, how much will I save?

Of course it depends, but if you calculated that a contractor would earn a 20% margin on your project, you can maybe expect to save around half of this amount. Remember that professional contractors have business accounts with suppliers to get cheaper materials, experience negotiating contracts with subs, and the general know-how to both avoid complications and find simple solutions to problems that arise. And problems will arise, pretty much on a daily basis.

If you decide to be your own General Contractor because you enjoy home improvement and want to have 100% control over your project, then go for it, but if you only do it for the money, you’re going to end up disillusioned.

Do you have the right skill set for the job?

It’s become a popularised phrase these days to say that “anyone can be their own General Contractor, even if you don’t know a single thing about the trades.” Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I don’t actually believe this to be the case.

The theory goes that if you hire good sub contractors then all you have to do is manage them. Get bids in from a few different subs, call references, voila! If only it were that easy.

At the very least you need to have a rudimentary knowledge of how all the different trades work together to complete your project. You’ll be paying the plumber to install piping, not to coordinate with the tile guys or to work with the carpenter to make changes to a schematic that doesn’t work. And trust me, things won’t work.

These guys will look to YOU for guidance, and if you don’t have a clue what’s going on then how are you going to put out the fires and solve the problems?

Along with this basic knowledge, and more importantly the ability and willingness to learn along the way, a successful DIY General Contractor works well with people (without being a pushover), has great problem solving skills, and is flexible and committed.

Some final advice:

At the onset of a particularly grandiose project I once received the best piece of advice relating to construction from a property developer. He told me, “Being successful in this field isn’t about intelligence, it’s about tenacity.”

I soon found out what he was getting at, and if you decide to take the leap and manage your own home renovation, you will too. Best of luck!